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Date: November 09, 2015

Author: Tracy De Soto

Women in Triathlon: Why the Skew in Numbers and What Can We Do? 

By Tracy De Soto, CFO and Corporate Counsel, De Soto Sport; Lead Designer of De Soto Femme

Why are there so many more men than women doing triathlons?  We are all aware of it but what is being done to remedy the situation? 

First we must learn why there are fewer women.  Being that I’m in apparel, I have heard from many women who find it really difficult for all sized women to purchase well-functioning and comfortable clothing for larger women.  I understand that triathlon used to be a sport of the fittest of the fit and I am not disrespecting the history,  but it’s time to embrace all types of women!  Second, it’s important to understand the difference between women, versus men, in what drives them to participate and compete in triathlon.

At De Soto, our Femme attire is designed and made by women.  Not everyone believes this makes a big difference but we do.  We also believe that all product should be tested by women.  Real women.  Real women of all sizes.  We have, in fact, started our own Athena Testing Team.  We recognize that women in the Athena-sized group need to not only have the products available to them to make them comfortable but also be involved in the process of testing.  Their bodies are different and we should respectfully listen to them about what makes them want to get out and race!  Honestly, how can we expect anyone to return to do another race if they are uncomfortable both in terms of the options of race day kits and the comfort level while racing?  This is why we offer a variety of options for women both on top (looser fitting tops) and bottom (wrap around skirt option.) 

I also find it incredible that today, 2015, we still have a gender pay gap.  Statistics show that women are paid just 79% of what men are paid.  Why do I bring this up?  Even in today’s society, there is a difference in the confidence in women versus men in triathlon, which I believe contributes to the lower women race numbers.  One of my veteran triathlete femmebassadors recently told me that she was intimidated to post on the Women For Tri Facebook page, when I suggested she do so.  I asked her why and she said she didn’t know if she was worthy because her time wasn’t fast enough, and she was embarrassed to post a photo because she wasn’t at her goal weight. 

I understand this is only one woman but I can assure you there are many more women out there feeling insecure and not as confident as they would like.  The women’s only races like Danskin and IronGirl have helped.  This is fuel for the confidence women need.  The community that is being built and much more readily available also helps enormously (one of the few things for which I thank Mark Zuckerberg.)  Women for Tri has launched a collegiate scholarship program and triclub grant.  Its mission is to mitigate the barriers that women versus men face to entering triathlon.  When women feel supported, they gain confidence.  By growing the community of women, we will grow the numbers of female participants. 

Please note that this is not an issue that is particular to only women or only Athena women.  In fact, if we can grow our triathlon community, it will benefit every single one of us.  It benefits the apparel manufacturers, the race directors, hard good manufacturers, the retailers and right on down the line.  And you know what else?  It benefits our community even beyond triathlon because we can all be healthier together!  We can all be supported and share in community which leads to happiness.  I understand this sounds perhaps naïve and even trite but by supporting all types of women, we can all benefit: our neighborhood, our community and even our pocket books, if that’s what motivates you.  

Tracy is CFO and Corporate Counsel of De Soto Sport and is the Lead Designer of De Soto Femme.  Tracy is the proud mother of three active boys and feels passionately about furthering women and all athletes in the triathlon community.





If you have a comment about Tracy's blog, please write us at feedback@triathlonbusinessintl.com




Barry Siff, president, USA Triathlon Board of Directors, ITU Executive Board, CAMTRI Executive Board

"Let me applaud you - TBI - on publishing such a strong piece on such an important subject.  Thank you TBI, Tracy, and Emilio.

Couple things.  I am just returning from a weekend in Clermont, where I had the opportunity to participate in the first USA Triathlon Draft-Legal Qualifiers for World Championships - it was a blast!  One of the highlights of my weekend was seeing one 70-74 and two 75-79 ladies in the parking lot of our hotel yesterday, packing up their bikes.  I sincerely regret not getting a photo.  Three women - all 70+ - doing draft-legal races, and excited to now represent Team USA (again) in Spain next year.  I know I was inspired!

But, the absolute coolest thing of the weekend was the Women’s Collegiate National Championship … 75 young women racing their hearts out - also draft-legal - and exuding confidence and spirit.  Maybe they are on the other end of the spectrum from our “senior women;” but, they are equally inspiring … in a different way.  I am extremely proud - as President of USAT - to know that we have committed over $2M to our NCAA program, whereby colleges are already recruiting and offering scholarships to young female triathletes.  Pretty darn cool!

Lastly, as far as I know, the Danskin Series you note has gone away, and I am not sure how strong IronGirl is these days.  I think there’s a huge opportunity to develop a Danskin type series once again … if we can find an appropriate sponsor/partner.  I look at the success that running has enjoyed the past several years … largely fueled by a major increase in female participation.  The competition levels - the times - have gotten slower, less competitive, less intimidating … all things that you refer to, and we must consider as we work to grow the female participation level in triathlon.

I know I will be touching upon this, talking about what USA Triathlon is doing, during my talk at the TBI Conference in January; but, I certainly want to thank you and De Soto for focusing and working hard on making an impact.  Cheers, and with respect, Barry."

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