A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to meet up with the newish CEO AusCycling Marne Fechner over video link. It would have been great to meet face-to-face when I was in her home town of Melbourne back in May, but as COVID lockdowns currently preclude any travel we enjoyed a chat via video.
Q: Congratulations on your appointment as CEO. As a woman, do you feel you have to do more than your male counterparts, given the gender imbalance in sports admin roles, to prove yourself?
I feel a great deal of expectation but it’s not because I’m a woman. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to come into this role to undertake the largest governance reform in Australian sport so the expectation is more around ensuring it’s a success. I also respect the work that has come before and aim to leave cycling in a better place.
I was very fortunate to work in netball which is a supportive progressive for women and we didn’t need to discuss gender but it was still a female sport in a largely male-dominated industry.
My focus at AusCycling is to be an effective leader in sport, and gender is not a big thing for me.
Q: When I interviewed pro cyclist Rachel Neylan she suggested we stop differentiating so much between men’s and women’s cycling and just refer to people like her as cyclists rather than female cyclists. What’s your take on that?
I completely agree and in a similar vein, we should not differentiate between women’s sport and men’s sport. As a descriptor that will hopefully start to drop. Sport should be inclusive and for all but this language around sport has developed over a long period and will take time to shift it. We need to make a conscious effort because currently, the norm is to talk about women’s sport.
Q: Why should a keen recreational female cyclist like me consider joining a cycling club, and therefore AusCycling? What programs do you currently have in place for adult female riders?
In my first 100 days as AusCycling CEO, I’ve embraced any conversation I could have with staff, members, non-members and other stakeholders. I see one of the key challenges is to articulate why AusCycling exists. In the past, Cycling Australia was very sport and race-focused so many women have not seen themselves reflected in that.
It presents a huge opportunity for us to understand our potential customers. We need to focus on how do we work with our clubs to help them become thriving community hubs. We need to help them connect with their own community that loves cycling and we are not there yet. Some clubs are already doing a brilliant job but we can do more.
There is a danger to think we can be everything to everyone, but we can be more relevant to more people. As an organisation, AusCycling needs to do more in the advocacy space but we don’t need to do it alone. We will partner with other organisations rather than compete with them to develop infrastructure that will enable cycling in all its forms.
Q: AusCycling seems to look after female racers pretty well and then dips straight down to the entry-level riders with Ride Nation and She Rides, what are you doing for the riders in between these two groups (both men and women)?
We know that lots of women fit into the middle. Ride Nation is an initiative and program for people who ride bikes, not necessarily people who call themselves cyclists.
For our broader membership, we are trying to understand what our clubs are doing in their communities, to identify those pockets of excellence like the great work being done by Melbourne’s Brunswick Club and share them. We acknowledge that most of the relationship is via the clubs’ network and our role is to enable and share. Our ultimate aim is to have a thriving community of cycling clubs that make it happen.
Q: Your predecessor organisation Cycling Australia had a Women’s Commission to provide advice and recommendations to the Board, are there any plans to reintroduce this concept?
Yes, but we have a broader remit to look at diversity and inclusion. Within AusCycling we’ve already implemented a program called change champions to help identify where our work in diversity and inclusion should focus. The first area will be around reconciliation and then move to gender equality. But, we’re not doing this to satisfy loud voices, it is a plan for purposeful change.
Q: Do you ride? If so, what type of riding do you enjoy?
I previously competed as a triathlete so regular road riding was a big part of my athletic career. Now I’m a typical family rider and ride mostly with my children. My daughter and I participated in the Big Bike ride. Cycling is certainly a part of my routine but only as a social rider rather than as a competitor. I’m also keen to buy a mountain bike when they become more available. I attended the National Mountain biking Championships in Tassie and it made me realise how great mountain biking is to be healthy in nature.
Q: On a more broad note, how do you think we can encourage more women to ride for all purposes – racing, exercise, fun, family rides, transport, etc?
We need to change the mindset of many women regarding riding. COVID has been a good kicker for women’s cycling. Bike sales reflect that more people are riding and we need to keep that going. It’s an opportunity and I acknowledge that it’s not something that Cycling Australia has done well in the past.
We need to look at campaigns in partnership with other organisations that promote the mental and physical wellbeing benefits of cycling, as well as the environmental impact. We also need to help our clubs to become welcoming and nurturing within their communities. AusCycling plans to become a marketing organisation, rather than just a delivery organisation that will benefit the whole cycling community, not just for women.