Women under-represented at higher levels of British racing, report finds

Women continue to be under-represented in higher-level roles throughout Britain’s horse racing industry, the findings of a study reveal.

Women were under-represented in senior management and board positions, and within the higher levels of roles such as jockeys, trainers, owners, breeders and stable staff.

The British racing industry, which provides jobs for more than 20,000 full and part-time staff, was broad and complex, the authors said.

“It is important to understand the current role of women in racing and their career experiences if a more diverse environment and the associated benefits can be realised for horseracing,” the just-published report said.

The just-released report − the first research into diversity in British racing − was published by the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University and Women in Racing.

It showed the need to develop a diversity agenda within the sport. Issues identified included:

  • Lack of career development opportunities (at all levels including jockeys), progression and support;
  • Some examples of discriminative, prejudice and bullying behaviour;
  • Barriers and lack of representation at senior and board level; and
  • Negative experiences of work-life balance and pastoral care.

The study involved an examination of existing academic literature and publicly-available materials on the industry, an online survey that attracted 393 participants (79.4% of whom were women) from across the horse-racing community, and interviews with 16 key industry stakeholders.

The researchers, Simonetta Manfredi, who is professor of equality and diversity management, and doctoral researcher Kate Clayton-Hathway, said the industry had undergone significant change over recent decades due to modernisation and expansion, and women have been increasingly prominent.

However, powerful stereotypes remained in the industry, they found, with women often associated with caring and nurturing roles rather than strategy or governance.

Although the industry contained progressive thinkers, some also felt it was “inward-looking”, and overly traditional and conservative, which can create barriers to entry.

“Some areas remain male-dominated,” the pair said, “and women from across the industry report being patronised, not being taken seriously or being denied opportunities because of their gender.

“Some report an ‘old boys’ network’ with practices which exclude women, though others argue that horseracing is a meritocracy. Many held a ‘centre ground’ view that, on the whole, the industry is a meritocracy which welcomes dedication and hard workers, but some corners experience entrenched prejudice and discrimination.”

The low number of professional female jockeys presented a concern, they said.

Manfredi and Clayton-Hathway proposed that an independent diversity steering body be established to support British racing in developing a deeper understanding of its diversity.

Manfredi said the issues highlighted were similar to those experienced by other sectors.

“We hope the findings provide the strong evidence and recommendations British horse racing needs to achieve greater diversity across its different functions.”

The founder of Women in Racing, Sally Rowley-Williams, described it as a ground-breaking piece of research for the industry.

“It sets out clear recommendations which the sport needs to act on. As the sport’s governing body, the British Horseracing Authority is best placed to lead on progressing the diversity agenda but it is for all in the sport to play their part.”

The authority welcomed publication of the report, saying that while the document confirmed progress was being made on gender diversity, racing faced similar challenges to other sports in ensuring that people from all backgrounds were represented at all levels.

“While we can be proud of a sport where women and men have the opportunity to compete on equal terms, we know from our own analysis that there is more to do to ensure that women are given the necessary encouragement, support and opportunities to be the best they can be,” it said.

For example, women accounted for 12 per cent of all licensed jockeys, but just 6 per cent of all rides and only 1 per cent of rides in the very top races.

“Both the British Horseracing Authority and racing as a whole have more to do to ensure that our sport reflects and appeals to the widest possible audience and this means addressing all aspects of diversity, including, but not exclusively, gender diversity.”

It said it would consult with its members, horsemen and racecourses to consider carefully the recommendations made in the report.

The authority’s chief executive, Nick Rust, said the survey served as a stark reminder that while some progress had been made, there was much more that British racing needed to do to ensure that people received the necessary encouragement, support and opportunities regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, disability or social background.

“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.”

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