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08 March 2019

To mark International Women’s Day, Racing Together caught up with the sport’s Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Rose Grissell. Her message is clear: ‘…the reality is that the world is changing and if racing is to thrive and grow as a sport, we must ensure it is diverse and inclusive.’

In the blood but I wanted to work with people

My sister and I always seemed to get that bad stomach bug in mid-March around Cheltenham time! I grew up surrounded by racing with both my parents training and both my older sisters riding as amateurs. It was fairly natural for me to follow suit and I have been riding in point-to-points since I was 17 – there is nothing else like it!

Professionally, though, I wanted a different career, predominantly helping others and so I ended up in the charity sector. My previous job allowed me to develop and lead a diversity and inclusion programme and a mental health awareness campaign for the professional and financial services sector.

Rose (right) having her first winner beating her sister, Hannah Grissell

What does being the Head of Diversity & Inclusion actually entail?

Diversity is all our human differences that make us who we are as individuals, for example, but not limited to, our gender, race, age, sexuality, our social economic background, disability and religion. These characteristics affect our life experiences, perspectives and ideas – and this can be a hugely powerful asset, but only if inclusion is embraced. Inclusion is ensuring that everyone’s differences are valued and respected – diversity is pointless without inclusion.

My role is to make sure that every area of racing offers inclusivity to all.

Lessons from the corporate world can help racing and its people

Racing is, in one sense, at a huge advantage because we can learn so much from the corporate world. I was previously working with big organisations like Barclays and Channel 4 that are really leading the way in this space. Of course, sport is different, but the concept of creating and promoting inclusive cultures is very transferable.

Embracing diversity and inclusion has a huge impact on businesses and sport. We know that teams that are more diverse and more inclusive are simply more innovative, productive and successful. In fact, gender diverse businesses are 21% more likely to outperform those that are not.

The reality is that the world is changing and if racing is to thrive and grow as a sport, we must ensure it is diverse and inclusive. Yes, it is the right thing to do but more so, it is a business imperative.

Initiatives already championing women in the sport

Racing is one of very few sports where men and women can compete equally against each other, and we have more women attendees than most other major sports. Both these facts should be celebrated.

There are some really impactful initiatives including those that have shone a light on our female talent, including The Silk Series, The Ultimate Ladies Night at Carlisle as well as Great British Racing’s International Women’s Day 2019 campaign.

YouTube player
“Video courtesy of Great British Racing, with race footage courtesy of ITV and RTV”

You have the support of the Diversity in Racing Steering Group – what are your priorities?

The Diversity in Racing Steering Group (DiRSG) is made up of individuals passionate about creating a more inclusive sport for all, and last year an Action Plan was produced outlining priorities across the sport.

One of their first areas of focus is to educate the whole sport around the necessity and benefits of prioritising diversity and inclusion in racing. We still have a long way to go, the data shows that female jockeys are not getting the same opportunities as male jockeys, despite evidence produced last year by Vanessa Cashmore showing that statistically female jockeys perform equally to male jockeys.

Look around at Cheltenham or any other race meetings and see how many non-white faces we attracting to our sport. How can we widen our fanbase to be more inclusive as our population becomes more diverse? This is a major challenge for racing.

Knowing that a jockey directly lost rides because he came out as gay, alongside evidence that many jockeys are too scared to be open about their sexuality demands new thinking from all corners of the sport. Demonstrating greater inclusivity is needed over the theory of making changes.

The broad-based Diversity in Racing Steering Group was created in 2017

What everyday actions can people make to play their part?

If progress is to be made, it is essential that everyone across the sport plays their part, no matter how big or small. There are some easy things that I think everyone can do: be conscious of your own biases when making decisions; call out casual sexist, homophobic or racist banter. For some, it is simply not funny.

Finally, be a diversity and inclusion champion! Speak to your senior colleagues about prioritising this as the way your teams think, work and plan. The world is changing and a new workforce is emerging. As you can see, I’m passionate about fighting for equality and inclusion, especially in the typically white male-dominated sport of racing. I hope you’ll join me in creating changes over time that benefit the sport and those people who work within it now and in the future.

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