#BreakTheBias: Women and the endurance events industry

Our mission is to inspire people across the world to come together and experience moments that make them feel alive. We believe the true joy and beauty of these moments comes from the diverse experiences, opinions and actions of the people on the start line.

In honour of International Women’s Day 2022 and this year’s #BreakTheBias theme, we wanted to start a conversation about the gender bias in our industry. We reached out to some of our incredible female race organisers to talk about their experience as female leaders in endurance events. 

Below you can find excerpts of these conversations, covering everything from their experiences of gender bias at work to what can be done to advance gender equality in our industry going forward.

Rachael Wood 

Managing Director at Nice Work

Nice Work put on 240+ self-professed ‘friendly races’ a year across the UK. Their events are designed to be fully inclusive and aimed at runners of all abilities, ages and backgrounds.

Lara Debenham

Co-founder of LK adventures

LK adventures aim to take away any intimidation around races and events by hosting relatively small guided runs through the hills of Wales. Their events are inclusive, adventurous and open to all. 

Rosie Streater

Co-Founder of Strive Fitness

Strive Fitness are an event organiser with a difference. Rather than exclusively working on races, they organise a range of training events like group runs and weight training sessions.

On unconscious gender bias

While improvements made towards total gender equality should be celebrated, there are lots of barriers women face that men don’t. One of those being the experience of work. All of our female race organisers noted aspects of their career that have been impacted by their gender. 

Lara, co-founder of LK Adventures, told us that people don’t automatically respect her skills and experience as a woman:

“I come from an engineering background and at times as a young female doing onsite visits, you’re not always seen in the professional sense first”. Lara said that today she enjoys working with female trainers as she feels it creates a supportive atmosphere for women to train in:

“I think the environment you create working with women is particularly positive for females experiencing an event. For example, they may be more likely to speak up if they need to slow down–it helps to create a safe space of inclusion.”

Rosie, co-founder of Strive Fitness, has also experienced challenges as a woman working alone: ”I never liked to be alone working within a gym or doing home visits with clients. It felt like a potentially vulnerable position to be in”.

Rachael, managing director at Nice Work, feels that being a woman has directly impacted her work ethic: “I do think as women we have to work a lot harder. I’ve always been extremely determined and hard working and I think that feels like the only recipe for success”.

On the female event experience  

We know that the stats showing how many women attend events only tell half the story. We wanted to find out if our female organisers believe women feel encouraged, empowered and confident at events.

Rachael told us that pre-covid, the start line would generally be men only: “Women would move further back leaving the front line up to the men, so I’d go on a crusade with my microphone, inviting women to take their place at the front of the race”. 

Interestingly, she’s seen that covid-safety measures have helped women feel less intimidated at races: “We started doing staggered start times and a lot of women told me they felt less intimidated and that the new measures eased their race day nerves”. 

Rosie from Strive Fitness said she typically sees a drop in numbers of women at races and training in winter over fears around running in the dark. She finds that women who drop their mileage over the winter are often losing out on a key base training phase:

“I really struggle with this personally too. Knowing that you’ll probably be safe and actually feeling safe out running are unfortunately not the same thing.” 

On training and safety 

To support her female clients with their winter training, Rosie and the Strive team are working on creating a ‘safe group’ of female runners who can run together outside the winter. 

Lara at LK Adventures is also passionate about creating a safe space for more women to get involved in sport: “Doing it in a group takes away the stress of ‘I don’t know where I’m going or am I safe?’ Because there are guides there and other people. Also women can make friends, improving that feeling of inclusion even more”.

Strive Fitness also have plans to create a weekly group winter training session for women: “We’re hoping we can also bring in a self-defence expert for some sessions so our runners can feel a little more confident when out alone.”

On breaking the bias

This year’s IWD theme is encouraging women to break the bias, remove stereotypes and challenge discrimination. 

Lara believes some of these barriers can be broken down by focussing on creating inclusive event experiences:

“It’s important to nurture female athletes in general. An athlete is anyone who’s interested in sport and we should support them in all stages of their journey”.

Lara has found that introductory and intermediate courses are a great way to encourage women to feel more confident in taking on races and running in general: 

“The hardest bit about running is the first bit because you’re constantly out of breath. Having people all together at a similar level gives you that space to think, okay I don’t have to be at a certain level to still be a runner.”

Rosie thinks representation online can help:

“Social media is helping break down barriers. There are far more women at the top of the game in fitness now than there were when I was starting out. They may have been around then but I didn’t have the exposure to them.”

Rachael has set measures in place to encourage women to feel comfortable on the day. At Nice Work events, she has made changes to everything from the pre-race briefing to the post-race prize giving:

“At the beginning of the race, I remind and encourage the men to look behind them, explaining that there may be a super fast female that’s going to overtake you and they should empower them to do that.”

Rachael also calls out the female winners first, “The industry body is outdated. The language is always male then female, and the veteran prize category for males starts at 40+ but 35+ for females! There is inequality there already”.

To #BreakTheBias, both men and women in positions of power must ask what they can do to help in their respective fields. Representation matters and we’re committed to ensuring that whatever your background, gender or circumstance, you feel welcome and empowered to take part. These conversations have highlighted issues we as a business can work on to make sure women feel empowered to enter races, safe whilst they’re training and included on race-day.

Thank you to Rachael, Lara and Rosie for inspiring us with your work and using your position to create inclusive and safe environments for women. 

Thanks to ladies like you, there us so much cause for celebration over just how far the industry has come, as Rosie summed up nicely:

“It was 1967 when Katherine Switzer jumped the barrier at the Boston Marathon. That’s within my mum’s lifetime. Now she watches her daughter run ultra marathons and be a race director–that’s progress.”

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