‘The sport needs to act’: barriers in racing are holding women back

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  • Women are underrepresented across the British racing industry, a study into diversity has confirmed.

    The research, which was unveiled yesterday (17 May) at the Women In Racing AGM, outlines the barriers women face in the sport and the need for a “diversity agenda” to improve the balance.

    The study was carried out by Women In Racing and Oxford Brookes University, with funding from the Racing Foundation.

    It found problems for women include a lack of career development opportunities (at all levels including jockeys), progression and support; plus some examples of discriminative, prejudice and bullying behaviour. It also discovered barriers and lack of representation at senior and board level as well as negative experiences of work-life balance and pastoral care.

    Currently women make up 16% of racing boards, 12% of licensed jockeys and just 6% of all race rides.

    However the researchers have stated that progress is being made “at all levels”.

    “The issues highlighted are very similar to those experienced by other sectors, and we hope the findings provide the strong evidence and recommendations British horseracing needs to achieve greater diversity across its different functions,” said Simonetta Manfredi, professor of equality and diversity management at Oxford Brookes.

    Recommendations include the formation of an independent diversity steering body, with the long-term aim that this would set voluntary diversity targets and find a way of monitoring these.

    Women In Racing founder and honorary president Sally Rowley-Williams said the research is “ground-breaking”.

    “It sets out clear recommendations which the sport needs to act on,” she added.

    “As the sport’s governing body, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is best placed to lead on progressing the diversity agenda, but it is for all in the sport to play their part.

    “Women In Racing will do all it can to facilitate change and make sure this research is just the starting point for taking forward the diversity agenda within British horseracing.

    “British horseracing has within it some excellent people but we need to all work together to ensure existing and future talent is attracted to and able to thrive within our sport.”

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    The BHA has released an in-depth response to the report, thanking Women In Racing and its partners for the research and addressing the points raised.

    “This survey serves as a stark reminder that while some progress has been made, there is much more that British racing needs to do to ensure that people receive the necessary encouragement, support and opportunities regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, disability or social background,” said BHA chief executive Nick Rust yesterday (17 May).

    “Today, we’re restating our commitment to improve diversity in our sport.

    “As the survey report highlights, to be successful, this requires a cross-industry effort, so we will now consult with racecourses and horsemen on additional actions we need to take, including the recommendations contained in this report.”

    An update on these discussions will be made “no later” than the end of July.

    The BHA statement added age along with gender was raised as the most common factor for experiencing less favourable treatment, and the number of people reporting discrimination or inappropriate behaviour in their survey responses is “clearly a concern”.

    “There can be no place for this anywhere in racing,” it read.

    “The BHA clearly has a role to play in leading the sport on the diversity agenda, but it cannot act alone.

    “The business case for diversity is clear and unequivocal and everyone needs to buy into it.

    “Not only is it fair, but study after study has shown that organisations take better decisions and perform better with diverse teams, and that tackling diversity issues has the scope to unlock huge amounts of potential, untapped talent.

    “For example, in a spectator sport where 39% of people who buy tickets are women, compared to 20% in other sports, racing must reflect that audience diversity if it is to thrive and grow.

    “We need to be innovative if we are to attract new audiences and people from all different backgrounds can play an important part in helping us generate a healthy breadth of new ideas.”

    Click here to read the full report and click here to see the BHA’s full response.

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