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How women are tackling barriers in motorsport

Women’s participation in motorsport has hugely increased in recent years, with series such as W Series and Extreme E providing invaluable support for female drivers.

Catie Munnings, Genesys Andretti United Extreme E

W Series, with its all-female grid, provides 18 full-time seats, while Extreme E’s unique sporting format has a 50-50 gender split between men and women. Further support will come in 2023 with the introduction of F1 Academy, a new feeder series aimed at helping women join the single seater pyramid.

Yet, if you search the top echelons of some of the most popular motorsports, you’ll find them missing from behind the wheel. Why are women stalled at the grid? For a number of reasons, you could argue, from potential lack of physical strength to speed, from not having the right professional and financial backing to not being the right fit for a primarily male-designed sport.

The answer doesn’t lie in one spectrum versus others, but is more multi-faceted therefore making it more challenging to find the right pathway to inspire a generation of girls.

More Than Equal’s Global Attitude Survey, hosted by Motorsport Network, hopes to understand the answers to questions around potential barriers and hurdles, as well as explore fans’ perception to the rise of a female star in the future. It asks questions around fans’ belief around their physical and spatial ability, their determination to drive fast and hard, and whether fans and sponsors would support the rise of a female star. Have you completed the survey yet?

Extreme E driver Catie Munnings knows all too well what it’s like to tackle the challenges women face head on. The 25-year-old, who drives for Genesys Andretti United in the all-electric off-road series, began competing aged 14. She competed first in the European Rally Championship, before a switch to Extreme E for its inaugural season in 2021. She’s been active in encouraging young girls to take the wheel, quite literally, but points at the dearth of championship-winning female role models as being a hurdle, where young girls can’t quite find the pathway to emulate.

Speaking to Motorsport.com, Munnings said: “I remember when I first started getting involved with different organisations, I was an ambassador for Susie Wolff’s Dare To Be Different campaign. I remember we would go to different events and have young girls come to the events and we would often say “put your hand up if you want to be a Formula 1 driver.” And basically, the whole room would say “Well, you can't be a Formula 1 driver if you're a girl,” because they didn't see that representation, so they genuinely thought it was like a regulation."

Catie Munnings, Timmy Hansen, Genesys Andretti United Extreme E

Catie Munnings, Timmy Hansen, Genesys Andretti United Extreme E

Photo by: Colin McMaster / Motorsport Images

And do enough people know about the rules of motorsport, and that anyone can compete, irrespective of the gender they identify with.

“I think slowly, as other championships introduced more females in the top level, it's becoming a little bit more known that it is an option,” adds Munnings. “Female sport has really risen, with women's football and women's rugby in the past few years, it would be nice for motorsport to see it in the same way. It’s not just Formula 1, it's rallycross, it's World Rally, it’s every other kind of racing that there is really, I think there's still that inequality in numbers on the start grid.”

Munnings says that young women considering a career in motorsport seeing inspirational role models is crucial, and believes the perception has “definitely shifted,” with more women around the paddock working as mechanics, drivers and engineers.

Julia Wall-Clarke, Head of Communications for Extreme E, believes the limitations for women still lie in accessibility, and points to “access, aspiration, and making it achievable” as the biggest barriers. There is an urgent need to remove barriers to entry, as per Wall-Clarke, to bring in more women into the motorsport funnel.

“You’re finding a needle in the haystack of drivers when it comes to finding championship winning ones,” adds Kate Beavan, strategic advisor and Board member of the >= More than Equal initiative, “which only becomes more challenging when the pool to search for female talent is less than 5% of the entire pool.”

Wall-Clarke is in agreement that series need to remove barriers to entry, such as by lowering the cost of entry and simultaneously showcase the other opportunities available within motorsport such as in engineering. And she echoes Munnings in saying young girls need to see more women in strategic positions within motorsport to believe it can be an equal world. “Seeing is believing,” in her words.

“We don't have fans on-site traditionally, but we do go out to local Girls on Track STEM groups that we either led were led to us by the local contacts, more specifically young girls that were inviting to come and get tours of the paddock, come and meet the drivers. Getting that inside experience is what lives with you.”

Catie Munnings, Genesys Andretti United Extreme E, Hedda Hosas, Extreme E, and Kevin Hansen, Veloce Racing

Catie Munnings, Genesys Andretti United Extreme E, Hedda Hosas, Extreme E, and Kevin Hansen, Veloce Racing

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“I think it's up to everyone in terms of responsibility, I think it's absolutely everyone from the team owners, to the marketing managers, to the FIA to female drivers themselves, and male drivers as well supporting them. I think it's all of our responsibility to change that.“

There is also the issue of the role played by the media in the perceptions and stereotypes of women in motorsport.

James Allen, President of Motorsport Network, agrees there is a “long way to go” in bringing more female journalists into paddocks, as well as educating male members of the media.

He said: “The More than Equal project is an important initiative in that it will take an evidence-based approach and will seek to break down the barriers that hold back females from reaching the pinnacle of our sport and intervene financially and politically to achieve it.

“We have seen a greater number of female journalists and content creators coming into the sport in the last few years, which is very welcome, but there’s a long way to go on that and also in terms of educating male journalists and content creators about the challenges that female competitors face. “

But if you could put responsibility in pecking order, who would be held most responsible to lead change? You can have your say in >= More Than Equal’s Global Attitude Survey on this matter and on the question of role played by fewer role models within motorsport.

The web-based survey hosted on motorsport.com until 3 February is available to respondents around the world in 15 languages, and is planned to be the most-comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted.

To access the survey please go to: https://more-than-equal-survey-2023.motorsportnetwork.com/

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