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AN OPEN LETTER:
THE DIVERSITY & INCLUSION PROBLEM IN CYCLING
17 November 2020
Dear cycling friends and allies,
I believe it’s time to face the facts, there is a concerning and unacceptable lack of diversity and inclusion in cycling.
My name is Richard Hearne. I am a 38-year-old white, gay and cisgender man. I started seriously cycling as an adult in 2015 to improve my physical and mental health and have completed 17,000 miles to date. I once cycled with a ‘traditional’ cycling club and feared being made to feel like an outcast or having to explain my sexuality, which put me off participating again. I know I'm not alone in feeling like this.
In May 2019, I realised that there were no significant nationwide groups for LGBTQ+ people that were genuinely inclusive of all people, regardless of ability, age, bike, ethnicity, gender identity or sexuality. So I decided to do something about this issue and set up a cycling group for LGBTQ+ people and allies called PRiDE OUT (www.prideout.co.uk) which has been a great success. More recently, I have become determined to obtain employment in cycling so that I can make an even bigger contribution. Hence, I have been applying for a number of jobs, none of which have yet come to fruition, but I do and will keep on trying.
I believe it is everyone’s duty to ensure there is equality, diversity and inclusion, front and centre, and it should be the beating heart of cycling. The reality, though, is that cycling lags far behind other sports and sections of society. I don’t think diversity should be a ‘nice-to- have’ issue which is tagged-on or tinkered around with at the edges. Nor should the barriers be downplayed because not everyone experiences them. In the context of social equality, ‘privilege’ means some people are treated better than others. Failure to act and use the power of having 'privilege' is denying real people the chance to reap the health, wellbeing and social benefits of cycling, which everyone deserves to experience.
The statistics are stark
In 2018, women cycled roughly three times fewer miles than men;1
In 2017–18, black and South Asian people were three times less likely to cycle compared to white people;2
People with a limiting disability were 253% less likely to cycle a few times a week compared to people with no disability;3
No cycling data appear to exist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex or asexual (LGBTQIA+) participation. However, a study by the National LGB&T Partnership in 2016 found that 55% of LGBTQ+ men were not active enough to maintain good health compared to 33% of men in the general population; 56% of LGBTQ+ women compared to 33% of women in the general population; and 64% of LGBTQ+ people who identified as something other than male or female (e.g. gender-fluid or gender-queer)4
Why does diversity matter?
When people feel welcome and can be their true selves without fear of being made to feel different, they are happier and perform better, and this helps to make society a more balanced and enjoyable place to be.
In 2019, the UK population was estimated to be 66.8 million people, with around 54.1 million adults.5 Statistics show that access and ownership of bicycles vary by nation of the UK: In England 42% of people aged 5+ own or have access to a bicycle (around 20 million people); In Wales it’s around 51.6% for those aged 16+; In Scotland 35% of households have one or more bicycles that can be used by adults.6
Bearing in mind that there are approximately 11 million people with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability7, 7.8 million people from ethnically diverse communities8 and 3.6 million LGBTQ+ people9, this suggests there are millions of people who are missing out on the opportunity to take part in cycling and contribute to tackling climate change through sustainable transport. This surely is a travesty which cannot be allowed to continue?
Conscious & unconscious bias
You may be wondering why women and minority demographics cycle far less. There are no simple answers but you don’t have to look too hard to find eyebrow-raising, archaic comments from influential people, which unfortunately only helps to reinforce false stereotypes, leaving some demographics feeling they are unwelcome or that activities such as cycling are not for them.
For example: The Football Association’s Chairman, Greg Clarke, was recently forced to resign over his repeated use of misjudged or prejudiced language. On 11 November 2020, when speaking to MPs, he gave a series of digressive answers in which he used the term “coloured” to describe black, Asian and minority ethnic people and suggested that “different career interests” led south Asian people to choose careers in IT over sport. He also described a gay player coming out as a ‘life choice’ and recounted an anecdote about girl footballers being ‘afraid to be hit by a ball’.10
What do we do next?
Inaction or tokenism only reinforces the status quo of people from underrepresented demographics often feeling like outsiders or that cycling ‘doesn’t look like them’. To break down these barriers, we need to take decisive steps now that can result in big and bold changes over time.
Positive ways in which we can take a stand include:
Setting ambitious numerical targets to visibly increase the diversity of cycling, after all, ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’.
Create equality, diversity and inclusion job roles to: educate, undertake research, find solutions to barriers, engage in outreach to underrepresented communities and invite people into safe spaces
Change the makeup of work forces and volunteer groups in cycling to mirror the diversity in society
Listen to underrepresented voices and attach equal importance to all characteristics protected under equality law: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation
Rally support for diversity and inclusion from influential people and organisations such as professional cyclists and the media
Change the language we use so that everyone can feel welcome and included
Stamp out prejudice and bias in all its forms, whilst never turning a blind eye
Invest in educating people on tolerance and how to be better allies
Provide platforms and visibility to hidden or minority demographics so that their presence in cycling becomes ‘normal’.
Shining examples of diversity
There are many shining beacons of diversity and inclusion in action around the world.
Some recent examples include:
On 13 November 2020, Sadiq Khan and the Metropolitan Police Force agreed a 40% target of recruits from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds11
The United States has its first black, woman Vice President and Joe Biden in his presidential victory speech welcomed his diverse following and ’in what could be a first for any president, Biden singled out trans voters as one of the many groups that helped him take the White House: “Democrats, Republicans, independents, progressives, moderates, conservatives, young, old, urban, suburban, rural, gay, straight, transgender, white, Latino, Asian, Native American”12
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has appointed the most diverse government ever. Of the 20-strong cabinet, eight are women, five are Māori, three are Pasifika and three are LGBT13
Now is the time to act
In May 2020, Boris Johnson said we are entering ‘a new golden age for cycling’. Therefore, now is the time to capitalise on this once-in-a-generation opportunity with swift, decisive and ambitious action, which can not only increase the uptake of cycling, but truly make cycling accessible and welcoming to all. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that everyone can achieve their full cycling potential regardless of ability, age, gender identity, ethnicity, sexuality or social-economic background.
I’m ready, are you?
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2) Steve Rathbone
3) Lou Englefield - Director, Pride Sports
4) Georgia Tsakiri - Manchester Lynx Women’s Basketball Club
5) Susan Lawrenson - British Cycling Breeze Champion, Breeze Area Coordinator for Lancashire & Lancaster Women's Cycling Group
6) Annie Kubler - Lancaster Women's Cycling Group
7) Jon Holmes - Lead, Sports Media LGBT+
8) Joni Doe, Ipswich Bike Kitchen
9) Kati Wood, Lancaster Women's Cycling Group
12) Dave “Murry” Murat - All Out Radio Show
13) Daniel Steiner
14) Brent A. Martin – Barrister
15) Louise RyelI - Inclusivity Officer, PRiDE OUT
16) Graham Bennett
19) Love To Ride
21) Lucy Giuliano
22) Hardy Saleh, Derby Bike PopUp
23) Dr Carl Austin-Behan OBE DL - LGBT Advisor to Mayor of Greater Manchester