It's been two years since I started Sisterhood. That's an occasion worthy of a catch-up post. In those two years, I've lost friends over my politics, and made new ones in the process. My thoughts about social entrepreneurship and activism have evolved.
I feel overwhelmingly grateful to have people visit the site regularly, and read what I've written. I started out feeling like I was yelling into the void. That feeling still catches me, even though people now contact me to chat about what I've written and what they can do about it.
First up, some housekeeping:
- Sorry for the erraticness of the email functionality. We are switching to a different mail server when the website redesign goes live. To paraphrase Tim McGraw, free stuff is worth the price you pay!
- Sorry for the dearth of social media outputs, which have been particularly patchy this year. I was feeling tired and overwhelmed by the amount of work on my plate towards the end of last year, and since March, my nuclear family has begun the slow process of disintegration. Add to that the challenges of living in Zimbabwe in the year between having more trade sanctions put on us and an election that promises to be contentious and probably violent (given how everyone's behaving right now, google 'Zimbabwe police spikes' to see what I mean), and I just haven't had the spoons to make shiny posts for the socials. I have a plan to relocate, and am in discussions with freelancers to run the socials when the redesign goes live. They're Millennials and Gen Zs know how to GIF and make Insta stories. You'll like their work.
In the past two years, I have done some behind-the-scenes advocacy for people who felt their rights were being violated by their bosses/series organisers/governing bodies. Aside from that, the only real work I've done for Sisterhood has been a recruitment job in June/July 2016, and outing Danny Watts in Jan/Feb 2017. The rest of what I've done has been content creation, and one-on-one supporting/coaching of people who contacted me. The website hit rates have increased and remained steady, despite a decrease in blog traffic across the internet.
Now, onto the meaty stuff...
In reading about social entrepreneurship and business building, I've realised that I've built a very unresilient organisation. I assumed that my (patchy, unpredictable, and subject to the vagaries of the Zimbabwean economy) consultant's salary would be enough to cover everything I wanted to do. Well, newsflash, it wasn't, and due to not being paid since November, I've had to take microloans from my dad to keep the lights on. So we're having a restructure that will hopefully be holistic and resilient. (It's backed by empirical, peer-reviewed data and feedback from informed feminists who love motorsport, so it should be pretty decent.)
I have thus far resisted the membership model. I think monthly subscriptions of enough money to buy a meal at a restaurant are a barrier to minority involvement in motorsport, particularly for people in developing nations. In every WotW (and in this year's Pride series), I ask what the interviewee's biggest challenge is in motorsport, and the answer is universally 'money.' Most of my audience is Millennial and Gen Z, who are the most impoverished generations in living memory. I don't feel right about asking already cash-strapped people to pay a generous monthly fee for basic cover.
However, to uncouple the organisation from my personal earning potential, I need to ask for money to bring new people on board and scale up operations. So, we're going to do a 'pay what you can' donations system in the near future. This gives you membership to the community support group, and therefore the right to vote on what happens to donations (who we fund, how we structure our sponsorship packages, etc.) and the right to have us signal-boost your social media outputs. For people who want to participate, but have no money (or, like me, institutional restrictions on online spending/violations of our basic human right to the freedom to do legal and legitimate business without undue impediment). we're putting a 'get involved' tab on the website, and if you spend an hour a week volunteering for a positive, high-impact feminist cause local to you, you can submit your time sheets as credit to be a member of the group.
The free pep talks are being moved from the coaching section of the org to this group. There is a limit to the amount of empathic and supportive conversation I can give away in any given day while still getting work done, and the point of community is to share the load between all the villagers. I have preemptively added coaches to the group, so there will be adequate cover.
Human bonding can only get so far with online communication. There's something that happens to our brains when we can touch and smell each other that makes us bond more powerfully. Thus, members of the community group will have organisational support to create events local to them. Organisers will have creative freedom over the events, as long as they don't violate feminist principles (check in with the group in the planning stages).
Outraged by the renewed threat of all-girl* F1, we have decided to do something a bit different about the threat of gender-based apartheid in the sport. We are creating a fundraising platform that will enable people to do sporting events to raise money for cash-strapped racers who are members of marginalised population groups. This will initially be part of a study about the IKEA effect (a cognitive bias where we like things more when we had a hand in making them), subject to IRB approval from the university underwriting the study.
However, after the study is complete, the program will remain. Contributing to society increases life satisfaction. Doing nice things for others increases life satisfaction. Doing physical exercise and being outdoors increases life satisfaction. There is no down-side to participating in the experiment, other than the risk of a sprained ankle while training .
I am making (slow) progress on the paper about what LGBTQ+ racers can expect from the public when making their coming out announcements, inspired by my involvement in Danny Watts' coming out announcement. I am participating in two other papers, so expect a questionnaire about grid girls in the not-too-distant future (again, subject to IRB approval from my co-author's university). Motorsport is a very under-researched area, and I need to fill in the gaps in the data to make decently informed decisions about the org. If anyone would like to do a study about motorsport, the research group is being revived to stimulate that.
We are building a range of products to make a decent income and sponsor more people. Worry not, we will retain the free content on the blog, and expand it to include other media. The expansion of the free content will be from donations and collaborations, and will not be behind a paywall, not now, not ever. The goal of this will be to create an international 'everything you need to know about motorsport careers' guide for minorities in the sport in one handy spot, along with little shots of inspiration. We will also be hosting free events as organisational funds accumulate and we can book out venues and provide free food and drink.
