It was great to speak about the inaugural Outspoken – Women in Triathlon Summit with Sara Gross And Lisa Ingarfield. During our discussion Sara and Lisa expanded on their backgrounds and the issues of diversity and inclusion in the sport of triathlon.
The summit itself takes place on Friday, November 30th to Sunday, December 2, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona.
A summary with some of the discussion points is written up below. To hear the conversation in full, please check out the Soundcloud file below. (Sorry in advance for the slightly tinny sound in places!)
EnduranceBiz: Can you give some background as to how you two guys got together?
Sara Gross: Lisa reached out to me about our TriEqual initiative, which was the not for profit that we, a group of us, 12 of us formed after the 50 Women to Kona push for equal slots for the pro women [at the IRONMAN World Championships].
Lisa and I had a lot of mutual interests; and we started a conversation about how we could help triathlon become a more diverse and inclusive sport. We were brainstorming together, and then as time went on the idea that kind of rose to the top was this one about having a women’s summit in a North American context.
EnduranceBiz: So, is it a summit just for women, or one around the issue of women in the sport; or a bit of both?
Sara: I’d say it’s not just about women’s participation but also around how to get more women rising through the ranks of leadership in triathlon. We called it the Outspoken Women in Triathlon Summit but we definitely have a handful of men attending. We’re really grateful for our male allies too.
Lisa Ingarfield: I’ve been working a lot in women’s equity and actually violence against women, which isn’t obviously directly related to triathlon; but I’ve always had a particular interest in this area and I also am a triathlon coach and at age group triathlete myself.
So, this is kind of a blending of two parts of myself I suppose – in the sense that it’s an educational opportunity. It’s a summit. It’s bringing people together discussing issues developing solutions about women, diversity and inclusivity in triathlon.
Sarah and I really connected over that diversity and inclusion piece both from our academic backgrounds but also from a personal commitment to wanting to shift that conversation to a more meaningful and deeper level beyond how do we just get bodies in the sport. I think we’re both really committed to taking that conversation further than it’s perhaps gone historically.
EnduranceBiz: How have you actually organized behind the scenes in terms of the corporate structure?
Sara: Live Feisty Media is my media company that I founded a little over a year ago. We run a website with some written content but mostly we do a couple of podcasts. One is the IronWomen Podcast where we do live videos, live event videos here in North America, interviewing the pros at races.
We also have a weekly podcast that a couple of pro athletes co-host. That comes out weekly. We’ve been growing that audience for about a year. And then I have another podcast called ‘If We Were Riding’ that I do with a journalist called Kelly O’Mara. So that’s my side of it and my company; and Lisa founded Shift Sports.
Lisa: Shift Sports came out of the conversations that Sarah and I had around diversity and inclusion and women’s equity in triathlon. And so one of the areas that rose to the top in addition to the summit was the possibility of creating some online content and offering some consulting services to organizations who were looking to shift their perspective and practices when it came to diversity and inclusion.
So, Shift Sports is really to support athletic organizations inside and outside of triathlon with understanding how they could implement different strategies both internally in their organization and also externally in terms of their customers and clients to better address diversity and inclusion initiatives.
It’s certainly relevant for a race director and I would say it’s certainly relevant for a brand because of the way that you choose to market your product. And if you’re thinking of that rather narrowly or you’re operating from the norm of a white 45 year old male triathlete then you’re unlikely to be reaching more diverse audiences.
And so the goal of Shift would be to help folks think that through and perhaps more intentionally develop a plan that casts the net a lot wider.
Endurancebiz: It’s a really interesting point because with every bit of research we’ve done that’s pretty much the demographic that comes back as the average – the affluent white middle class male. Do you feel that this [demographic] is something accidental, that has just happened by osmosis, or have there been barriers at the event experience level?
Sara: I think that it’s multi-layered and complex. The socioeconomic piece is huge because it’s not a coincidence that the demographic we’re talking about, the middle class white male, also makes the most money; and triathlon is an expensive sport.
But I also think that, now that we’re creating this summit, instead of saying there are no qualified people who come from this demographic or that demographic – we started with a core assumption that there are going to be, for example, women of colour out there doing amazing things in the sport of triathlon.
