How to increase women's participation...it's not an easy road

Liz Sharpe - Thursday, February 11, 2016 | Comments (0)

 

Last month, the triathlon industry held its annual Triathlon Business International conference for industry insiders. It’s a three day seminar aimed to connect people in the business and to discuss the current and future state of our sport. We didn’t get a chance to participate this year, but we heard that several key points came up time and again. Two included the sale of World Triathlon Corporation (Ironman) to the Chinese owned Wanda Group and the increase in number of races but the flat or declining levels of participation.

The one topic most discussed, however, was women. Do women feel included in the sport? Why are women racing everything from sprint to 70.3 distance but not jumping wholeheartedly into long distance/Ironman events? What can retailers/race directors/triathlon companies do to attract more women?

It appears women are the future of triathlon, something we have (obviously) believed for years. There is nothing we would like more than to see throngs of women toeing the starting line. For this to happen, though, change is necessary. But what change? For starters, triathlon companies can and should do more to attract women to the sport, and we think creating a community is a great first step. A perfect example of a company who is doing this right is the popular women’s clothing line Coeur. This women owned company embraces all women triathletes, not only by creating fashionable comfortable performance wear, but also by encouraging community. Either through its race teams or positive social media messages, they are reaching women on a deeper level.

If retailers and triathlon business executives could look past the “make a buck” mindset, they would see that a woman’s business may come with a little extra work, but it’s worth it. Build a community where women feel appreciated and valued and boom, business will follow.

As much as we celebrate that the triathlon industry leaders are talking about the “women problem,” we fear some of the actions they may take to attract more women to the sport could shift us back decades regarding women’s liberation. We’re no bra burners, but at the conference, talk revolved around making triathlon easier with more pool swim events and indoor tris, more women’s only events, and doing things like offering manicures at race expos. We understand that open water swimming is fear inducing to many, but is making triathlon easier the only way to bring women to the sport? How about supporting swim clinics, offering wetsuit demos, and organizing group training instead?


Who is to say women need or want triathlon to be easy? What are the real reasons more women aren’t racing? By the way, racing long course (Ironman) is the major discrepancy here. Women’s participation in shorter events, including 70.3 is generally on par with men. Does the future of the sport hinge on how many women do Ironman distance?

For our part, we want more women to love the sport that we have dedicated our work to, but we don’t want women to feel pandered to in order for their numbers to be equitable to the men’s. We fully support women’s only events and think they are a powerful way to break the ice. Heck, that’s how we first got our feet wet. We believe, however, that the biggest growth will come when the tri industry looks to women as strong assets who are powerful in numbers, who can learn to be proficient, talented open water swimmers, and who love to get their nails dirty. A little hand holding goes a long way, but too much smacks of gender bias. Is easier the only answer?

What are your thoughts? Please share with us on Facebook and Twitter. Are you resisting triathlon because you are intimidated? If so, what would bring you to it? What will it take for more women to join the tri ranks?

 

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