Daring to be Different

Ian PageIn early October my wife and I welcomed our baby daughter into the world. Obviously as F1 enthusiasts we immediately donned her in F1 baby grows and sat her down in front of the telly to watch the racing – knowing fully well that she is unable to focus on objects further away than a ruler, let alone grasp the concept of Max Verstappen’s USA penalty.

Now it’s only a matter of time before I start to force my hopes and dreams on the little one and gently persuade her to have a career in F1 as nothing else is acceptable, and I wondered how easy that would be.

Now I’m not going to look into women within F1 as this is a well-trodden subject. Claire Williams and Monisha Kaltenborn are two high profile women in F1. Although Monisha has since stepped down at Sauber, she, alongside those working behind the scenes such as Ruth Buscombe (strategy engineer at Sauber) and Bernadette Collins (Force India) all show that women within F1 is an increasing demographic despite a lack of female drivers.

I wanted to explore the opportunity at a grass-roots level. Getting young people, particularly girls, interested in the sport from an early age and what opportunities my daughter might have to get involved in the sport if I’m lucky enough to convince her. So I sat down to look at what options were on the table in the UK.

As I am sure you are all aware, another high profile woman with in the sport is Susie Wolff, former Williams reserve and test driver, and the first woman to take part in a F1 weekend in 22 years by driving in two free practice sessions at the 2014 British Grand Prix. Susie retired from racing in 2015 and amongst her commitments to presenting on Channel 4 in the UK and her ambassadorial roles she set up “Dare to be Different” in 2016 and launched at the 2016 Autosport Show, an event I happened to attend with my wife.

Dare to be Different is a charity that focuses on getting girls aged between 8 and 11 into motorsport and introducing them to possible careers in that field.

I was lucky to have a quick chat with Jenny from the Dare to be Different (D2BD) team, and I asked how it all works.

“Firstly, we have our headline events. We contact primary schools within a radius of a karting circuit, and invite 10 schools to each bring along 10 Key Stage 2 girls to our event, totalling 100 participants at each event. These taster days aim to open the eyes of the girls into the possible careers within motorsport that they could pursue when they are older.

“When with us, they try their hand at karting out on the track, performing a Pirelli Pitstop challenge, testing their reactions on a Batak reaction game, demonstrating their journalistic skills by working with a Sky Sport TV Presenter and performing a piece to camera and working with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) Ambassadors on building a giant hoverboard.

“Not only are these activities linked to jobs within motorsport, but they are mostly all new activities for the girls which they haven’t tried before. The messages that they learn from the day are to come out of their comfort zone, try something different and not be afraid to have a go at a new experience.

“During the day they work with D2BD Ambassadors, women who are all very successful within their fields in motorsport in addition to volunteers who all have a passion for inspiring the next generation. It is fantastic for the girls to work with such strong role models who make them see that careers in motorsport are achievable for women, despite the lack of media attention that is portrayed.”

Social media plays a big part in the D2BD strategy, and the strong online community is the second strand:

“The community has well over 650 members now, mostly female, who all have a passion for motorsport in some capacity. The goal behind the community is ‘Driving Female Talent’, not just out on track, but in all aspects of the sport.

“Our women are encouraged to ‘Connect’ with one another through our bespoke members platform and at our Community Connect events which we hold each year, ‘Showcase’ what they are doing within the industry, these range from racing victories to sharing their latest blog etc, and to ‘Inspire’ and support one another in the very male dominated industry of motorsport. We have a huge range of ages, experiences and interests amongst our members, but the one thing that connects them together is their love of motorsport.

“Women who are working in the industry are very keen to give something back and can often be found offering advice, support and work experience opportunities to some of our members who are striving to work in this field.”

Asking how the charity goes about drawing attention to female involvement in the sport and how does it get the message across, Jenny went on to explain:

“One of the main aims that Susie had when she started the charity was to inspire the next generation and to provide a positive female role model in the motorsport industry, moving away from the stereotypical grid girls, which are so commonly associated with motorsports. Our fantastic Ambassadors also join Susie in being those positive role models and are all experts within their own fields of the industry.

