Today's Good Friday and and important part of Pesach (Passover). This holiday in both Christianity and Judaism is about redemption. In keeping with the spirit of that, instead of picking out an incident from the past week, we're going to look into an issue that underpins a lot of oppressive behaviour, both in motorsport and elsewhere. That is, the lack of community, loosely defined as 'trusting personal relationships,' in the workplace and fairly broadly among Millennials as a generation. Going back to the Bechdel test mentioned in our Women's Day post, point number three in the test is that the women speak to each other.
This may seem trivial. What difference does it make whether women speak to each other? Surely it's enough that we have women (and people of colour, queer people, people with disabilities) in motorsport for young kids to look up to and find role models?
It isn't. We are social animals, and really need connection. We're hard-wired to seek it, and will attempt to form connections with everyone. We feel screwed over when someone betrays our trust, even if we were only casual acquaintances. This is especially so when we spend the vast majority of our waking hours working, and slowly lose touch with non-motorsport friends, leaving us vulnerable when a crisis eventually hits.
When Caterham were busy imploding, the community feel of the team is what saved individual members from disaster. Department heads wrote glowing references for their subordinates to help them get a job elsewhere; information about what was happening in the team was shared between peers via text outside of work. Having built relationships with their team mates helped them survive.
It's not only in crisis situations that community is useful. Studies have shown that when employees know how much each other earn, they are more likely to insist on equal pay for all. In other words, if we all knew how much each other earned, the gender pay gap would be way less of an issue than it is now. That's one huge benefit of community and communication.
Having community even lowers risk of disease – from the common cold to heart disease – and extends life expectancy. Nobody knows why per se, but it's been suggested that socialising with people who accept us boosts the immune system. This would make sense for us as social animals.
In contrast, isolation is toxic. Social isolation feels like physical pain, and you can literally die of loneliness. Lonely people are more likely to die of heart attacks than people in happy relationships. You can literally die of a broken heart – one study showed if your partner of several decades dies, you are exponentially more likely to die within a year or two if you don't have community.
Isolation also breeds paranoia. We think everyone else has it better than we do, especially when we see (only) their highlights reel on Facebook. We think they're earning more than us, and we think they're happier than us.
Isolation is perfectly normal for minorities. If there are ten departments of ten people each (for ease of maths) in a team, and each department has one woman (which is approximately representative of the proportion of female engineering graduates in the UK), ten percent of the team is female. That's respectable for a company composed mostly of engineers and mechanics. But they'll only ever meet each other if they're on break and in the cafeteria at the same time, or are assigned tasks together.
Community is how we set our norms and morals. We accommodate other people's quirks, needs, squicks, and triggers when we've formed enough of a relationship to know about them. For example, my Trump-supporting friends reached a 'don't ask, don't tell' truce with me after I wrote a detailed post on Facebook about why I find him morally offensive (I didn't change their minds about him, but at least I no longer get trolled for supporting Bernie and Hillary over the tangerine misogynist). In four years' time, someone who doesn't grab pussies will be in the White House, and we can resume discussions of politics and current affairs.
It is only around other people that we find out that behaviour that makes us uncomfortable makes other people uncomfortable too. Dealing with a workplace bully, for example, is made easier when you know it's not just you, and a group action can be made with HR. Most of the sexist and other discriminatory behaviours I've discovered thus far have come either from someone telling me that I was justified in feeling wronged, or called me in on my own internalised oppression. Those conversations were had with someone I knew and trusted enough to ask their opinion.
So, how can you have community (if you don't already)? By nurturing it for others. Be the one who gets everyone's numbers and organises girls-only drinks (or recovering-alcoholics-only teas, or whatever suits your othering identity/ies). Be the one who says hi to the new kid like you in the department/team. If you have subordinates who are minorities, occasionally assign them tasks with people who share their marginalised identity (bonus pounts awarded for you as a leader if the inter-disciplinary work looks good on their CV).
Find others like you on social media, form relationships, and arrange to meet up in person at events you both think sound like fun days out. Meeting up is important. We build far stronger connections when we can touch and smell other humans than when we just inbox each other (even though we often talk about deep stuff by DM, our minds don't fully conceptualise the other person until we touch and smell them). Science says so.
Community only works if everyone works at it. Millennials are one of the most disconnected generations in history, because we spent our formative years texting friends. Older generations had to at least pick up the telephone and have a real-time conversation. Often, this would result in meeting up in person. They spent far more time engaging in what anthropologists call 'bonding rituals.' Let's change that for ourselves by building our own personal communities.
To aid the cause of building community in motorsport, we've started five Facebook groups, three closed and two secret (to protect the identities of people in that group). All of the groups are free to join. They are as follows:
- The Miseducation of Motorsport (linked) - for discussion of feminist topics, and where you can ask questions of Feminism Fridays authors
- Motorsport Sisterhood Research Group (linked) - for researchers interested in motorsport, and motorsport workers interested in research, as a seeding ground for potential collaborations
- Motorsport Sisterhood Biz Babes (linked) - for independents, entrepreneurs, and other renegades who need a supportive community
- There is a group called Queer Gearheads (secret) for LGBTQ+ people involved in motorsport (being a blogger with a motorsporty cause counts as 'involved') who want to meet up with others. It's set to secret because there are people in the group who are not out publicly, and therefore can't have the group on their public profile. Use the contact form below, or inbox our socials to request an add. Oliver Warman from Gay Racers is also an admin in the group, so the @gayracers twitter account can add you.
- There is a group called Fast Women for people who are involved in an upcoming podcast. Opinionated feminists who love motorsport are welcome to use the contact form below to apply for involvement.
Data protection disclaimer for the contact form: we need to either friend you on Facebook or add you using your email address. We promise to keep your email address safe. We will not share it with third parties or spam you.