Charlotte Broughton is nine of nine cyclists keeping rider journals for The British Continental in 2021. Charlotte was a ten times national champion as a youth and now rides for the new UCI Continental AWOL O’Shea. In her fourth journal entry, Charlotte relays on experiences – good and bad – of working within the cycling industry…
When I left school after my A-Levels, I went straight into work as a sales assistant in a bike shop. This path from education to job is a common one for female cyclists. A large number of us don’t get paid by the teams we race for; in fact, alarmingly, the number of professional riders receiving zero salary has increased in recent times and wage disparity is growing between the highest and lowest paid riders. In short, many elite women need to find work on the side to keep afloat and to finance their racing.
I’ve witnessed, and been on the receiving end of, a fair bit of bullying and sexism
Since that first job, I’ve pretty much worked exclusively within the cycling industry, in many different roles, while attempting (and often failing) to race and train simultaneously. As a result, I have met many people and come across a lot of different attitudes.
There are many honourable people within the industry, from people just chasing a paycheck to cyclists looking to support their dream. Unfortunately, however, there is a darker side too. Challenges I have faced from employers range from being denied time off to race through to blatant sexism. I’ve witnessed, and been on the receiving end of, a fair bit of bullying and sexism; both, unfortunately, seem to be rife within the cycling retail sector. There was one job, for example, where the employer chose female staff based on what ‘type of pretty’ they were. At times, I’ve found it hard at times not to feel totally disheartened by this industry.
Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed parts of the jobs that I have taken up previously and there’s no shame in doing a minimum wage job (hats off to those of you who do). But the sexism, discrimination and disrespect that I was constantly faced with by managers, colleagues and customers was nothing short of hellish. I remember on numerous occasions crying in the toilets as well as having panic attacks just because some days it was all too much. No one should be made to feel that way in a place of work. No one.
The one job within cycling that has always been nothing but positive for me, however, is modelling. My most recent job was no exception. I was away modelling a gravel collection for a British clothing brand in the beautiful Brecon Beacons in Wales. As expected, it was cold and wet: at one point it even hailed. In May!?
You are telling a story, a different narrative to the real world life that you live.
I have always found the people on shoots to be highly interesting individuals, rich in knowledge, with a deep respect for cycling culture. Their art is testament to the love and passion that they have for the sport. To be around these photographers, videographers and content creators is a total contrast from the tedious and mundane minimum-wage jobs that I’ve worked in. For that moment in time, you are someone else and it’s all about you and the clothes you are wearing or the bike that you are riding. You are telling a story, a different narrative to the real world life that you live. In this little world, I feel so confident and sure of myself and this feeling is encouraged instead of castigated. I’m truly most happy in front of a camera and I don’t think that there’s any shame in admitting that. At the end of the day it’s a job, but a job that I truly love doing. It all feels a far cry from the sexist and uninspiring side of the industry I knew before: this love and passion gives me so much hope.
This latest job in particular induced me into constant deep-stomach laughing. The people I worked with were just wonderful. They all made me feel very much respected and appreciated. I felt part of the team, not singled out or made to feel lacking. And they weren’t allergic to giving praise, which was a pleasant surprise. I also had great chemistry with the other model, Ollie. This is something that I feel is really key to a shoot. You can definitely tell, by looking at the photos or videos, if the models get on or not. When that chemistry is present, the photos just look so authentic and believable. This helped make everything run really smoothly, something I was really pleased about.
Similarly, I have also recently been lucky enough to accept a role as a columnist for Cycling Weekly, a job that I have dreamed about for a very long time. I have found the people at the magazine to be a lot more understanding and patient than I am used to. If I want to ask a question about the task at hand, for example, it’s embraced instead of punished. I also find writing to be a lot more cathartic than anything else I’ve ever done: it’s just you and your words, your art. And I take great pride in anything that I write, as should anyone. Unfortunately, though, I was met with contempt from a few people outside of the industry at the start. But that’s just how people are sometimes, and that’s not my problem nor my responsibility to fix.
Personally, I feel that creative types, in my experience, tend to be a lot more open-minded and progressive in their thought processes. They therefore tend to be a lot more supportive of up-and-coming females within the industry, ensuring that there is a place for their female counterparts within both the writing and modelling spheres. I for one am incredibly thankful for these wonderful, mostly male, figures. Their supportive attitudes towards me mean more than they’ll ever know, especially given my previous occurrences within the cycling industry. So this is my thanks to them. Thank you for your art and your kindness, both are so hugely valued and paramount for creating much-needed safe spaces for women and other groups that face discrimination within the cycling industry and wider society. If it wasn’t for them, I’m sure that I’d have left the cycling industry long ago.
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