The Hamilton Commission: Accelerating change
The Hamilton Commission: Accelerating change
A new report highlights the lack of diversity in the motorsport industry, recommending changes that are needed to make the sport more inclusive.
Seven-time Formula 1 (F1) world champion, Sir Lewis Hamilton, in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK, launched the Hamilton Commission in June 2020 to understand the persistent underrepresentation of Black people and minorities in UK motorsports and find solutions to make the industry more inclusive and change for the better.
As the report, published in July 2021, notes, in a sport that revolves around data, there is very little available data on the diversity within the industry. The Commission estimates that only 1% of the workforce at the pinnacle of motorsport is made up of individuals from Black or minority ethnic backgrounds.
A lot of it comes down to the culture at many F1 teams and organisations within the UK motorsport industry. The report states that a lot of women and other minorities felt frustrated, as they have had to deal with continual microaggressions and ‘banter,’ which is often hurtful and offensive.
Several motorsport organisations also avoid actually having to deal with the core problem of internalised biases by hiding their unfair hiring policies under the garb of hiring the ‘best,’ regardless of their identity. While on the surface this makes sense, since teams can and should only hire the very best in a high performance environment, such a statement often hides the fact that many are unable to reach that level precisely because of systemic biases that work against them. The face is that a large section of the population is not even in a position to dream about working in motorsports. Often, the definition of the ‘best’ comes down to holding a degree from a top university.
The report actually found that the data shows that teams with members from diverse backgrounds can lead to a 30% improvement in financial productivity. Thus, there is even a financial incentive to hiring people with different identities. The industry, then should question their internalised biases and find solutions that can help provide more people with a shot at joining the sport.
Lack of role models
A dearth of role models is another factor contributing to the lack of diversity within the motorsport sector in the UK. Hamilton is a role model and an icon not only for racing fans, but Black people and minorities all over the world. Notably, he is the only Black driver on the current F1 grid.
Away from the race track, there are only a handful of Black people and those from minority backgrounds that are involved in motorsports as technicians and engineers, and there are very few in a position to act as role models or inspire younger generations to take up Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers. According to the report, young Black people feel that a career in motorsports is not for them and that they wouldn’t fit in. Several are unable to engage with the sport and believe it is elitist and too costly.
Perception of motorsports and engineering
There is also a negative perception amongst many young people about engineering careers in motorsport, with many claiming it is ‘too difficult’ or ‘too technical.’ There were also contrasting beliefs about the industry, with some feeling it was mostly manual, hands-on work for low-skilled workers, while others felt it was only meant for highly educated individuals with an understanding of advanced math and physics. Additionally. the study found that boys. regardless of their background, were more likely to consider engineering as a career compared to girls of the same age.
The report provides 10 clear recommendations going forward, focusing on support and empowerment, accountability and measurement, and inspiration and engagement. These recommendations include:
- Implementing a diversity and inclusion charter for motorsport, led by F1 teams
- Developing a best practices guide for STEM inspiration and outreach activities to enable inclusive engagement with black students
- Expanding apprenticeships, paid work placements and work experience schemes by F1 and motorsport companies
- Promoting the Anti-Racism Charter for schools supported by teachers unions and other leadership bodies in education
- Establishing a new fund to develop programmes that addresses the factors that contribute to the exclusion of Black students from schools
- Piloting new approaches to increase the number of Black teachers in STEM subjects
- Extending support to additional STEM activities by supplementary schools by Black community groups
- Collecting and analysing data on student and staff characteristics at the subject level, by the Department for Education and other bodies
- Creating support programmes for Black students in post-16 education to enable greater progression into higher education and work based training linked to motorsport
- Creating scholarship programmes to enable Black graduates from degrees in engineering and allied subjects to progress into specialist motorsport roles
The motorsport industry, at large, has been supportive of the report and its findings, and is beginning to institute tangible actions to bring about change.
F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali reaffirmed the organisation’s commitment to making changes to make the sport more inclusive. F1 has announced the second iteration of their We Race as One 2021 initiative, which provides scholarships, internships and apprenticeships for talented individuals from minority backgrounds.
The Mercedes F1 team, along with Hamilton, have launched the Ignite initiative to support greater diversity and inclusion in motorsport.
Hamilton himself is using his platform to speak up about the injustices in the world and to inspire change in society, joining other Black athletes like Marcus Rashford, Siya Kolisi and Naomi Osaka to be a vocal leader of change. As he notes, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to win all these championships and have all this success and not use it to make change.”
- Read an interactive summary of the Accelerating Change report here