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Driving female success in motorsport

To mark International Women's Day, the CEO of More than Equal talks about their current barriers and how the success of female football is helping women in all sports.

8th March 2024

by Ali Donnelly
CEO, More than Equal

The rise of women’s football is one of the true success stories in women’s sport in recent years.

Arsenal generating crowds of 60,000 at the Emirates Stadium, fans lining the side of the pitch desperate to get a glimpse of their heroes and big brands signing up the likes of Leah Williamson and Lucy Bronze for major campaigns are no longer cases of exception in the sport. They are becoming the norm.

Accepting that even with its current success there is still a long way to go in women’s football, those of us working in other sports still have a lot to thank it for.

Normalising the regular discussion and debate of women in sport benefits everyone and in motorsport we are also reaping some of these.

Putting women behind the winning wheel

A year ago, when I took on the role of CEO at More than Equal – an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting talented female drivers and finding the first female Formula 1 world champion –  there were murmurings about the lack of women competing at all levels in motorsport, but those murmurings have now become a consistent debate and discussion.

Driven on by the progress of women in a range of other sports, a realisation is dawning in motorsport that as one of the world’s leading and only truly mixed-gender sports - ours is one of the few sports in which men and women can compete together - the lack of women on its grid is closing-off a world of opportunities to it.

But when the F1 Academy – a new all-female racing series – announced a partnership with global beauty brand Charlotte Tilbury last month, you could almost hear some pennies dropping about how motorsport could start to benefit commercially from having women competing at its higher levels.

Plus, motorsport has a growing female base.

F1 itself says that around 40% of its fans are women and girls, but when we asked that fanbase last year in a major piece of research what they thought about the sport’s efforts to support female drivers, we learned that they were largely dissatisfied.

So there’s now a greater motivation than ever to help grow this sport so that women and girls can play a fuller part.

Normalising the regular discussion and debate of women in sport benefits everyone and in motorsport we are also reaping some of these.

At More than Equal we are focusing on supporting young female drivers early on in their careers.

This is because our early research told us that the major barriers blocking the progress of women and girls in the sport remained as they started to climb the ranks.

But thanks to the work I was able to do on the amazing This Girl Can campaign while I was with Sport England, I realised when I took this job that we had to build a true understanding of the barriers facing female drivers, just as This Girl Can worked hard to understand what was behind lower activity levels for women and girls – the ‘gender activity gap’.

Planning the change

Our research showed us that while motorsport is a tough sport for anyone to progress in – not least because it is terrifically expensive – women and girls faced a range of additional challenges from their male counterparts.

Those barriers include the tiny pool of female participants and lack of support early in the career of female drivers, therefore our focus became to help remove some of these.

We’re offering a driver development programme for some of the world’s highest potential female drivers, a programme that is not only relevant to their age but that is truly build with their gender in mind.

This is something that is not on offer in motorsport currently for young female drivers and we’re working with a range of partners to deliver it, with a goal of helping those drivers progress up the ladder towards Formula 1 – where we have not seen a woman compete for almost 50 years!

That lack of representation in the world’s largest mixed-gender sport is not good enough. There's also a lack of women racing in other major motorsport series like Formula E, Indycar, Nascar and, as I write this, there’s only one female driver in Formula 3.

So while we watch the ongoing progress of women’s football in this country, we too are driving our progress and that's thanks, in part, to the path they are laying before us.

Find out more

More than Equal

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