Maria Bright speaks to Jennie Gow, Helena Hicks, and Emily Linscott to find out what it is like being a woman in a male dominated industry and the challenges women face.
For many years, women have been fighting their way through the ranks of the motorsport industry to gain prominence, but they have also had to battle for respect in a male-dominated world.
Jennie Gow, 43, a motorsport journalist and broadcaster, has been working in the Formula One industry for over a decade and has a wealth of knowledge. Yet people still believe that women who work in the industry are not knowledgeable.
On the issue of stigmas, she said: “It’s really difficult; I think there are still barriers and differences between men and women who work in motorsport.
“At the very highest level I think it is possibly easier for women to come into the sport because it is almost more cosmopolitan. I think at lower levels it is harder because traditionally there are just a lot more guys in the paddock, so you know that you are one of the only few females there.”
Jennie was a presenter on ‘BBC Grid Girls’, which highlighted the potential issues, but also the perspective from the grid girls. She talked about her feelings towards being a feminist and how the programme highlighted that she was one.
She said: “Ever since then I have been labelled with this moniker of a person who is campaigning to bring about change in motorsport, at the beginning I was very uncomfortable with this.
“But actually, the further I have gone along on this path, the more I realise I am quite a feminist and I do want there to be change.”
Grid girls were abolished from the start of the 2018 F1 race season and were replaced with grid kids. This sparked mixed responses, as the women were losing their jobs, however, it was how they were perceived to the wider public – the objectification of women – which was why F1 eliminated them as they didn’t see the ‘practice as appropriate or relevant to Formula 1’.
Following the huge debate that the programme brought about, Jennie said: “I came away from that debate thinking well grid girls in essence there is nothing wrong with if you are representing your brand and are allowed to talk and really be a true brand ambassador.
“But I don’t believe at that point they were being brand ambassadors, they weren’t allowed to talk to the drivers unless they were spoken to first, there was all sorts of things that meant that they had absolutely no real purpose apart from beautifying a grid.”
The challenges that women face in the industry are intense, but one is the backlash and comments through social media, despite it being a great place to network and support others.
Jennie said: “I would say it’s standard for every female within the paddock to receive hate about their perceived lack of knowledge, their role within the sport, to be objectified and sexualised.”
Men get abuse on social media too, but she says it is “escalated if you are female, and unfortunately you just get used to it”.
The future of women in the industry – through driving and careers – should perhaps be more widely accepted, and more should be done to help girls beat the challenges.
From the racing aspect of getting females into the top levels of motorsport, like F1 and Formula E, Jennie said: “It should be standard that every team has an attachment to young people coming through the ranks, and some of those proportionately should be female…
“It’s not a question of where are the females anymore; its, it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough to not have female on that roster.”
18-year-old racer Emily Linscott, who is racing in the Formula 4 United States Championship this year opened up about the things she had to put up with in her early career when she was karting.
“I’ve been ‘bullied’ on-line and at the circuit and on the track because I’m a girl. Some boys just can’t take being beaten by a girl… I’ve had boys tell me that girls shouldn’t be on a racetrack, which is crazy talk.
“That’s the sort of stuff that happens when you’re a girl in motorsport but most of them are fine and treat us equally.”
Within karting, the numbers of girls racing are very low, for example at a Kimbolton Kart Club (HKRC) race meeting in April, out of 43 drivers (in TKM Extreme) only two were female- which reflects the inequality amongst grass roots racing.
If the numbers at grass roots level are minimal then the talent pool is automatically reduced, meaning that the likelihood of females reaching high levels are lessened.
Helena Hicks, 22, who is a budding motorsport journalist and is currently working as a Communications Executive at Crunch, and the founder of Females in Motorsport (FiM) talked about the support FiM brings.
“I really hope it’s helped spread light on sort of different career paths. Sometimes it’s really easy just to focus on the more mainstream female drivers, like Jamie Chadwick, and others.
“But actually, females and motorsport is a lot deeper than that. We look at people who have interesting roles, or perhaps roles that people wouldn’t have even considered beforehand.”
Helena believes that supporting women helps them raise their profiles but thinks that there shouldn’t be a female in F1 to tick a box.
“I’ve always been a firm believer that if women make it into the into the sport, then it’s because they’re quick enough and not because it’s a commercial deal.
“If they go in and they’re not very good or their seconds off the pace or whatever, then that’s just going to harm the reputation and all the good work that we’ve been doing over the past decade will just completely unravel itself and I think you’ll be back at square one.”
In motorsport there are a lot of incredibly talented individuals who are making ways within the pitlane, but its down to the core beliefs of individuals to how much they are accepted within the industry.