How does the motorsport industry increase female participation? It’s a question that has long been asked, but Extreme E has been trying to answer that in its own unique way at its season finale.
Let’s be clear, Extreme E has been trying to help increase and sustain female participation in motorsport right from the off. It’s exactly why the series has a 50:50 split between female and male drivers.
That’s great, and it’s a step forward in the right direction, but what about the next generation?
While in Dorset for the final round of the Extreme E season, the series has attempted to honor its promise, having approached Motorsport UK’s Girls on Track UK program about working together to show the future generation of females what motorsport has to offer.
And it wasn’t, predictably, all about the driving.
Girls on Track UK is keen to show girls that there is more to motorsport beyond driving, but it’s hard to convey that in a classroom-style setting. The only way to get them to really understand what it’s like is by getting them involved and fully immersed in experiencing real elements that the industry has to offer.
In order to achieve that, two schools were invited to bring some of their female students down to the track and the girls were split up into groups and rotated around various activities. They learnt how to deliver CPR, how to build the fastest car they could out of Lego and how to change tires in a pitstop situation, whilst also experiencing Extreme E’s driver change routine.
But that wasn’t all. Extreme E also invited them to explore the paddock, allowing them to experience exactly what it’s like in a professional environment during working conditions.
Of course, many racing and rally fans have done pit walks and wandered around the paddock, but never do they get to access them when there’s action going on.
As the girls wandered down the paddock, stopping to chat with and ask questions to various female drivers including Jamie Chadwick, Sara Price and Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, the likes of Carlos Sainz and Sebastian Loeb were driving the Odyssey 21s barely a few meters away, heading out to the track to go and complete their shakedown.
They were so close to the action that upon leaving the paddock, one group of girls had to completely get out of the way, moving to the side of the road so that they could let Loeb and his X44 Odyssey 21 through as he returned from his shakedown run.
It’s one thing to tell someone what something is like in the hope they get inspired, but having the chance to actually experience that real working environment changes the perspective completely.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” Girls on Track UK’s program manager Jenny Tcherniak said. “We are so lucky to be able to come here, for the girls to be able to see so many positive female role models, which is what we want to achieve, but particularly in the driving capacity. You don’t get that in Formula 1, you don’t get it in Formula E but in Extreme E, with the gender equality, it’s absolutely brilliant for the girls to see.”
Being able to meet individuals who have achieved what some have previously said was almost impossible showed the pupils that with hard work and dedication that it’s not an impossibility, it can be done. Chadwick believes that the fact Extreme E has an equal split of male and female drivers shows young girls what can be achieved.
“I think Girls on Track’s great,” Chadwick explained to DirtFish. “The sport’s lending itself to more and more opportunities now for women and I think just giving young girls the exposure to that and understanding the career opportunities that are available to them in the sport is the main thing. Then they get the appetite and then hopefully they catch the bug that I did to get fully involved in the sport.
“I think it’s the ‘see it and be it’ analogy and that’s a big part of what Extreme E is doing and giving us the opportunity to race but also the visibility for more young girls to see it as something they can do as well.”
It’s a view echoed by Åhlin-Kottulinsky.
“It starts from such a young age, just showing that you can be within this sport, not only as a driver, but a mechanic, engineer, media, whatsoever,” she said. “I started because my whole family did it, otherwise I don’t think I would have been introduced to this sport.
“So it’s so important for these girls to just see that there is a place for them in this male-dominated world and who knows, when they are 29 like me, maybe it’s not going to be. Maybe it’s going to be 50:50.
“I think it’s great what Extreme E is doing. Showcasing for the first time in history 50:50 female, male drivers and also taking the girls out here to show them what we’re doing.
“Extreme E has shown that females have the same right to be here and can be as good and as quick and giving such a good show just as the male drivers.
“It shouldn’t even be a question, but it has been a question for many years and still is, but Extreme E is really showing that. People say that the future is electrical, the future is more females, but Extreme E is showing that it’s not the future. It is now. I like that.”
While in the paddock, the girls stopped at the majority of garages, spoke to drivers, asked them questions and at the end of the tour they also spent time chatting with a female engineer from Continental tires, understanding the work that goes on behind the scenes.
And in true Extreme E fashion, they also took the opportunity to educate the girls about the environmental issues currently at play in the world.
“It’s really great for them to see and learn about the environmental issues that go with Extreme E,” added Tcherniak.
“They’re trying highlight the global climate issues throughout the world but through motorsport because if you can get children to appreciate at such a young age what the damage of plastic is doing, it’s then all those little things that we could do as individuals will hopefully help to make a better world.
“I think the fact Extreme E is doing that through their championship is brilliant.”
It would be ignorant to suggest that Extreme E is the only championship trying to assist in increasing the number of females working within motorsport. There’s a number of other initiatives, programs and categories – notably the W Series – that have been trying to assist.
But unlike many of these other initiatives, Extreme E and Girls on Track UK have given these girls a real taste of what the industry is like. It’s not just been about listening to people, it’s been about seeing the real work that takes place and the action for themselves, something that isn’t attainable anywhere else.
And that’s why the work both Extreme E and Girls on Track are doing this weekend will be beneficial. It’s difficult not to feel inspired seeing some of the world’s best drivers climb into cars and head off on to the circuit just a few feet away from where you are standing, and see mechanics working on cars right in front of you.
It might be a unique way of doing things, but it’s definitely a great way to ensure that the next generation of females are inspired and know that they have just as much of a right to be in the industry – in whatever capacity – as their male counterparts.