By Hans Ebert
It was a simple enough question: Is there a role for women in horse racing other than being jockeys, trainers, stable hands, television presenters, owners and being part of fashions in the field?
Is there a seat for women at the executive table with decision making powers?
Other than Teresa Poon, below, Founder of the Australian Chinese Racing Club, no one else came to mind.
Lady GaiGai doesn’t count because though she’s done more for Female Power in horse racing than anyone else, the problem is that the door she opened hasn’t seen many rushing in to get in.
That raises a number of questions. Like, why not? No interest? And if so, why the disinterest?
The question about females in executive positions in the racing industry was being asked by someone I had just met and who runs her own very successful public relations firm. She looked around the venue where we were at the races, noticed a table hosted by one of the most high profile female owners who’s one of her clients, and which prompted the question.
In the two industries that I know well having worked in both as an executive- the advertising and music industries- there still exists an Old Boys Club though not as prevalent as a decade ago.
At least, in today’s technology driven world with such an emphasis on social media, there are powerful female executives led by people like Susan Wojcicki, who Google tapped to be CEO of YouTube.
Where is the equivalent of Ms Wojcicki in the horse racing industry? Or the equivalent of Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and Founder of Leanin.org?
Where, despite all this talk about being “customercentric” and trying to understand that social media in horse racing is more than corporate tweets and uploading “content” with no idea if it will ever be noticed.
Does that glass ceiling that has kept females from reaching the upper echelons of power in racing clubs and other related organisations still exist? And, if so, why?
Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether there really are executive positions for females in the racing industry? And if there are, has this been actively marketed? Will we ever see a female CEO of a racing club? Will the Old Boys Club that runs horse racing even entertain the idea?
Only a bloody fool would think that things have changed. It’s just a bit more tempered with caution and a very careful dose of political correctness, that’s all. The Old Boys Club is still around and how it works hasn’t changed one iota starting with the hiring process that creates the organisation chart.
Right here, let’s not forget that it takes two to tango and make up a foursome and certain women who’ve done “due diligence” and, more importantly, done their maths, know who and what they will come up against. They know the game and abide by the house rules. It’s no different to most industries. If you’re a female, being single and attractive is a shortcut to job satisfaction. Being realistic about that glass ceiling helps. Try to go further than where “allowed” and it could do your head in.
Let’s also not be so naive to think that the horse racing industry doesn’t have its groupies aka opportunists. The male of the species can often be found in racing clubs- largely, mediocre hires wanting to be seen as what they’re not, but recommended and protected by other (male) racing executives, and with both there to make as much money as possible by doing the least as possible. It’s all a game.
As for the female of the species, they’ve done their research and are not looking at huge career opportunities. Only opportunities and to simply belong for a while before gaining some work experience, find something better and move on.
Could many leading the charge in horse racing in 2017/18 still believe that for females to be involved in the sport, their main role is to be “eye candy” and part of fashions in the field?
The below is something from a friend of mine involved in the racing industry- talented, intelligent and articulate. And, yes, a female, who is most definitely executive material and can bring a woman’s perspective to horse racing.
Her story makes for queasy reading, but the truth, especially when it’s tacky, always does…
“I was at a press launch for a big event. It was broad daylight – a late morning for the announcement, followed by lunch – at a swanky venue and in the company of peers sponsors and industry dignitaries and officials. It was an official occasion and the dress code was business dress, so I was wearing a suit. Prim, closed shoes – nothing pretty. Nothing provocative. Workmanlike. Just going about my job. In my official press capacity. PRESS for God’s sake. With a badge and everything.
“We had the announcement. I took my notes. We broke for lunch.
“In any industry there are big name personalities – celebrities, people in the upper echelons of the management hierarchy, people in positions that can influence your job and ultimately, your life.
“Unfortunately these are usually the very people you need to talk to, get quotes from and quiz on uncomfortable subjects. People you hope to get on side and foster respect. One such person happened to be at the launch.
“We landed up together in the lunch queue. As we were spooning salads onto our plates, I plucked up the courage to introduce myself. ‘I know,’ countered my companion. ‘Me and X (name deleted to protect the guilty) have been trying to decide who will fuck you first.’
“There is no adequate way to explain how entirely undressed you feel and how the lunch aromas curdle in your stomach. How you struggle to force your face to remain expressionless while you consider an appropriate response.
“Is this funny? (what did I do?). Is he serious? (what did I do?). How do I get out of this? (what did I do?)
“You smile, rigidly – giving nothing away, hoping someone might come to your rescue (they never do). It is a test. Will you measure up? Are you weak? Are you strong? More importantly, are you available? The predatory eyes challenge you while you grapple for a response.
“When did I become a thing? When did I lose my right to an opinion?
“It is exhausting – and dehumanising at the basest level. You came here to do a job, not to defend or define yourself. And definitely not for that.
“All the society stereotypes tell you that you’ve done nothing wrong, but don’t prepare you for the consequences. Women should look nice. Why? So that men can look at them (with intent?). If you don’t ‘look nice’ (i.e. make yourself available as an object of varying levels of desire – she’s a 9, or an 8 or a 7 – god forbid any less), you walk the gangplank of derision (only a 2! Look at that! No effort whatsoever. Who does she think she is, trying to talk to me?) and ignored. Sniggered about behind your back. And definitely not afforded the time of day. ‘Not pretty enough’, ‘not smart enough’, ‘not good enough’, chant the voices in your head. Not enough. Never enough.
“But if you do? Then what? You need to be noticed, because you have a mandate to fulfil and you need access to people like this, so in many ways, this is a success, right? But you do not want to be noticed too much so as to land in an awkward situation (which you are now in, so a giant fail in that regard). So what and where was the mistake? Now the tenuous diplomatic tightrope as you try and extricate yourself graciously, wittily and without breaking the newly fledged connection the you know you will need in the future. A delicate knife-edge. Fix your lipstick and have another drink, dear.
“Blokes, here’s something you probably don’t know: If a woman accompanies you somewhere, that means she trusts you and can relax in your company. It’s probably not something you give a lot of thought to. It’s not something you really have to think about much.
“But women do. We have to choose our engagements carefully. If we have to go out somewhere on our own – even in our professional, day job capacity, in broad daylight, we have to consider what we are wearing. Make sure our phone battery is charged, just in case. Make sure someone knows where we are and who we are meeting, just in case. When we arrive, we look around the room, scanning for a familiar face, for someone we can link up with and feel safe with. We watch how many other women are left at the party. We think twice about that second or third drink. And we watch who is having their second, or third. Because things can change quickly.
“That’s not to say that we’re always feeling in physical danger – although that edge is certainly always there. There are other, equally dangerous alternatives. Your boss, or work colleague, or professional contact propositioning you. Even people you have known for years. People you think you know and can trust, might suddenly, uninvitedly, offer you a hotel key card with a broad smile. You feign flattery, make a joke, find a plausible excuse that allows both of you to escape with your dignity and look desperately for an escape. You always wonder ‘What did I do wrong?’ There is no easy way out. You can accept – and take the consequences. Or try to grope for an appropriately polite or humorous rebuff – and the result is equally hazardous.
“If you’re lucky, there’s no hard feelings and you get to fight another day, even if conversations around the water cooler are a little strained for a day or so. If you’re not, well, may the odds be ever in your favour.
“We’ve all been there, but when you are, remember that you have more choices.”
#HorseRacingIndustry #TeresaPoon #AustralianChineseRacingClub #GaiWaterhouse #SusanWojcicki #SherylSandberg