“The 10 girls who are invited along to the headline events, are sent away with the title of ‘D2BD Deputies’. We set them the challenge of going back into school to spread the messages that they have learnt on their day with their peers. This is taken in any way that the school wishes to do so, and has included whole school assemblies, after school/lunchtime clubs and even in one school, the deputies making up a song about being strong and daring to be different, which was taught to the whole of their school!”

It’s certainly a busy time for the D2BD team and if anyone has been to a motorsport event in the last couple of years you will have no doubt seen a stand or display, often in my opinion one that is very well attended.

“Our headline events have been incredibly well received with the girls who attend, the teachers and their parents.

“It was an initial challenge to get our invitation through schools’ strict e-mail filtering system, but once the invitation had reached the schools, we had a very positive response. So much so that we had many returning schools for the 2nd year of our events and I was inundated with e-mails from schools as the word of mouth of our events spread.

“To hear comments from the teachers about the positive impact that day has had on their pupils is incredibly rewarding. Noting the increased confidence and how self-esteem has been boosted is a real achievement and credit to what we do.”

It’s very clear that this group of people are making waves and pushing through into a male-dominated world, and the people who work there are very passionate about that. With a community of 670 members, Jenny explained that the majority of members are female with around less than 20 being male.

This isn’t to say that D2BD isn’t open to male involvement. With the focus firmly on supporting female success, the men involved – including yours truly – all share the same philosophy in seeing the value and importance of the inclusion and involvement of women in motorsports.

D2BD is heading into 2018 looking to gather momentum:

“Our strategy moving forward is to build on the strengths that we have gained in 2016/17 since the charity launched.

“Susie has always said that we need to ensure that we are building something that is sustainable and to make sure that we can walk before we run.”

2018 is also a big year for D2BD as they go international, launching in Germany.

With a very successful event in Germany in October this year, connected to the last DTM race of the season, the organisation gained some real interest from some very influential people in motorsport who were able to see the positive impact that the event had on the girls who took part and look to lend their support in 2018.

They will have a whole new team travelling around Germany holding different events and the team hope to expend their community with some more global members.

I finished our quick chat by asking if the D2BD team are working on any long term plans to get more women in F1 in particular:

“We don’t have any projects to get women into F1 specifically, but more about getting more girls interested in the sport at grass-roots level with a view to more rising to the top of the pile.”

With organisations like D2BD, careers in motorsport for the likes of my daughter are on the increase proving that it’s not just ‘boys and their toys’. Hopefully inspiring the next generation of lead mechanics, tyre specialists, team principles and – who knows? – maybe even drivers.

By providing strong female role models that girls can aspire to, you gain a sense that any career, even those that buck the social norm, are achievable.

So if your little one comes home one day and says they want to explore a career in motorsport, you can sit down and log onto https://www.daretobedifferent.org/ and sign up to their community.

For an annual fee of £25 members get access to a members directory where they can connect with one another, access to a closed Facebook page (only accessed through an over 18s profile due to sensible age restrictions), the ability to enter competitions and to come along to Community Connect events which are held annually at differing locations around the country.

I would like to thank Jenny for taking the time to speak to me.

It is also worth checking out the British Women Racing Drivers Club which was founded in 1962 by Mary Wheeler MBE, who aimed to encourage and promote women in all forms of motor sport. Membership of the Club allows women to tap into its wealth of experience, in addition to carrying numerous other benefits. For further information visit www.bwrdc.co.uk.

For those of us who live in the UK, further information on local motorsport activities can also be found at https://www.msauk.org/.

The MSA covers all areas of UK motorsport offering information and contact details on everything from karting to marshalling and has excellent resources on all things motorsport, so it well worth checking out. It also has the MSA Women in Motorsport Group, created by the governing body in 2007, whose key objective is to bring more women of all ages into the sport as competitors, officials and volunteers.. For more information and to contact the group please email womeninmotorsport@msauk.org.

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