This is the first episode of RotM. We're hoping to introduce you to people, particularly early career researchers, whose work is relevant to questions and issues motorsport.
May's Researcher of the Month is Dr Christine Wegner. Dr Wegner is an assistant professor in University of Florida's Department of Tourism, Recreation, and Sports Management. She did her PhD work on an organisation called Black Girls Run!, which promotes running as a way to fitness among African American women. Her research focus is on the use of sporting identity - both as fans and participants - as a catalyst for social change. The social media project on the response to Danny Watts' coming out announcement was a test run for a larger project we're doing with Christine.
Bridget Schuil: You mentioned in the introduction to one of your papers how some sports are seen as 'white'. Can we talk about the whiteness of motorsport? We see very few athletes of colour, particularly black athletes; we see a similar pattern on the technical/support side. How much work (and what kind of work) do individuals in motorsport need to do to become a more racially diverse sport?
Christine Wegner: One of the things I talk a lot about in my next manuscript (which I’m preparing for submission) is the idea of “identity modeling.” It’s important for any group to see people like them, especially children (i.e. the next generation of participants). This is what made Black Girls Run! so successful—Black women were able to see other Black women like them participating. It obviously won’t be possible initially to model an entire community. But it really takes a few strong individuals to begin the cycle of empowerment (if you look at Serena and Venus Williams in tennis for example—now we see the next generation of African American women playing on the circuit, all of whom had Venus and Serena to look up to growing up). With that in mind, exposure is also important. If people of colour are not watching F1 and other motorsports, they are not going to even have an opportunity to see someone like them participating.
At the same time, as I’m sure you know, it’s important not to create an expectation the individuals of colour need to speak for their race. So there is a fine line of course. But I think any interventions need to include people of colour already in the sport, in whatever capacity they participate (so intravention, vs. intervention).
BS Can social identity theory be applied to women in motorsport? That is, is the current lack of women in high-level motorsport due to a historic lack of role models, and now that we see women coming up into the sport, can we expect a change? How important is diversity of women represented in the sport to this process? Are successful, visible women like Danika Patrick and Simona De Silvestro going to spawn a generation of their own?
CW Social identity theory and role identity (a complementary theory that I also research) can both certainly be applied here. I think what makes motorsport an interesting/difficult case, is that it’s not just the racing that is not diverse, it is the entire community—those working on the cars, those developing the cars, etc. Some sports, even though they are gender segregated, we do see women in other roles (e.g. an athletic trainer for an American football team), and this creates additional touch points for women into the sport. But, from my experience, many of the other roles played in the sport also have strong masculine identities….its the reason we don’t see a lot of female mechanics, engineers, etc.
But that is why women who are in roles other than racers are super important, because they allow diversity to grow in different ways.
BS Is there scope in social change for maximising stereotypes as catalysts for change? For example, there is a stereotype that women's brains are just wired for better communication - when we know from the data that these are socialised skills - so can we teach women in motorsport to take advantage of these perceptions in order to bring social change?
CW Maximizing stereotypes can be a catalyst for sure, but it’s always dangerous. One of the things I have been thinking about lately is the way we look at womens VS. mens sports. There is always an inherent comparison. One conversation that some female analysts have tried to have in basketball, for example, is pointing out the ways that the women’s game excels, rather than comparing it to how high they jump, how they can’t dunk, how they don’t move as fast. I think that admitting that there are differences between the sexes is good, but it’s really difficult for that not to be accompanied by a particular value judgement about those differences.
BS Is the pull of a unique identity peculiar to the early adopters of a trend, or is a broader group willing to 'try on' that identity quite readily if they see it benefitting others in their peer group?
CW Optimal distinctiveness theory tells us that individuals are constantly trying to balance their need to be different and their need to feel a sense of belonging, and I don’t think it’s only for early adopters. As a niche activity, I think motorsport would draw certain kinds of people. As it becomes more mainstream, it would attract those whose balanced sense of identity requires more of a collective. It’s difficult for some to do something that different—and I think this is where we see role identity theory again: the masculine associations in motorsport make it difficult for many women who don’t want to be so unique…and the same thing is true I think for race.
BS What is the role of the IKEA effect (a cognitive bias that causes us to prefer items we played a role in making to those items made by others) in identifying with participatory organisations? Did you find that the volunteer leaders stayed in the group longer? Rated themselves as more loyal?
CW I’ve always loved the IKEA effect! I have to be honest, I haven’t thought about it in this context, but I think it is super important. One of the great things about BGR! is that, in many ways, all the women are volunteers (although some have more official roles as run leads or ambassadors for sure). When they first join, they use current members as identity modelers…then, as time goes on, they become the modelers…in essence, they become the organization. And this cycle continues through new members.
BS How can Motorsport Sisterhood support and promote the involvement of women of colour in motorsport? (Bear in mind, we have a mostly-white core staff, although our contributors and people from whom we commission work are more racially diverse, and we intentionally feature as many women of colour as are willing for our 'woman of the week' series.)
CW I think the two most important words to focus on are “support” and “promote.” One of the hard realities about being “inclusive,” is that it often invites individuals into a group with the requirement of assimilation. Identity construction can become the same slippery slope, as while we form particular attitudes and behaviors associated with an identity, we simultaneously reject others. The identities that we create around an activity, founded in particular social values, can be at odds with an individual’s other salient identities, like race, gender, and sexuality. So one aspect of a diversity problem, then of course, is to highlight and promote identity modelers…people of color who are in the sport who can serve as examples for others. At the same time, we need to leave a space open for these same people and those who follow to create their own identity surrounding an activity: diverse individuals need to be able to create and practice their own diverse meanings of what it means to “be” something.