Formula 1 racing doesn’t have a reputation for being diverse, but there’s plenty of effort going on behind the scenes to change that. Personnel Today visited McLaren Racing to see what’s driving inclusion and greater gender diversity, from early careers to the teams supporting drivers.
When 19-year-old Margo Bondar arrived in the UK as a refugee from Ukraine, her hosts drove her past the space-age McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) in Woking. “It was the first thing I saw after I was picked up from the airport,” she says. It would also be the site of her first UK internship with McLaren Racing as part of its Engage programme – an initiative aimed at boosting diversity in motorsport.
Since April, Bondar has been working in fan engagement, meaning her day typically involves opening thousands of emails and letters from Formula 1 fans, including artwork and gifts for the McLaren team’s drivers, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. Her role came up as part of the Creative Access route into the Engage programme, which aims to build more inclusive practices into how the company hires into creative roles.
“I had been looking for a job in sports but never expected to get a job this early in my career,” she adds. “Sometimes I find it surreal that I get to do what I do and get paid for it.” If she stays on top of her daily tasks she can also help out other creative teams such as marketing and communications, broadening her experience.
Kate O’Hara Hatchley, head of diversity, early careers and development at McLaren, concedes that motorsport has historically been dominated by white men, a perception she hopes the organisation is beginning to change. Early careers routes play an important role in the company’s wider diversity and inclusion strategy, she adds.
“We try to do this responsibly so we can pipeline individuals into a career in the organisation rather than ‘thank you and goodbye’,” says O’Hara Hatchley. Routes into McLaren include work experience placements for people between the ages of 16 and 18 (open to all); internships across creative and engineering routes; apprenticeship programmes focused mainly on engineering and production and two graduate schemes where participants do a two-year rotation in the business to “find their passion”.
Whether it’s a work placement or a four-year apprenticeship, individuals are immersed in the racing team environment. Engineering work placements include Friday afternoons in “mission control”, the data centre at the heart of the MTC where experts analyse and improve performance. “It means you’re very much part of the race team without having to be track-side,” she adds.
The company currently takes on around 10 graduates a year, 20 interns and 50 to 60 work experience placements. McLaren works with a number of partners to ensure diversity in its early careers roles – the Women’s Engineering Society; Equal Engineers; the Smallpiece Trust and Creative Access. It is also one of the employers involved in the Arkwright Engineering Scholarship, which supports talented engineering students to pursue a career in the field.
The aim is to ensure that 40% of the workforce at McLaren comes from an under-represented background by 2030. Getting more women into motorsport and retaining those already ranks highly in that goal, explains O’Hara Hatchley.
While there has been more investment into bringing women into the driver-side of the sport in recent years, it doesn’t have the same profile among women as women’s football, which has soared in popularity since this year’s European championships.
“The Women’s Engineering Society helps us to support women currently in our team through events and networking but we also need to look at how we attract and onboard people,” she says. “We’re auditing everything we do in this space to ensure the workplace is inclusive. It can even come down to individual words in job adverts that influence your appeal to a female candidate.”
The challenge is, however, that the pipeline of female engineers from universities is still relatively small. “Engineering degrees can be 20% women and it’s even lower in other courses such as programming, so we have to consider different disciplines such as maths and physics. It’s also why it’s crucial that we visit schools,” she adds.
There’s a visceral purpose here and that’s to win races. It galvanises us as a team in a way you might not see in the corporate world.” – Kate O’Hara Hatchley, McLaren Racing
Emma Gilmour, McLaren Racing’s first ever female racing driver, has been to visit a number of schools with her Extreme E car, fulfilling the “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it” need for role models. The company also visits local schools that may be struggling, “that have very few businesses knocking on their doors,” in a bid to raise awareness of the variety of roles in a motorsport team.
Supporting these career pipelines is a raft of learning and development programmes, including a new management development programme focusing on inclusion.
“We will roll this out to everyone but want to lead with managers – how do they ensure if someone joins their team, they thrive? If a woman is joining a majority-male team, what language should you use, how do you run meetings?” says O’Hara Hatchley.
That said, fostering a sense of belonging in a successful racing team can in many ways be easier than for your average corporate entity. “There’s a visceral purpose here and that’s to win races. It galvanises us as a team in a way you might not see in the corporate world,” she adds. “We all know why we’re here and we can commiserate or celebrate together.”
For Margo Bondar, every aspect of her time as an intern at McLaren will have been worth it. “I feel that no matter where I go after this I have a good base. The whole experience has helped me grow both professionally and individually,” she says.