International Women’s Day: Embracing Diversity

In many ways it’s a shame that it takes an epic institution, like the International Women’s Day (IWD), to draw attention to the chronic gender imbalance within so many parts of global sport and business, and the consequent lack of diversity which limits the opportunities and lowers the ambitions of so many women today.

Diversity at the core

If IWD was every day we would not inhabit the world we do today.  But perhaps it’s easy for me to say, as the CEO of W Series, the very definition of a modern female-first business where diversity is not just a mildly irritating HR policy, but a core foundation, supporting every level of the business, from the drivers on the track, our policies on careers and recruitment, to the partners we choose and even the sponsors on the car.

Contrary to what you might have heard, I am not a sort of female wolf of Wall Street.  Yes, I was conditioned and tempered by the male-dominated worlds of corporate banking and law but I had grown up with two older brothers and a sister and our parents never differentiated between us on grounds of gender.  My male dominated professional career didn’t give me a chip on my shoulder, it gave me a mission.  It took the relative calm of maternity and a career break, when I was 45, to evolve a mission into a vision, and a vision into a business.

Women and men can compete equally

At the very centre of W Series is the firm belief that women and men can compete and perform equally, given the same opportunities.  But of course, this belief should be at the centre of every modern business, and it’s thanks to the great work of IWD and others that our world is gradually changing, and more and more businesses are now properly embracing diversity, and enjoying the strategic opportunities that come with that.

The history of women in motorsport makes interesting, if somewhat depressing reading.  It’s hard to take much satisfaction form the scant handful of female drivers plugging away in the middling series – largely unknown and certainly unrecognised by the media – working towards a big career break.   Tragically they remain a declining breed, since, in real terms before W Series was launched last year, there were fewer women racing single-seater cars at the higher levels than there were 10 years ago.   

Women in F1

The story of women in Formula 1 is also quite bleak.  The drivers’ world championship was started in 1950, and since then only five women have taken part, and of them, only two have actually qualified and started a race – Lella Lombardi and Maria Teresa de Fillipis.  But that was a long time ago and it’s now been more than 40 years since a female driver last started a Formula 1 race and, without positive intervention, it could easily be another 40 before a woman does so again.

Looking back though old photographs and stories of Grands Prix racing, I was always struck by the lack of cultural and gender diversity.  Boy, was it a rich man’s world!  Although some things have changed since then, there remains a major challenge ahead if we are ever to see women on a Formula 1 grid let alone the top step of the podium.

Although that is our clear long-term mission, I am only too aware that the power of W Series and the power of its inspirational drivers goes far beyond that, and quite honestly, far beyond the racetrack. The inaugural W Series championship was won by Jamie Chadwick, an extremely talented and committed driver and a wonderful ambassador for women in motorsport.   

Inspiring a new generation

I’m sure Jamie alone will inspire dozens of young girls to take up karting, but W Series is more than a champion.  There is a whole grid of exceptional talent right behind her – and their role, whether they recognise it today or not, is to inspire the next generation of young girls to have faith in their own potential and to follow their dreams.  These dreams may involve being the first ‘Louisa Hamilton’ or the next Claire Williams but having a heroine is that crucial element that can turn a dream into a reality.  I love the phrase: “if she can see it, she can be it” as this fully captures my thoughts on the power of role models and how essential they are, if this journey of mine, this journey of ours, or this journey of yours, is to be a success.