Survey Confirms There Really Aren't Many Women In Formula One

Ruth Buscombe, Alfa Romeo’s Head of Race Strategy, before the 2020 F1 Grand Prix of Portugal.
Ruth Buscombe, Alfa Romeo’s Head of Race Strategy, before the 2020 F1 Grand Prix of Portugal.
Photo: Joe Portlock (Getty Images)

Every so often, a new study, report, or survey comes out that reports something so dramatically obvious that you have to wonder why anyone did the research in the first place—you know, like Apple confirming that women do in fact have cramps on their period. It’s the same thing with a new survey conducted about the number of women in Formula One teams. But I’m going to talk about it anyway.

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Yeah, yeah, that woman at Jalopnik is going on about women in racing again. Color me surprised. But I do think it’s genuinely important, what with this being Women’s History Month and all. F1 has been pressing toward more diversity with campaigns like We Race As One, so it is crucial to analyze the hard facts and get a sense of where to start. And that includes looking at the women that take part in F1.

This big survey was conducted by ESPN, which asked every F1 team on the grid this year to report the number of women they employed. Here’s what it found:

  • Out of its 1,000 employees, Mercedes has hired 117 women. Thirty-one percent of those hires are in senior roles. Four of the 65 members of the race team are women. Four women work on races from the factory on a team of 20 people.
  • Haas doesn’t employ many people at all. Out of its 167-person outfit, 15 are women.
  • McLaren brings 66 people to the track, five of whom are women. The team also reports one woman in a senior management role.
  • Alfa Romeo noted that an average of 51 people attend races, five of whom are women. Thirteen other women work in senior roles in the F1 side of the company.
  • Alpha Tauri said it has women working in senior roles but did not provide a number. No women travel with the race team.
  • Aston Martin and Alpine said they couldn’t provide the requested information.
  • Red Bull, Ferrari, and Williams did not respond.

I think it’s safe to say that those results are… not promising.

Careers in motorsport are still highly gendered, which is something you see in plenty of STEM fields. Women make up only 28 percent of employees in STEM fields, and that disparity is reinforced throughout life. Society still genders STEM careers as ‘male’ and humanities careers as ‘female,’ and young kids that exhibit interest in fields that don’t correspond to their assigned gender are discouraged from pursuing those paths. It’s called a “growth mindset,” and basically it means that if you consistently tell certain children that they are inherently worse at something than other children, they’ll adopt that mindset and perform poorly. If, on the other hand, you tell a young girl that she has the ability to do just about anything she wants if she puts in the work, she’ll perform better.

It’s largely a cultural issue that gets reinforced while kids are still young. Research from Microsoft has shown that as many as 74 percent of middle school girls have an interest in math and science, but those numbers dwindle in high school. If you accept ego psychologist Erik Erikson’s theories about development, this is the point in time where kids become more aware of their presentation of self and how it corresponds to the social mores dictating gendered expectations. Basically, they get self-conscious if they deviate from what society expects. It’s around the time folks start expecting tomboys to put on makeup and act like a lady.

I had the opportunity to chat with Charlie Martin a few weeks ago, and one thing she said has stuck with me since then: “Motorsport does have to evolve. It does have to become more inclusive and more of a diverse space because, ultimately, if it doesn’t, it’s not going to be relevant to future generations. When you look at kids growing up now, they’re so much more open about their gender identity and their sexuality. If you say, look into motorsport when all other sports are trying to do what they can to be inclusive, and motorsport says no, we’re not moving forward, that’s not good.”

So, the numbers we’re seeing in F1 aren’t necessarily unexpected, since racing has been seriously inhospitable to women for ages, whether it was tracks barring women from competing or men sexually assaulting women who show up to work in the paddock. No, not every woman is interested in working in racing. But the numbers from ESPN’s survey highlight the fact that there’s a serious need to do a lot better if the sport wants to remain relevant.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

DISCUSSION

So based on the numbers above, 9-11% of staff for the teams that reported are female. Honest question: Do you know how this compares with women who enjoy watching, participating, or following motorsports or automotive hobbies in some fashion? Because while ~10% is not diverse, is it aligned with interest in the field? I’m a straight male who works in the fashion industry. I’m in the minority in my industry, definitely in the minority if you focus on the creative side (e.g. Design, buying, visual) and not the support side (e.g. IT, accounting, logistics). That said, the level of diversity in my industry (or lack there of) is reflective of the interest in the industry.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be encouraging women (and bipoc and gay and...) to join in. More motorheads are a good thing! There may be a limit though, depending on how much it resonates with people personally.