Young women looking to break into the Thoroughbred business will soon have a central network of allies to help them do it. Anna Seitz and Donna Barton Brothers announced the creation of the Thoroughbred Women's Network during a panel on women in racing at the Ownerview National Owner Conference during Breeders' Cup week.
The Network will be a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is still in its infancy, but its purpose will be to help connect young women with mentors in their desired field, help current women in the business connect with each other, and showcase female success in a male-dominated business. Eventually, the network may offer grants to help women start their own businesses in racing.
Barton Brothers said she initially had some reservations about the group; her perspective as the daughter of a pioneering female jockey was that gender didn't matter.
“Not one time throughout my entire childhood did I hear my mother say there was anything like gender discrimination or any sort of bias against her,” recalled Barton Brothers. “Anytime anyone wouldn't ride her, her opinion was she either wasn't good enough yet, or they didn't know how good she was. When I started riding in 1987, people would say to me, 'Are you experiencing any sort of gender discrimination?' and literally my reaction was, 'They still have that? I don't think that's a thing anymore.'
“I think if you try to hang your hat on anything (and everybody's got something) that could be a reason for being discriminated against, you're going to create your own barriers.”
Anna Seitz, marketing and client coordinator at Fasig-Tipton, agreed she doesn't view her career through the prism of being a woman in a man's world.
“I never really felt gender issues,” said Seitz, who also founded It's All About The Girls Racing Syndicate. “I work at Fasig-Tipton, which is the oldest auction company in the world and I would say there weren't really a lot of females working in the horse side of it. I don't think there was a reason for that, it's just kind of how it was. I never felt like it was a male versus female thing. It's whoever works hard and proves themselves.”
Barton Brothers said she adjusted her viewpoint when she heard a story at a similar panel at Equestricon in August (full disclosure: the author was also a panelist there). Dr. Carleigh Fedorka, now a researcher at the University of Kentucky, shared her experience of working with a teenage girl at the sales. A simple walk through the barn area resulted in so much constant, open harassment, Fedorka said the girl felt unsafe and did not want to continue pursuing a career in the sales world.
Barton Brothers was recently asked to mentor a 13-year-old girl who has aspirations of becoming a jockey and took on the task happily. Barton Brothers said it's important to note she will also introduce the aspiring jockey to male and female riders alike and will focus primarily on mentors' body types and riding styles rather than their gender.
“In racing, there really haven't been mentors for young women,” she said. “I thought, 'I cannot throw this little kid to the wolves on the backside' … it just never occurred to me until I heard that story.”
Similarly, prominent owner/breeder Madeline Auerbach agreed she initially had reservations about the idea of calling attention to women excelling in the sport because she wants to encourage new participation in racing irrespective of gender.
“I don't see it as a gender issue,” Auerbach. “I never felt I had a problem doing things because I was a woman. I felt I had a problem doing things because they were not an accepted practice at that time. When you change things, it's not necessarily because you're a man or a woman that you're running into obstacles… it may be because it's not necessarily mainstream.”
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