Interview: Jenny Vincent, 2019 Award of Excellence winner
03 September 2019
The British Triathlon Federation’s Jenny Vincent received the 2019 Award of Excellence in Lausanne, given to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the promotion of female participation in triathlon. We caught up with her to hear how her initiatives have caught the imaginations of would-be athletes in the UK.
When you joined BTF in 2010 was the promotion of gender equality something you were determined to work at right from the start?
We have always been quite lucky as triathlon is quite a modern, gender-equal sport with the Elites competing in the WTS with fairly equal representation and coverage compared to some other sports. However, when I joined BTF, we didn’t have much awareness of the participation in terms of gender across all areas and levels of the sport. I had never participated in triathlon myself, and I had a real motivation to ensure that the sport was accessible and attractive to all. I signed up to a couple of tri’s myself to learn what it felt like to be a female beginner in our sport. At this point, This Girl Can was in its initial planning stage, but here was a campaign that we really believed in and saw a real opportunity to engage with the campaign, developing a strategy for women’s participation.
How intrinsic were you in the launch of the GoTri programme in 2013 and why do you think it gained so much traction among women?
I was a regional manager when we started developing and trialling GO TRI. Having a beginner-focused programme, it made complete sense to me and since its introduction I have loved everything to do with GO TRI. I remember attending my first event at Lee Valley White Water centre (a London 2012 Olympic Venue) and seeing the great experience that those beginning their swim, bike and run journeys were having. I learnt so much in those initial months that I have taken with me to implement with the team to further develop GO TRI. We held some female focus groups in 2013-14 to learn about the barriers females faced when thinking about starting out in triathlon. We talked about imagery and language, like not using distances; don’t say a swim is 200m, instead say it’s 8 lengths, and inspirational case studies. We took these learnings seriously and built the GO TRI brand around them.
What are the key tenets of your Women’s Participation Strategy?
We aimed to improve knowledge and measurement of women’s participation, to positively raise the profile of triathlon among active females and to provide increased opportunities for females to participate in triathlon activities, by overcoming some of the barriers that existed.
A fundamental enabler was maximising its impact by linking with external initiatives and campaigns including things like Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’, Women’s Sport Week and International Women’s Day.
Our key goals were to achieve 1000 hits on the triathlon page of the This Girl Can website, develop a dozen strong case studies and offer at least 10 female-only GO TRI training sessions with the participation of at least 250 women.
How important is it to be able to offer women-only triathlons in bringing fresh faces to the sport?
Triathlon in the UK naturally offered women-only opportunities, as event organisers have always offered male and female waves. Our focus groups told us that it isn’t about having female only events, what has worked incredibly well is linking to the This Girl Can campaign and offering This Girl Can branded waves, with beginner and sprint distances. We worked alongside organisers to offer additional support in terms of female-only event briefing, beginner training days and ambassadors at the events. We really thought through each of the barriers identified in the initial working groups and tried to address and overcome each of these in our support to event organisers. We trialled this at our own Tri Liverpool event first - https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishtriathlon/albums/72157672854187525
Tri January was an inspired initiative, there must have been a bit of a eureka moment when you came up with that name? Can you talk a little about the snowball effect of that and its growth across the month and ongoing legacy?
Any mention of Tri January instantly brings a smile to my face. I absolutely love the campaign and what we achieved. It was a real team effort and we took a lot of time bouncing around ideas, designing content and discussing influencers. We had an inkling that some beginners aren’t ready to enter GO TRI events, that they wanted to try swim, bike and run on their own first, so we decided to trial self-generated activity. By providing a calendar wall chart and stickers to let participants track their journey, the impact was huge!
Use of the influencers made the campaign more appealing to the media, and our slot on BBC Breakfast on the campaign launch day saw over 3000 sign-ups in a day. Throughout the month we engaged with the community via social media and even introduced Tri January champions, which led to continued engagement throughout January.
After the campaign, we saw some of the Tri January audience progress onto Tri January legacy events – we had one for each team. We have also seen an increase in participation across our GO TRI active sessions and events. However, it is also important to recognise that some participants just want to stay in the GO TRI community and continue with self-generated activity.
We released our follow on from the campaign which is Tri Summer and have tried to apply the lessons we have learnt from Tri January to this campaign.
With high-profile ambassadors and superb role models like Louise Minchin and Lauren Steadman as well as of course the great success of the GB elite athletes, the growth of women’s triathlon could hardly look stronger? what is next to maintain that momentum?
High-profile role models are great, especially at attracting media interest. However, we really believe the most important thing is having inspirational stories and imagery of ‘real women’ that are also starting out and enjoying their journey in swim, bike and run. The key is that we all have someone that we can look at and genuinely believe “I can do that, because she can”. As an NGB, we try to avoid use of ‘staged’ images in GO TRI, and we aim to capture our audience whilst they are having fun and participating and this has been great for attracting a new female audience.
As for our female elites – wow! It has been amazing to see the GB tri-suits at the front of the pack at many WTS events in the last couple of years. We are so excited about what Tokyo will bring and not only are they fantastic athletes but also lovely people who want to give back to their sport – we are very lucky!
We have had a lot of success in this area, but it’s important to not rest on our laurels. Triathlon has so much potential, and in particular GO TRI. We need to keep learning and using our data and insight to plan future implementation. We strive to continue to offer exciting campaigns, and participation opportunities that are truly accessible to all. British Triathlon now has the aim to “be the UK’s leading sport in gender equity amongst participants” by 2024 and we will be doing everything we can in ensuring this is achieved.