Connecting, communicating and building towards a European Women’s MTB network

13 June 2024

Connecting, communicating and building towards a European Women’s MTB network

The 2024 IMBA Europe Summit, hosted in the picturesque peri-urban area of the Vienna Woods, was a huge success for a number of reasons. Most significantly for our organisation, and for many attending, was the fantastic turnout of women in mountain biking. As an organisation whose vision is to get more people on bikes through sustainable mountain biking, attracting a greater number of women to our Summit has always been a challenging goal. We are working to better understand this challenge and be part of the solution. This year’s program included a dedicated breakout session on the FIAS (Fostering Inclusive Action Sports) framework, as well as a working group session that focused on the development of a European women’s mountain biking network. Thanks to the input from some of the leaders in this space – namely Dr Fiona Spotswood and Manon Carpenter – the sessions were a huge success, with lots of key takeaways and working points for our organisation.

 

The FIAS framework session was led by world renowned researcher Dr Spotswood who presented her latest project findings from the FIAS framework which provides a way of strategically assessing existing efforts and activities across mountain biking culture, and by different stakeholders, to foster transformation towards better gender inclusivity. The four areas of the framework are:

  1. Building communities of women+ in mtb
  2. Fostering integration of women+ into mtb culture
  3. Supporting women+ into positions of leadership in mtb
  4. Transforming the cultural representation of mtb (e.g. marketing and media).

 

Workshop attendees were encouraged to think about how they could (individually/collectively) improve inclusivity in mountain biking with the support of the four key areas of the framework. The exercise provoked thoughtful and reflective discussions around the room, and it was agreed among participants that cultural transformation of mtb culture towards better gender inclusivity is a collective responsibility. All participants were then invited to make a FIAS commitment across the four different areas of the framework. IMBA Europe  staff and board members were present during the meeting, with Manon, Cathy, Thomas and Hans all taking part. Here is a look at some of the commitments the IMBA Europe team has set moving towards the Summit 2025.

 

  • Work to ensure IMBA represents diversity and inclusiveness in our activities and events.
  • Strongly support the new women’s network towards the 2025 summit and beyond (IMBA)
  • More content of ‘average’ women mountain bikers and trail builders – improve visibility
  • Celebrate the women in Trail Associations 
  • Strategically engage with female outdoor leaders to join the board of IMBA

 

In normal circumstances, in such a workshop at our Summits, the majority of participants would be men. Interestingly, tables were turned in terms of participation, with a 30/70 split between men and women (women being the majority for once!). Change is a collective effort, and therefore having men involved in these conversations is a key part in cultural transformation. After the session, the men who attended were asked individually what their perspective was during the session. Here is what they had to say.

 

 ‘I took so much away from simply listening!’ ‘Many ideas and new perspectives, coming away with a motivation to increase women present at the decision making level in their respective organisation’ 

 

‘Need for open communication between women and men so that specific barriers or stumbling blocks can be explained, so that men can better understand how to support and help to shift culture and community to be more inclusive’

‘Looked at our website and across the whole national organisation we had one photo of a woman, far in the distance.’

 

As mentioned above, this session was for everyone, and the end goal was two fold. To better inform men how they can better support and help shift the current gender imbalance in mountain biking. 

 

Initiation of a Women’s Mountain Biking Network to support women in mountain biking better.

 

For the first time in the history of the IMBA Europe Summits, women were invited to attend a women’s only workshop to share ideas and discuss the formation of a women’s MTB network in Europe. The intention and ambitions of the European women’s MTB network is to assist women to connect, communicate and build a network that will help increase the visibility of women in the MTB sector. During this workshop attendees were asked four key questions;

 

Q1: What challenges, barriers, stumbling blocks do you experience? 

Q2: What changes do you want to see, to work towards a more diverse and appealing MTB environment

Q3: What do we want to see from a European Women in MTB network going forward?

Q 4: What Goals for IMBA EU Summit 2025?

 

The women who attended the session identified key barriers and challenges that made them struggle to feel legitimate, respected, equivalent, and accepted. Within the industry, unequal pay makes roles less inviting to women, as well as feeling isolated by the sheer lack of women. Quite often, women felt that skills as a rider are seen as a reflection of expertise and ability to do a job, which creates an extra hurdle for women to ‘prove themselves’. With regards to events, ‘women’ topics are seen as a bolt on in addition to events, sometimes an afterthought which are not part of the main topics and discussions. 

 

So what needs to change in order to reach the vision of a more diverse and inclusive mountain biking community in Europe? First and foremost, it needs to be recognised that this is a shared responsibility from the WHOLE sector to create change. In general there needs to be more women in leadership roles within organisations, but in roles they enjoy and are not stereotyped as a ‘women’s role’ – which quite often is seen in communication, events departments, managing women’s only events. There needs to be more women in organisations, whether that is volunteering in dig days or working at the front end of an advocacy organisation; women need to be included in roles that are not just women-specific areas. In order to get more women interested in these roles, there needs to be better representation and visibility of women in the sector. ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’, therefore it is the collective responsibility of the whole industry, including media, brands, trail building companies etc to get behind women’s initiatives or stories.

 

Next steps for the European MTB Network

The initial meeting for the network has set the building blocks for a community that aims to assist women in connecting, communicating and building community to help increase the visibility of women in mountain biking. Over the coming months, a working group will get to work on developing the structure of the network, using the valuable input from the women who attended the meeting in Mödling. We’d like to thank each and every woman who attended the meeting at the IMBA Europe Summit. Your input, enthusiasm and dedication in the working group has been invaluable, and a key element in realising the future network. We look forward to working with you all further in the future, and invite any women who were unable to attend, to please contact IMBA Europe to learn more about the European MTB Network. 

 

Please email out Projects and Communications coordinator Loren at loren.rowney@imba-europe.com