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Old fashioned views of motherhood forcing women to leave horse racing industry - research

Long hours are extensive and difficult to balance with family life, research co-authored by MDX academic finds.

New research co-authored by a Middlesex University academic and led by Oxford Brookes University for Women in Racing has investigated what it is like to be a working mother in the horseracing industry.

The year-long project found that, despite women forming an increasing proportion of the horseracing workforce, antiquated views of motherhood and employment are causing many women to either leave the industry prematurely or simply decide not to join in the first place.

Researchers ran focus groups and conducted interviews with more than 50 men and women from different areas of the industry.

They found that horseracing is generally considered to be a vocational, lifestyle choice, where long hours and evening and weekend working can be extensive and difficult to balance with family life.

“The study shows that working in horseracing is generally considered to be a lifestyle choice and difficult to reconcile with family life, with long hours, evening and weekend working. There also is a perceived reluctance to change existing practices underpinned by a ‘we’ve always done it this way’ - mindset," Co-author of the report Dr Bianca Stumbitz, a Research Fellow at Middlesex University.

Dr Stumbitz added: “Staff maternity is often seen as a financial and managerial burden.

“Smaller workplaces tend to operate with scarce resources and have fewer opportunities to cover for maternity-related absences.

“However, our research found that they were often better at providing family-friendly practices, such as flexible working arrangements and informal childcare support, than their larger counterparts.”

Dr Kate Clayton-Hathway, who led the research at Oxford Brookes University said: “Motherhood and family life are at the heart of employee well-being, and we all felt strongly that those working in the horseracing industry should be given a voice on this subject.

“Although we have identified pockets of good practice across the industry, there is still much to do.”

There were differences across the industry in terms of employment practices, with some parts of the sector such as racecourses, governing bodies and the more corporate and office-based roles being more able to provide good work-life balance, with policies and procedures in place to support this.

Many participants who contributed to the project believe that some roles in the industry simply do not allow for women to have both a family and a successful career. It was often commented that the conversation around these factors has been slower to change in horseracing than elsewhere in society.

Dr Clayton-Hathway continued, “We have recommended a series of short, medium and long-term steps for action that can be taken across the industry to ensure talent is not lost.

These steps include creating better support for employees and employers, and in particular better support for mothers around childcare and mentoring. We’d also encourage those working in horseracing to challenge existing inflexibilities in working practices, in order to create more family-friendly environments.”

Women in Racing Chair, Tallulah Lewis said: “The findings of the report offer a valuable insight into the challenges faced by working mothers, or those considering becoming mothers, but also highlights the opportunity we have to collaborate on the solutions and to improve our industry for all participants.

“With over 50% of our industry workforce being women it is important for us all to understand the issues and collaborate on the solutions presented so we can attract and maintain a dynamic and diverse workforce which is essential if the industry is to grow and thrive. Women in Racing looks forward to working with organisations across the industry to help make this happen.”

The report was funded by The Racing Foundation and Kindred Group and can be downloaded at www.womeninracing.co.uk

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