Susie Wolff began karting at a young age and was named British Woman Kart Racing Driver of the Year when she was only 13. She started competing professionally in 2001 and officially retired from the sport 14 years later. After hanging up her helmet, she felt it was time to pass the torch.
“I took a step back and decided that I wanted to do something really good with my experience in motorsport,” shares the 37-year-old Scotswoman via email. “I recognized that whilst there were some good women in the industry, there were nowhere near enough of them.”
To that end, Wolff co-founded Dare to be Different, a non-profit organization, created as a call to action to the motorsport industry.
“From my own personal experience, I felt that unless we founded a grassroots initiative specifically designed to educate, inspire and encourage young female talent, nothing would change in the long term. Doors needed to be opened.”
Wolff has been advocating for women in motorsport for years. In 2013, she was awarded an honorary fellowship at the University of Edinburgh in recognition of her role as an ambassador for women in sport. In 2016, she became an ambassador for She’s Mercedes, an initiative that aims to empower women by giving them a platform to share their experiences, among other things.
“For women in particular, I don’t think the media and social media are always helpful; they often can project this impression of women as ‘having it all’…and you can, but it comes at a cost, and you have to prioritize – and the media doesn’t necessarily reflect that reality.
“The key comes in knowing what makes you happy, identify your priorities, and also realize that these factors can be different for everyone. No one size fits all, it is very personal.”
In February 2019, Dare to be Different announced that it would be uniting with the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)’s Girls on Track program to create one initiative.
“Michèle Mouton (President of the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission) and I have long been aligned when it comes to the need for (gender) parity in motor sport,” says Wolff. “Uniting with the FIA in this way makes absolute sense. We are stronger together,”
Today, Dare to be Different targets girls and women aged eight to 18 who are interested in a motorsport career. Participants get the chance to meet women in different aspects of the industry, from racers to mechanics. Ambassadors include Maria Costello, Tatiana Calderon and Charlie Broughton.
“We strategically selected a wide range of enjoyable and engaging educational activities that provide a unique insight into what a potential career in the vibrant world of motorsport can offer. The next step is to reach an even wider audience and to offer our events in more locations around the globe. Our collaboration with the FIA Women in Motorsport will help us achieve this goal.”
Dare to be Different has garnered a positive response from the motorsport industry as well as other businesses – particularly those involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math.) Motorsport event promoters have allowed the group to hold events during Formula E and Formula 1 races, as well as during the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters in Germany and the Supercars Championship in Australia. In addition, Dare to be Different has reached more than 700,000 students through school events.
“Now that we are a joint venture with the FIA, we are not focused on volume of events or trying to be the biggest. What we want to do is foster strong and lasting relationships with the ASNs (the local motorsport authorities) to ensure that the activation is strategic, meaningful and leaves a lasting impression on the young ladies who participate. The impact we have from an inspiration and education perspective is the most important thing to me.”
While initiatives like Dare to be Different can help widen one’s network, Wolff says the key is for young women to believe in themselves – and that applies to any field that they are working in.
“Find out what it is that you feel passionate about and go for it. Don’t be scared to stand up for yourself and be seen and heard.”