It’s no secret that the cycling industry is male-dominated; from trade shows to press tours, I often walk into a room and instantly notice how few women there are. It can sometimes feel quite intimidating.
But I can’t say I was surprised to find that the cycling industry is this way – almost all sports are the same, or at least, it’s the men’s games that see more promotion. This simply makes the problem worse – how likely are women to enter a sport or trade if they don’t feel represented in it?
Many girls grow up unaware of the numerous opportunities that are out there for them, from a career point of view as well as their general interests, and this ultimately results in them going down a beaten path that is more traditionally female.
But how do the experiences vary for those already working in the bike trade? I reached out to six women to talk about the cycling industry, its gender gap and what more could be done.
Today’s edition: ‘The industry is no longer such an intimidating place to work’
Tell us about how you got into the cycle industry.
After completing an illustration degree in 2011, my first job was working for a small UK-based cycle clothing company in 2012. I fell into the role, the office was local to me and I’d heard about the position from my local bike shop. I’d been road cycling since 2008 at this point, so the job was a fusion of my two interests, cycling and creative design.
I can remember talking with male clients on the phone or in-person at trade events was often quite trying, they seemed often reluctant to believe I was a ‘real cyclist’ or could give effective advice about the clothing. If you think back to the show situation in the mid-2010s, it wasn’t uncommon for brands to have sort of showgirls in branded skin suits on their stands. So this never helped me to be taken seriously. The business struggled and I had to leave after a couple of years when they could no longer pay me.
What are your experiences of being a woman in the industry?
When I first worked at [my current job], I answered the sales phone as well as doing my design work. There were a lot of negative reactions from customers unaccustomed to a female voice on the phone. To give some examples: ‘Oh but I need to speak to someone who actually knows about this stuff’, ‘Can I talk to one of the lads about it’ and ‘Are you sure?’.
I had a colleague who started at the same time as me, although his role was just telephone-based. I remember talking to him when we had our six-month review and noting at least no one ever doubted he could get/knew the answer to something just because of the sound of his voice.
I would say I felt this negative experience didn’t continue at the same level as the years past. It was almost like a changing of the guard within the industry, certainly where a younger/newer customer base is much more likely to be happy dealing with a woman or is not even thinking about your gender when they are working with you. I work directly with loads of retailers now, designing POS for their stores or custom bottles and clothing, and I can’t remember the last time I had a bad experience or felt I wasn’t being taken seriously.
Do you feel that the gender gap is closing at all, and if not, what more could be done?
There are definitely more women in the industry now than at the start of my career, which is very positive. I think this is also reflective of how cycling has evolved since the 2012 Olympics, so many more women on bikes now. When I started riding in my club of around 100 riders, there weren’t more than five or six female riders. I also think better TV/media coverage for women’s racing is having a positive influence.
Overall, I would say the industry is still male-dominated but it’s no longer such an intimidating place to work as a woman, and there seems to be more and more women entering the industry all the time. Maybe I’ve grown in confidence over the years, but I don’t feel like I have to fight to be taken seriously anymore.
If you could give one piece of advice to women entering the industry, what would it be?
If you think something is wrong don’t be afraid to speak out, you could be making a difference for your next female colleague.