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Opinion: Where women are in the cycling industry

Published July 5, 2017

By Sarah Lamb

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Editor's note: Sarah Lamb is a member of the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association board and is the organization's secretary. 

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for the PMBA that gave a little perspective into my life as a physicist, electrical engineer, bicycle mechanic and woman. The long-story-short version is: As inclusive as our world today may seem, there’s still a lot that can be done to improve diversity in a number of industries, including cycling. Today, on behalf of the PBMA and our partners, I invite you to join us as we embark on a study that will continue this conversation — as well as, I hope, both spotlight and normalize it! — about diversity among cycling mechanics.

I’ve been connected to the cycling industry in some way for the greater part of the last 15 years. I’ve worked in retail and service for shops, and in neutral and team support for road and cyclocross events. And I’ve fought for diversity and inclusion every step of the way, because the reality is that, as much as I’ve always been “one of the guys,” I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t be identified as just “the girl.” 

As our society becomes more accepting of individuals who don’t conform to traditional roles, our industry is presented with an opportunity to evolve beyond the space that it has existed in for so long. To me, this means that we can and we must make a conscious effort to become more encouraging of diversity among cycling mechanics. But in order to frame where we want to end up as a community and as an industry, we must first understand where we are and how we got here.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut, the American Association of University Women published a groundbreaking study titled Where the Girls Are (AAUW, 2008). As the only woman in my physics program, I took solace in the statistics that told me I wasn’t alone. I’ve long since wondered whether a comparable set of data exists for women in the cycling industry (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t!) and what that data might show.

The PBMA recently surveyed 544 of our shop members in the United States in an effort to better understand their demography, including but not limited to the number of non-male general and service department staff employed by each business. The data we collected is remarkable, and yet, in my academic opinion, it constitutes only a small sample (PBMA shop members) of a much bigger population (the cycling industry). 

Of our 544 survey participants, 503 were brick-and-mortar shop owners, 40 were mobile franchise owners, and one chose not to identify the nature of his or her business. Nearly 20 percent of participants (91 individuals) identified as sole owner/operators of their businesses, while two-thirds of participants (366 individuals) had two to 12 employees. 

Based on the data we collected, we were able to infer that as much as one-third of our sample (about 180 participants) presumably does not have any non-male employees. Another third (172 participants) identified as having only one non-male employee, and most of the remaining third (114, or about 21 percent of participants) has two or three non-male employees. 

Of the two-thirds of businesses that identified as having one or more non-male employees, we inferred that nearly three-quarters (391 participants) have all-male service departments. Just under 20 percent of businesses surveyed (102 participants) have one non-male service department employee, and barely 6 percent (32 participants) have two to six.

Our first look at this data raised the larger question: Where are the non-men (women and gender-nonconforming individuals) in our industry?

We are finally poised to do something real about diversity “on our side of the handlebars.” Through conscientious and cooperative surveying, the PBMA and our partners hope to quantify the number of non-men in the cycling industry and qualify the nature of their work. This study won’t be an easy process, but it is essential to the future of our industry if we, as a community of cycling mechanics, are to become as diverse and inclusive as I know we can be.

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