Horse racing is one of those rare sports where genders are not segregated at the highest level. In Great Britain, 50 out of the 400 professional jockeys are women.
But, what is the common experience of those women who are in a massively male-dominated field?
On Wednesday, the first report on gender diversity in the horse racing industry was published. Commissioned by Women in Racing and researched by the Center for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University, the study revealed key findings on the many barriers women face in the horse racing industry.
The results largely showed that women are under-represented in the most prominent areas of British horse racing. Although more women are entering racing after college than ever before—even outnumbering men by almost a ratio of 70:30—once in the industry, women experience career stagnation when they try to progress in their careers.
The study revealed that women across the industry report being patronized, denied opportunities, excluded from the “old boys network,” and sometimes have experienced inappropriate behavior and bullying. A number of women specifically reported that when considering applying for more senior roles, they had been made to feel unwelcome, or even were explicitly told that women would not be promoted.
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Susannah Gill, a director at Arena Racing Company and a Women in Racing committee member, elaborated on the significance of the report to the BBC :
“The report shows what you would hear anecdotally from people in racing … If you look who is on the senior boards of organizations in racing, the average is 16% women and we have several boards which don’t have any women at the top level at all.”
So we’re seeing a stagnation of career progression,” she continued. “That’s something we certainly recognize in other industries as well, and I think we’ve probably known about it in horse racing. But this report is the first time we’ve seen it and talked about it.”
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) May 17, 2017
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While the diversity report notes the work of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) for increasing the amount of women on its board (i.e. seven out of 21 directors), the report largely points to the areas needed for improvement.
In response to the groundbreaking study, BHA Chief executive Nick Rust admitted to the BBC that the BHA plays a critical role in helping change the results of the study:
“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 ”
“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.”
The BHA has promised that by July it will give an update on the progress it has made in response to the report.