Recently, there have been a number of occasions on which my teammates have joked about how I turned up to the Freshers’ Fair out of the blue and passionately demanded to join the team. While I genuinely smile in response, in reality this move required a lot of courage on my part. I debated about joining Full Blue Racing for at least a month, partially because of my lack of technical knowledge and experience (as I’m a psychology student), what scared me the most was the possibility of not being taken seriously because I am a girl.
I have been a Formula 1 fan for quite some time now and on a number of occasions I’ve witnessed grown men suggesting that my opinions are wrong because “I am a female and, thus, automatically don’t understand what the real deal is”.. In fact, from their point of view I was not allowed to have any opinion whatsoever. Many other female motorsport fans or women trying to get involved in motorsport are often accused of just being interested in it because “they find the drivers sexy”. Because it makes so much sense to spend hours watching guys in helmets (!) driving around a circuit at high-speed just to appreciate their looks.
It’s well-known that both engineering and motorsport are largely male-dominated. - only around 20-25% of the engineering undergraduates in the University of Cambridge are actually females. To a large extent, the minority of women in these fields results from the many stereotypes about women’s capabilities to perform equally well as men and their place in STEM subjects and/or motorsport. When talking to the girls on the FBR team about their experiences, Carly, a 1st-year Mathematician on the Sponsorship subteam said: “people do not necessarily have as high expectations of you. I was in a similar racing team in secondary school and the male and mixed teams do not always expect you to do as well”. When asked if she was ever afraid to join Full Blue Racing, she admitted: “slightly yes, because there is such a stereotype”.
Nevertheless, over the last few years there has been noticeable improvement in the situation with many more women following their passion for engineering and/or motorsport and pursuing their dreams despite the gendered stereotypes. In January 2016, Susie Wolff in collaboration with Motor Sports Association started a campaign called “Dare To Be Different”, which aims to inspire, connect and showcase female talent across all aspects of the motorsport industry. This has not only increased awareness of female involvement in the industry, but has also provided a great new support network for women pursuing careers in motorsport. Excitingly, one of the ambassadors of “Dare To Be Different” is Ruth Buscombe, a Senior Strategy Engineer in Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team and FBR Technical Director in 2012 (*the author experiences a fangirling moment*). Ruth, along with the other men and women on the team, worked to build probably the most competitive car we have had to date - it even made it to the German Formula Student competition, one of the hardest FS competitions to get to. Women have continued to lead FBR to success: the 2016 project saw Ele Brown as Team Leader, and produced the first FBR car to compete in all dynamic events. Ruth and Ele were able to demonstrate that women are just as capable as men in engineering and motorsport by facilitating some of Full Blue Racing’s greatest performances to date, suggesting that success is all about one’s hard-work, knowledge and passion and has nothing to do to one’s gender.
Many of the girls I talked to about their experience of being a minority in male-dominated field emphasised the different ways that FBR as a team has supported their work and passion, and has boosted their confidence. Georgia, a 2nd-year Engineer and Head of Manufacturing, revealed that “being able to contribute in any way and see it affect the team is such a confidence boost, and to be in a reasonably small team where people value your time and work has done even more for that”. Ana, a 3rd-year Engineer working on the Aerodynamics subteam, added: “Being part of the team has taught me to be confident in my abilities, to not let the fact that I'm outnumbered take anything away from what I'm capable of doing”. Besides boosting confidence, one of FBR’s missions is to “equip the engineers of tomorrow with the skills they cannot get from just lectures”. Formula Student provides students with skills that may give them a leg up for job applications, and these are likely exceptionally important for women who face discrimination in working sectors. Ana said that FBR “hugely helped her build on experience” and “definitely” gave her the opportunity to develop valuable skills and knowledge.
Despite agreeing they feel supported by the other girls on the team, all of the FBR women strongly emphasised this is really not limited to the female population of FBR. Hannah said: “I feel equally supported by the whole team as opposed to just other women”. Georgia shared her thoughts on the team’s inclusiveness of anyone regardless of their gender background: “As such a small team, we really value all our members and gender never really crosses anyone's mind! We're all young and inclusive and just want to share this cool thing we're doing!”. Carly agreed: “Yes, in general you are treated as equal and can do just as good of a job as men”. In the end, Hannah made a point that, in my opinion, best summarises FBR’s ideology: “[I’ve] never seen anyone treated differently, men and women can make an equal contribution. As long as you have an interest and want to be part of the team you are welcome to join”.
-Radi Shopova, Head of Social Media