It’s our job to find them and to bring them into our inner circle and listen to them at the summit. Because of course they exist.
Lisa: I think one of the big priorities of the summit is to really bring diverse folks, from across all facets of the sport together, who have a commitment and interest in furthering the conversation about women and triathlon and more broadly diversity and inclusion in triathlon. So, we’re looking to have an attendee base that’s really diverse in terms of their engagement with the issue of women in triathlon.
It isn’t just for elite or pro athletes. We’ve tried to make that really clear that this is really for anyone that’s connected to the sport who has this interest and this desire to engage in a deep and meaningful conversation.
Having women present and being visible is a key element of all of this. But why don’t they stay? Right. We have to think about climate. We have to think about some of those intangibles that are perhaps less obvious that affect womens’ decisions to continue to engage in the sport or become leaders in the sport or their capacity to run businesses or move through an organization to the CEO level. We’re hoping to extend and deepen the conversation there.
What’s lacking I think is a connection and a communication between all various parts. You have groups like USA Triathlon, the Ironman Foundation, Women for Tri, who are doing stuff but they’re doing this in isolation with very little crosstalk. And we hope that this will be at least one avenue to start to break down some of those communication walls so that we can actually build across and through these diverse initiatives that are happening.
Endurancebiz: How many attendees overall are you expecting at the summit?
Sara: We have about a hundred, which is actually over capacity for us. So we are now working with our hotel going ‘where we’re going to put all the people?!’.
Lisa: We’re excited to hear from [all speakers]. There are lots of different avenues down which we’re going. We’re trying to touch on some of these pervasive issues that are feeding into this larger issue of why women are not staying in triathlon, or why triathlon continues to kind of centre itself around a ‘white male 40 something year old’.
Endurancebiz: Do you feel that the big issue is retention of women coming to the sport? They may have a bad experience or something just doesn’t quite feel right and then they leave the sport. Or is it a mix of that with the fact that we are just simply not recruiting enough women at the same time?
Lisa: I think it’s both. The conversation tends to stop at recruitment so various organizations will say ‘well our numbers of women were up’. But there’s not any kind of deeper reflection or analysis about are they staying engaged? In what ways are you seeing women’s participation beyond showing up on race day?
I’m sure Sarah can attest to this too, that, in particular, going into bike shops is really intimidating for women because it’s often staffed by all men. Men often make assumptions about women’s knowledge around bike products that are made for women.
And so you have a woman who is perhaps interested in triathlon and maybe wants to get a little bit more involved. They go to a bike shop in particular. That’s just one example. And they have a really unpleasant experience. There we’re talking about a cultural piece around inclusion and helping people feel welcome but also not assuming that the woman doesn’t know anything.
Sara: We recognize that, especially the male owners of these businesses, or they may be female, they want to know more and want answers, but there have been very few times where we have all dug a little deeper. I also think another area is coaching. So you see in coaching this trend of female coaches. A lot of those coaches will coach beginners and then in terms of movement up the ranks, the coaching ranks, when you look at the very top level and who’s actually coaching the pro athletes – there are actually very few women there.
For me part of this summit is about doing this brainstorming around how we create stepping stones in all of these areas because I think that we all want to see something change and we just don’t know quite how to do it yet.
Endurancebiz: In terms of governance, we have Marisol Casado at the head of ITU and there has been strong female governance at the international level. Also, ITU has brought about Mixed Relay. Do you see this as a good thing?
Sara: Absolutely. I think that Marisol’s leadership, and at the federation level, triathlon has, compared to most sports, been very inclusive. It has had a lot of women’s leadership. And that’s something not to be forgotten during this conversation that we need to celebrate and recognize. Because, as a sport that’s something we’re fairly unique in.
Presented by Triathlete magazine, the Outspoken Summit is a partnership between Live Feisty Media and Shift Sports. Live Feisty Media produces the ‘IronWomen’ and ‘If We Were Riding’ podcasts, hosts written content at Livefeisty.com, and provides live video coverage at a number of triathlon events in North America. Shift Sports is ‘dedicated to assisting triathlon organizations, teams, and events in initiating and sustaining inclusive practices by looking beyond participation numbers alone’.