Diversity in British Racing

DIVERSITY and the need to foster equality in all areas of horseracing were the subject of a special session at one of the most important international forums, the Asian Racing Conference, held in Seoul, South Korea, last month. Among the speakers was Susannah Gill, a member of the BHA’s 16-strong diversity steering group and former director of external affairs at Arena Racing Company, who reported on British racing’s role in this area.

“Society still perceives British racing to be a ‘white, rich man’s sport,’” she told an audience of around 500 delegates, “yet it relies mostly on people who are not white, rich or men. Not only do we need to attract the brightest and the best, but we also need to retain them. Hence, we have to be seen to be open for business.”

The steering group, which was launched in September last year, has compiled its first action plan, split into eight key sections to encompass the whole sport. Publication of the document is imminent and Gill outlined a number of the principles it will follow.

She said: “It will look at leadership and governance in the sport, what data we should be collecting and how we can use role models to help people take up careers in the sport.

“We also want to better recognise our work force and make sure we don’t put up barriers to anyone. For example, at the annual Godolphin Stud and Stable Awards the winners are normally around 85 to 90 per cent white, which is not reflective of all stable staff, so we want to make sure we celebrate people across the sport, regardless of what they look like and based on what they achieve.”

Other areas to be covered include supporting and promoting opportunities for female jockeys and promoting wider racehorse ownership.

Gill, whose steering group colleagues include Hamilton Racing Manager Sulekha Varma as the Racecourse Association representative, added: “We also want to bring people into a more dynamic experience of racecourses and enjoying racing, making sure that the horse and the sport are essential to the racing experience, because at the end of the day that is our product.”

Speaking outside the conference, she said: “The group has got together and come up with some really good ideas. That’s all very well but the important matter is what we do about them, as a group and as a sport. The challenge will be to resource the action plan and make sure things happen.”

The BHA steering group was set up as a direct result of one of the recommendations of a study by two academics from Oxford Brookes university, commissioned by Women in Racing and paid for by the Racing Foundation. Its reach is not confined to women, although Gill pointed out: “Gender is being used as the Trojan horse. This is absolutely about all forms of diversity, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”

She has first-hand experience of one of the starting points, having been at the forefront of instigating last year’s inaugural Silks Series for female jockeys, in which 36 different riders took part in the points-based competition, held across nine ARC courses and won by Megan Nicholls.

Gill gives credit for the original idea to Hayley Plimley, head of sales and marketing at Uttoxeter, saying: “She came up with it as part of the group’s senior development programme. Her central idea was that racecourses put on ladies’ days or evenings, which attract lots of people but often the actual racing gets slightly overlooked.

“So, to have a series that brings racing closer to the heart of the action on ladies’ days and which promotes the talent of female jockeys is something the sport should get behind.”

“They were £10,000 races, with a £20,000 final, which is good for Class 4 Handicaps, and the leading trainers really bought into it, while a lot of the girls built up contacts with yards that they didn’t either work or usually ride for.

“In addition, £46,500 was raised for Cancer Research UK, through bucket shakes, on-course activity and £1 being donated from every ticket sold to a Silk Series fixture.”

The innovative nature of the event was recognised with victory in the Love of the Sport category at the RCA Showcase, and shortlisted nominations against all-comers in the BT Sports Industry Awards and the Women’s Sport Trust #BeAGameChanger Awards.

This year’s series was launched on Saturday and resulted in a win for Rachel Richardson on Scottish-trained Wor Lass at Musselburgh, one of four racecourse additions, along with Hamilton, Goodwood and York, producing a minimum prize fund of at least £150,000 across 13 races this summer.

Looking at racecourse activity generally, Gill believes the sector has a good record for gender diversity.

“We’ve got Maggie Carver as chairman of the RCA,” she said, “and women have done well in racecourse management. If you walk on a racecourse to do business, you’re just as likely to deal with a woman as you are a man. Some of ARC’s best executive directors are women – Jenny Cheshire at Worcester, Jo Hall at Bath and Rebecca Davies at Hereford, for example – and the group has some very strong marketing, commercial and operations managers, as well as fantastic female clerks of the course.

“However, I do think there could be a better system of mentoring for women. Men are still better at networking and look after each other. If women aren’t told they’re good and they should go for a particular position, they will sit as a middle-level manager and not strive to run the show, which they would be perfectly capable of doing.”