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Women in trade: Jenni Gwiazdowski, London Bike Kitchen

It is no secret that women are underrepresented in the cycling industry. According to Cycling UK, only one million women in the UK cycle regularly – just 3% of the population, with many more bike journeys made by men than women.

Imagine the difference that could be made to the sport and the industry by encouraging more women to cycle – after all, we are potential customers and employees for your business. But how is the industry itself catering to the women who work in it? Is the gap really closing or is there still a long way to go? Rebecca Morley got in touch with five women from different areas of the trade to find out how they got into the industry, what their experiences have been and what more could be done.

Today, we hear from Jenni Gwiazdowski, director at London Bike Kitchen.

Tell us about how you got into the cycle industry.
Hah! For some reason, as someone who worked in charity marketing, I thought I’d set up a DIY bike workshop. And then I became a mechanic. I like to think I snuck in sideways.

What has been your proudest moment so far?
Getting my book ‘How to Build a Bike’ written and published.

What are your experiences of being a woman in the cycling industry?
Good and bad. It’s funny dealing with people who ignore you because you’re a woman and try to talk to your male colleague who’s obviously busy working on something else. But they are few and far between. Cycling as a thing is very niche, and women, gender-variant, and POC in the industry are like a minority within a minority, so it feels like you know everyone. But sometimes it can feel like you’re entering a club that’s not yours. I feel like I have to prove myself in order to have a mere conversation. It’s up to all of us to welcome different people to join in. Some shops really get this, and others feel like you’re walking into a time machine, and not in a good way.

Do you feel that the gender gap is closing at all?
No. In eight years I still rarely see female mechanics, wheel builders, and frame builders.

Could we be doing much more to speed up the pace (and if so, what?), or do you think it will need to be a gradual change?
I think targeted programmes like the ones that QBP and Trek offer in America are sorely needed in the UK. They’re not just for beginners, but for mechanics at any level looking to up their game. Scholarships targeting minorities are great for getting rid of barriers to entry and encouraging people who may have never thought of getting into the industry. I really wish someone like Cytech would create a programme, we would see such a step-change in a short amount of time.

Also, psychologically speaking, people need to stop thinking of equality (or in this case, the industry) as a pie. It’s not a fixed amount of work that’s available. Technology and trends are changing all the time. People retire or find jobs elsewhere. There are so many opportunities for businesses to grow, we should be doing our best to attract talent from previously untapped areas, not fighting over what’s perceived as the last bone.

To what extent do you think this differs from other industries and also perhaps from other sports?
I’m not a sporty person and don’t know much about other industries, but I recently have been thinking about how similar guitar shops are to cycling shops. The cycling industry could learn a lot from Richer Sounds. An employee-owned model that values both the staff and the customer is the way forward.

We can’t compete with the internet, but we can be better than the internet. Imagine a chain of shops that were worker-owned and operated, and that treated customers with the utmost service. It’s definitely possible.

If you could give one piece of advice to women entering the industry, what would it be?
Use the internet to find like-minded people if you’re feeling alone. Working in cycling is extremely rewarding, and your presence will encourage others to get in as well. Be a pioneer.

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