The for-pay products will be split into three ranges - the low-cost (items that cost up to about $200, and can be distributed via the website; career and soft skills coaching; short, low-cost events), the premium range (multi-day events at interesting destinations, designed to be spas for the motorsporty feminist soul), and the corporate range (policy consulting based on our existing and growing data set, etc.).
The Sporting Code
Inspired by several people's stories to me, I have started writing a book about consent in motorsport. It's less boring than it sounds, I promise, and is aimed at giving people a shorthand for discussing boundaries. I will be testing this material in a series of upcoming webinars and email courses. Watch this space!
There are other plans in the works, so expect some announcements soon. (I learned my lesson with sharing nascent plans when someone who shall remain nameless jacked my org plan and web copy and threw the weight of a giant trust fund at it to out-perform me. The community group will function as the circle of trust for announcements in the planning stages, because we have more control over membership and sharing of info than broadcasting it on the website.) I've had a fantastic two years, and am really honoured to have an audience who read what I've written. Thank you so much for coming along on this journey with me!
*pejorative term used intentionally
Woman of the Week Nicole Drought was born and raised in Roscrea, Ireland. Her father was a keen rally driver throughout her childhood, and eventually moved to the Irish Touring Car Championship. Nicole joined alongside him on the ITCCstarting grid when she twenty. She spent two years in that championship before moving up to do selected rounds of the Global GT Lights series and was subsequently invited to Paul Ricard to test a Porsche GT3 with the Sean Edwards Foundation. Nicole is currently looking to join a British-based sports car championship for her 2018 campaign and has organised for a French test in a Mitjet later this year.
Bridget Schuil: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Nicole Drought: I was always into cars and motorsport when I was growing up but when I was about 11 ,my dad and I, as huge rally fans, took a trip to Kilkenny to have a look at a rally car, a Honda Civic. We took it for a test drive as soon as we arrived, with me in the passenger seat! Very exciting! After that I followed him to every rally to support him. That was probably my first memory of motorsport.
BS What do you love most about the sport?
ND I’d have to say the adrenaline rush. For years, I watched my dad compete and that, itself was a huge rush. I remember the morning of his rallies, standing in service with him, the smell of fuel, the sound of the engines and watching people running around frantically to get the last of the preparations done. That was so exciting for me. And when he’d leave for the first stage, I was almost nervous for him! When he’d pass me on a stage, I’d get such a rush! Then when I got the chance to actually drive a racing car, I found a whole new level of passion for the sport. The speed and rush I get from driving fast is like no other feeling, it’s amazing.
BS Who has been the most supportive of your career?
ND Oh, it’s hard to pick just one. My family and friends are so supportive of my racing, along with everyone in my home town. I never thought I’d get such support and I can’t believe the amount of people who really are behind me and want me to do well.
BS What has been your biggest struggle in your career thus far?
ND I think every racing driver will agree that funding is the biggest struggle in this sport.
BS That’s a common response to that question! Do you have any advice to give others in the same boat?
ND Yeah, start young! I started relatively late in motorsport andI never realised how important seat time is in a racing car until I started. Perhaps getting started in karting is the best advice I could give. In terms of sponsorship, it has to be seen as a commercial transaction, as opposed to the common perception of assistance. A sponsor should have a quantifiable return on their investment.
BS So what was it that tipped you over the edge from spectator to participant?
ND I grew up around cars and motorsport, so since I can remember, I always wanted to be a driver!
BS What have been some of the highlights of your career thus far?
ND My first ever racing weekend, in the Irish Touring Car Championship, I qualified second on the grid, which I couldn’t believe! Winning my first race, being nominated as the Irish Dunlop Young Racing Driver of the month September 2016, being invited to test a Porsche GT3 at the famous Paul Ricard and qualifying 2nd on my debut in the Global GT Lights Series in Anglesey!
BS What do you think can be done to encourage more women into the sport?
ND I think more awareness. For girls to know that this is a sport which they can be involved in and love also!
BS Have you ever experienced sexism in motorsport, and if so, how did/do you deal with it?
ND I didn’t think I was any different when I came to the track for the first time with my racing car. I grew up with this being my favourite sport. But I did notice that people did point out that I was going to be on the ITCC grid that year and that I was female! It didn’t bother me though, I was ready to put on my helmet and join the grid like every other person!
BS I recently re-read a paper by Pflugfelder (2009), and he said that because the narratives around women in motorsport are still sexist, you’re still marked as a woman because they know what your car looks like.
ND As I spend more time in this sport, I do notice that women are slightly singled out if they are on the grid, but I think it’s for a good reason. It’s important for women, especially young girls, to know that motorsport isn’t just for boys! I was lucky to grow up in a motorsport family but I would like to see more girls introduced to the sport. In recent times, there are many organisations being set up for awareness of women in motorsport and it is clear, especially in Ireland anyhow, that there is a greater presence of girls coming through in karting.
BS What advice would you give to young women wanting a career in racing?
ND I think you should just go for it! I wish, looking back that I had started out a little earlier. But I have done very well in a short space of time and I hope to continue that success and I hope, in some way I can be a role model to younger girls in the sport.