As many people in the United States and around the world question their personal views on diversity and racial inclusion, we decided to look inwardly on our industry, and we found it wanting. So we asked a tough question to several industry members: How do we make racing at its highest level more diverse?
DORA DELGADO, Executive VP and Chief Racing Officer of Breeders’ Cup
The key to diversifying any business is to take a hard look at the data and a hard look at the social and economic roadblocks that stand in the way of making our industry, including its leadership, more diverse.
In the case of gender diversity, I am constantly amazed by the powerful, smart, and passionate women in this industry. However, we absolutely need more diverse boards and organizations and we need more women to put themselves forward and actively campaign for executive positions.
Horse racing is so interconnected. More women should be using their expansive networks to their advantage and more men should be actively engaged in making space for them and ensuring their voices are heard. I started with the Breeders’ Cup in 1983 as an administrative assistant and I pursued every opportunity, took on more responsibility, and asked for every seat at every table. There is no shortage of talented women in this industry, and I encourage them all to pursue those seats in our industry’s board rooms.
In terms of racial diversity, we have a lot of work to do to cultivate a more diverse ownership group and a more diverse industry organization. As we work to change our sport for the better, we should be continuously engaging the Black and Latino communities in conversations about their opinions of the racing industry. It is important that we don’t make any assumptions as we seek to diversify our fan base and the talent in our industry. Until we fully understand the problem, we won’t find the solution.
It is also important for us to recognize that our sport’s history certainly presents its challenges and likely fosters unconscious biases. For example, there may be a tendency to assume that because people of color have traditionally filled the roles of the grooms and the hotwalkers, they would not want to participate now. We need to do more to ensure that our sport is a safe space for people of color and to recognize the parts of our culture, past and present, that may make people uncomfortable.
When hiring, the racing industry often looks within, emphasizing industry experience as a prerequisite. The net effect of that practice is a failure to open our doors to those outside our bubble, assuming that those outside the industry won’t understand horse racing and breeding and its unique position in sport. The foundation for a more diverse and inclusive structure at all levels is educating and exposing young people to the sport through job-credit opportunities, integration with sports marketing classes, and more internships at organizations that are leading the Thoroughbred industry.
Horse racing is one of the few sports in which children do not participate in organized youth leagues. Unless they grow up with horses, the likelihood of children finding their way to a racetrack, a breeding farm, or a sales pavilion is extremely remote. If we are to truly diversify our fan base, and therefore our talent pool, this has to change. For example, Thoroughbred organizations could sponsor local pony clubs that are open to everyone (not just those who can afford the breeches, the boots, and the pony), we should be recruiting at all schools and youth organizations for club members, and racetracks and farms should provide safe and secure environments to learn about horses and understand the sport. Only then will opportunity exist for a more diverse group to explore, join, and follow this sport.
I believe an important first step in this process is engaging our existing owners in conversations around diversity and inclusion and encouraging them to bring people of color to the sales, to the races, and into important conversations about our sport. The owners are the ambassadors of Thoroughbred racing and they are well aware that it can no longer be an exclusive club. Over the last ten years, ownership has dropped by 30 percent. We aren’t bringing new owners into the sport fast enough to counter the decline, and we aren’t looking in the right places for new and diverse faces.
In other businesses, researchers have noted that customers who believe they are interacting with people different from themselves experience less satisfaction in the interaction. Therefore, building a workforce that reflects the different types of customers engaged by the organization may result in more positive customer service experiences. I believe the same holds true for racing. If I were a person of color and I looked at Thoroughbred racing, who would I see? Almost exclusively people who don’t look like me.
I join with leaders across our industry in advocating for real change that begins with having these tough conversations now, both in private and in public forums.
Do you have an idea that you would be willing to share for this series? Email the TDN’s Katie Ritz at [email protected]