"Where are all the ladies?"
It was the one question that Sara Jarrell and Elayna Caldwell kept asking themselves. "We have these OE camps, and as I’m sitting in these meetings I’m like, 'Where are the women?'" says Caldwell, SRAM's Director of MTB Marketing. An OE Camp is an event where Original Equipment Manufacturers, or brands are invited to learn about and test future product. Sara Jarrell, an Engineering Tech, was wondering the same thing. "We host test rides and camps for dealers to attend and we give an open, 'Hey bring some people,' so they (the women) weren’t necessarily getting the invites from the places where they worked." Sara's job at SRAM is to educate dealers and OE's about SRAM product. Being a woman in the industry that works closely with product she was keenly interested to find a way to bring the women together and give them an opportunity to learn.
Jarrell took matters into her own hands.
"(I began) speaking to women in the industry, talking to them about how they choose to spec parts on their bikes. You know, trying to figure out how we could help that process, how to give them more information. I was like, 'How can we help you do your job? How can we help you choose the products how can we help you choose what you want to put on your bike, what makes the best sense for you?' And I was like, well, why don’t we have a STU? Because what I do is STU, teaching classes and educating people about our products."
STU stands for SRAM Technical University. It's a department of the company dedicated to educating brands, dealers and internal staff on product. Jarrell began asking various industry women - not just product managers - if they would be interested in coming to a women's only STU event. "They were definitely excited, when I brought up an idea where they could come, learn and ask questions, overwhelmingly the response was super positive. They were like 'when?'"
The next step was to get all of the different brands into one room. Usually in a situation like this brands work with SRAM one at a time to ensure that each company's future product plans are kept under wraps. "I was pretty clear from the get-go it wasn’t for them to talk to us about what they’re doing, but for us to talk to them about what we’re doing. And how they can apply that to their bikes and new designs on their own." Jarrell didn't leave any stone unturned, figuring out who to invite from each brand, making sure everyone had someone represented. She didn't only reach out to product managers, she reached out to women in the industry with other job titles too. "We have people from marketing backgrounds, we have people from product backgrounds, we have women who share both of those hats."
Of all of the brands that Jarrell reached out to, all of them sent someone.
Bringing the Brands Together
SRAM are somewhat seasoned at hosting brands for STU sessions and their facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is set up with a lecture room and workshop precisely for events such as this. Upon arrival it's clear that there's a lot of influence in attendance. Trek, Kona, Specialized, GT, Cannondale, Juliana, Giant and Surly are all represented, along with PeopleForBikes, World Bicycle Relief, and SRAMbassadors Lindsey Voreis, Katie Holden, Nicole Duke, Leigh Donovan, Rebecca Rusch and Tammy Donahugh. Not to mention what feels like every North American female SRAM employee.
The curriculum is tailored to cover the breadth of the job descriptions in the room. Boiled down it is essentially, to learn about feature benefits, product information and then to test ride.
Over three sessions we cover theory for brakes, wheels, drivetrain and suspension. These are in-depth classes that cover the basics through to the more complex details.
|I have already been able to apply some of what I know practically - when talking about spec details for bikes, etc. I've also already taken my fork apart just to try and remember how to put it back together. Knowledge is power, I think, so although it isn't always exactly translatable to my job day to day, this kind of knowledge makes you feel more confident in your job, conversations, etc... Stephanie Kaplan - Women's Road Line Product Manager, Specialized.|
|There was a lot of useful technical knowledge that I have already used working on my fleet of bikes. I also got a lot out of the suspension set up discussion. Getting a really solid foundation of understanding for the internals of the equipment gave me a bit more confidence to do more thorough fine-tuning. I'm excited to be able to pass that knowledge forward to my customers and ensure they get a really good experience on their demos. I also was really inspired by a lot of the women, their stories, and all they are doing in their communities.|
Andrea Turner, Factory Demo Coordinator, Santa Cruz Bicycles
This STU session isn't only designed for the attendees to learn about product, it's a chance for SRAM to present some of the other projects they are involved with such as World Bicycle Relief, the foundation started by SRAM that mobilizes and liberates people in third world countries by providing access to bicycles, and PeopleForBikes. PeopleForBike's VP of Business Jenn Dice covered the work that the organization undertakes, which is not insignificant. Her job is to build political clout and influence for the foundation which is the largest grant giver for bicycle initiatives in the USA. PeopleForBikes recently hired Dr Jennifer Boldry to perform a study to gauge just how many people actually ride bicycles in the USA.
Here are some quick and interesting facts that were uncovered during her research:
• A ten minute online survey was conducted with 16,000 respondents, 9,000 of which were kids. The margin for error is 1%.
