It is a problem that has been discussed ad naseum both in the world of motorsports as well as sports in general, business in general, medicine, the legal profession, technology, and nearly any other type of profession you can think of: the representation of women. Part of the reason why we started our podcast is we found a distinct lack of female voices talking about INDYCAR. Specific to female racers the issues are: getting sponsorship, getting recognition, and overcoming an inherent bias. There have been so many discussions on how to fix these issues. There have been just as many proposals, but one recent proposal has drawn so much discussion. Nearly a year ago we first heard about the women only racing league and then it went quiet; the topic popped back up again and then it went quiet. Now it appears to be a reality, and in my opinion – it is the wrong reality.
The first two prongs of the problem are simple enough to explain and stem from the still early history of women in motorsports (for more information please feel free to read the series I’m slowly writing about women in each decade). Some women get recognition and sponsorship because they are somewhat of a novelty. For most, because there is not a proven track record of female racers, sponsors are very fickle and are not typically going to jump in to sponsor something new and novel. If you don’t have the sponsorship you don’t get to drive in a high number of races and so you won’t get the recognition.
Inherent bias is the strongest and highest burden to any woman wanting to be a racer. Sponsorship and recognition are an easier problem to discuss because male racers also face the same issue. Inherent bias is a completely different issue. The biggest problem discussing inherent bias is most people will start shouting “I DO NOT THINK WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT THEN MEN THEY CAN DRIVE JUST THE SAME”. Yet many these same individuals will be quick to critique a woman for responding to a setback in a more feminine way. Inherent bias is a yes but situation. Yes you may say that women and men are no different, but you are judging them with different standards. This of course can be traced back to the history of gender politics and roles. This rears itself in motorsports every time a woman does something wrong. If they win a race or place well they’re lauded and cheered for being a driving force. Should a woman not have a good race and react negatively (as many of their male colleagues do each race) they are judged harshly for being emotional. This provides another barrier to women entering motorsports. Should they continue to press their career in motorsports, in the pack of their mind is “don’t over react”.
The W Series
Announced on October 10, 2018, the W Series promises to be an all-female free-to-enter series for women featuring single-seaters and will have a prize fund of $1.5million. This money will be split among all eighteen drivers, with the overall winner of the “number of racers” will receive the pay out of $500,000. Currently for this season the races will be in Europe but they’re proposing in further years to be racing in Australia and America.
Participants? They will receive training consisting of: driving techniques, simulator exposure, technical engineering, fitness, and media skills. This is free to enter based upon the information provided on the W Series website.
Who is running this? David Coulthard, Adrian Newey, Dave Ryan, and Matt Bishop. The ONLY female is the lawyer who isn’t listed on the website but in some news stories is listed as the CEO. I have concern that one of those individuals did not hold women in high esteem. . David Coulthard was a former Formula 1 driver who indicated that women aren’t built to win the race because of a ‘mothering DNA” (May of 2017).
The problems with this series are clear: it separates the women and provides confirmation bias, and it may limit growth of a female racer who has started to race in a discipline. This series may limit the opportunities of women who have already been racing in other series to continue on that track. They have not put out the details of the schedule, but since they indicated Spring of 2019, I am betting it will conflict with most series all ready in existence. Due to the hardships of finding consistent sponsors, many female racers engage in multiple series (such as Katherine Legge who has raced this year in IMSA, and Xfinity series). By having a women be in this series, it may limit them from participating in other series. Additionally, by having women set up to compete only against themselves in a series it allows statements to be said that “women can only race other women” or “women can’t handle being in the same series as men” or “women need their own series because they can’t cut it” and this series can be pointed to as evidence. It’s pure confirmation bias for those who already believe that women have no business in motorsports (some of whom hold places of influence in many series). I do not hesitate to say that this isn’t some sort of feeder/ladder series.
Formula One’s Womens Driver Assessment Programme
In late-August of this year fifteen female drivers were brought together to get track time driving a Formula Renault 2.0 car and a GT4 Porsche Caymen as part of the Womens Driver Assessment Programme Formula 1 recently implemented. The purpose of the program is to help advance the Women in Motorsport Commission’s strategy to increase female participation at all levels of motorsport. The female drivers underwent two days of technical advice after each drive getting feedback from technical and engineering specialists in the areas of speed, technical feedback and approach, response to setup changes, consistency, and progression. I personally think an additional bonus from the event was that you had fifteen female drivers from approximately twelve different counties and multiple series all in the same program. As I will discuss below the best way to start to develop female representation is to help the women already in the sport find and support each other.
Alternative Solution – Mine and Everyone on Twitter
What should happen? That money (because this league didn’t just appear out of nowhere) needs to have been put more towards scholarship program. Provide the funds to women in multiple racing discipline to help with sponsorship, to provide them media training, to provide contacts – all the while they’re racing in their disciplines against everyone else: male or female. Use the funds to partner more experienced female driver with younger female drivers. A lot of this is done all ready in the Road to Indy series. The drivers get media training, I’ve seen multiple RTI drivers standing in the timing/scoring boxes of INDYCAR drivers watching and absorbing. Instead of recreating something that’s already in existence (and I’m assuming other disciplines have a similar set up, if not it’s not that hard to do) take the funding that’s apparently available and help female drivers with some of the issues that can be overcome with funding: sponsorship and recognition. Hard to believe the easiest path is not the path that’s being taken. It makes me wonder.
My experience as a female as a male-dominated profession was shaped by the female lawyers who came before me. Women just got the ability to practice before a court of law until the late 1880s: less than 150 years ago. As a profession the legal field still struggles with female representation as I’ve written about before. What we do well as female lawyers is we have already banded together, we have the understanding that we still have to press in every way possible to get our seat at the table. I have been at counsel table and surrounded by men. I have stood up to argue before an all-male panel. What I didn’t have was an all-female law school or an all-female litigation court where we as women only argued against each other. That wouldn’t help me, and that won’t help female racers.
By separating women out it can be said: she’s good enough…for a girl.
Should a female racer decide to enter into this series: I understand. I’m not in their shoes as far as sponsorship and funding. I’ve not had to raise money to do the job that I wanted to do since I was a little child. I would also hope that as women we would not despair them for doing what they need to do to advance their career.