• 34% of people ride bikes in the USA. That's 103.7 million people. This means they rode a bike at least 1 day in the last 12 months.
• 44% of these people are women.
• From the ages of 3-9 years male/female participation is the same.
• The participation of women in cycling drops as a teenager, while boys participation doesn’t drop until they reach driving age.
|The big takeaway for me was all the data Jenn Dice from PeopleForBikes and Dr. Jennifer Boldry from Breakaway Research Group presented on cycling in the USA. One of the most interesting things that they shared is that boys and girls ride at the same rates as children, but during adolescence, the gap between female and male riding participation starts to both widen and drop off. Keeping girls engaged as they become adults is something that I think is really important, and I hope that the work we all do helps close that gap. Cait Dooley - Product Manager, GT Bicycles|
After mornings laden with theory and product, we hit the local trails to put to test everything we learned. Everyone had brought their own bikes to the session and each day had the opportunity to try out the products we'd been discussing in class, the major ones being the Pike, RS1, Guide Ultimate Brakes, Roam Wheels and the GX drivetrain.
Not only is test riding a chance to feel out new product, but it's a chance to decompress. Opportunities to ride with other industry women - particularly a group as large as this is not a common occurrence. It's an experience that appears to be thoroughly enjoyed by everyone.
| I'm never here to tear down what another brand is doing, rather I love seeing brands offering product for women and taking different approaches to the need in the market. Options are what women want and what ultimately makes us all stronger and push ourselves harder and in the end, women win. It's rad. So I love forging friendships with other women at other brands. No I am not going to reveal exactly what I might be working on, but it is fun and helpful to share general challenges and successes we all experience. - Janette Shermann, Liv Global Marketing Communications Manager |
|What is great about getting all the ladies together specifically for this class is that females are certainly a minority in the bike industry so we've got to stick together, encourage each other, learn from each other, and empower one another - real change is happening in the industry to recognize women as real contributors to the sport and it takes industry leaders like these women to make that happen. Get us all together and we become even stronger and more cohesive in our mission to get more ladies loving bikes. |
Angi Weston, Kona Sales
|I loved that we all rallied to be there to make the future of riding and product better for women. I learned a ton...for example, I now have three solid points as to why 1x is better for women. And, I have anecdotal stories from the SRAMbassador coaches that verify these points. It was great to learn product, talk about real world examples from women who know, and then think about how to put this into practice with our offerings - from the product side of things and the marketing side of things. Katie Zaffke, Juliana Bicycles Brand Manager|
|I loved meeting other women in the industry who have the same passion for getting more women on bikes. I loved seeing how down to earth all of the women were and getting to see who works for what company. This industry is all about connections and relationships and it felt really good to get to know other women in the industry. It was a highlight just to be invited! Lindsey Vories Director of Inspiration, Liv Ladies All-Ride Clinics.|
|We're out there. There are a lot of women wrenching and working on products, not just women's specific products, that have been in the industry for a long time. In the chaos of a tradeshow or in a dude-heavy office setting it can be easy to feel like you're going it alone. It was incredibly beneficial connecting with other folks experiencing similar challenges and building a better network to bounce ideas off of and share perspective. Amy Kippley - Product Manager/Surly Bikes|
|I think most of the women in there are surprised to see so many other women doing what they do or something similar and you know, kicking ass. Slowly we're growing our numbers in the industry, slowly we're becoming a powerful group, we're having a voice that's standing out and being presented. I am totally ok with being represented by the group of women in that room. - Sara Jarrell|
|We wanted to see what would happen if we changed the tone and held a STU just for women in the bike industry. Would it make a difference? We think it did. After spending a week with this awesome group, we feel more educated and excited about the future of women's cycling. - Elayna Caldwell|
OE camps aren't uncommon, they're an important part of how the industry keeps moving forward. What is uncommon is putting a large group of industry women in this environment together. What started as an opportunity to learn about SRAM's products quickly turned into an event that struck a deeper chord with the attendees. To hear everyone mention time and time again how impactful it was to meet and learn with their peers indicates that women are still the minority, but the tide is turning. More women are steadily entering the industry and more women are taking interest in product. Last year over 800 women in the USA applied for the QBP Bike Mechanic Scholarship program. These numbers combined with initiatives such as SRAM's Women's STU show that the ladies are out there growing their presence. They also suggest that the term "minority" should soon be in the rear-view mirror.
Would Jarrell, Caldwell and SRAM do it all again? The answer is yes.
Photography by Anne Keller.
Additional photography by Rachelle Frazer.