A Debrief from the OCA’s First Diversity and Inclusion Panel Discussion

We spoke with Ontario Cycling Association Board Member Nicole Visschedyk about the results of the first Diversity and Inclusion panel discussion, which happened in early September. This panel was just the beginning of the OCA’s efforts to make the sport of cycling more inclusive in Ontario—there’s still a lot of work to be done on many levels, but for those wondering why the panel was held and what came out of it, read on:

What made you interested in focusing on diversity and inclusion in cycling?

As a member of the Ontario Cycling Association Board, as well as a female-identifying Indigenous person, one of the priorities for myself has been to increase the diversity of the sport. Unfortunately, cycling can be a bit homogenous. I’ve heard a lot of stories from other people about their own experiences in cycling, and many of them are absolutely horror stories. I’ve been involved in the sport for quite a number of years, and it’s something that I’ve continued to see. Addressing it and working to make real change is something that is really important, and the Board recognizes this.

Why start with a panel discussion?

One of the first ways that we wanted to begin to be more forward and make some progress was to have an open discussion. But one problem we’ve seen in other industries is that diversity and inclusion panels can tend to be not actually diverse or inclusive, and neglect to hear from the communities being impacted. We wanted to start by opening a conversation for cyclists from minority communities, to hear what they are saying, what they are feeling and what they’re seeing on the ground. And we wanted to know if there were any ideas of how we as an organization can make the sport more inclusive. I’m also a big believer that oftentimes, solutions come from folks who are most directly impacted. However, I don’t want to suggest that these people are the ones who are then responsible for implementing the solutions. They simply have better insight than anyone outside of their situation will have, and those insights are invaluable.

For this first panel we hosted, we encouraged everybody to attend. I think it’s important that many folks in the cycling community were in attendance to listen. And many were super receptive, which was great to see. At the same time, while we wanted it to be open to everyone, we really specifically wanted to ensure that the people speaking were from minority communities, so BIPOC folks, indigenous people, people who identify as female, people who may be differently-abled than other folks: Anyone in a minority community in cycling.

How did the panel discussion go?

It actually went really well, I felt like it was a huge success. But I also realize that it’s only the first step. I absolutely don’t think it was any kind of solution. The conversation was productive, and we heard a lot of really interesting things. People talked about having bad experiences, which is tough to hear. But the solutions they came up with were often pretty straightforward, but incredibly creative and smart. Many were pretty basic things like having a gender neutral category at races, to provide a place for those who are transitioning or are unsure of where they fit into a gender spectrum, where they can still race and not have to go through that really unpleasant experience of having to self-identify as one gender or the other. And similar to that, ensuring that there’s a gender-neutral bathroom available at every venue.

We also heard just the importance of creating a space within rides for people to have conversations about what it’s like to be the one person that shows up to a ride who’s different from 40 other people. It’s about recognizing that somebody may feel a little bit like they don’t belong, and making sure to say hello, and make feel welcome.

Now that the first panel has happened, what’s next?

Of course, we took detailed notes, and the suggestions are going to be posted, as well as put into the OCA’s five year strategic plan. We’ll be sharing an early draft of that soon, and as we look for a new CEO for the OCA, implementation of the plan will be an important part their job.

Right now, the OCA is a little bit limited by resources: it may surprise people to know that only a handful of people actually work for the OCA in a full-time capacity. But we do plan to host more of these panels and keep the conversation going. My hope is that we will have them semi-regularly. Everyone is welcome, with the note that the folks who are talking are people from these minority communities. Everyone can listen, but it’s really a conversation around people who are in those minority populations.

We would also love to have more people run for the Board. The Board will be electing new members and it’d be nice to have some more minority representation on the board.

How can people get involved?

I don’t think diversity and inclusion in cycling is something that the OCA itself can fix entirely. I think it has to it has to be a combination of ground up and top down change. We did hear about some great initiatives for people who are BIPOC in terms of creating BIPOC race groups and teams in the province, and that’s pretty exciting. Within my own world, in the indigenous community, there’s been a lot of work around the reconciliation piece in the residential schools and there are a couple of long rides to commemorate the victims of residential schools. Those are opportunities to get involved.

People can also be talking to their local cycling club or team about diversity and inclusion. Whether personally or as a club, there are anti-racism trainings available, and we can all can educate ourselves about issues that that black cyclists face, issues that indigenous cyclists face, issues that folks who are LGBTQ+ face.

To me, the key message is that this panel discussion was a good first step, but it’s only a first step. We will try to ensure that everything that we heard in that discussion is in the strategic plan, and is also brought up in the interviews that we do with the OCA CEO candidates.

About the writer:

Molly Hurford is a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside and healthy habits of athletes and interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete podcast and website, and most recently launched the book ‘Becoming A Consummate Athlete.‘ She’s the author of multiple books including the Shred Girls, a young adult fiction series and online community focused on getting girls excited about bikes. Molly is a little obsessed with getting people psyched on adventure and being outside, and she regularly hosts talks and runs clinics for cyclists and teaches yoga online and IRL… And in her spare time, the former Ironman triathlete now spends time tackling long runs and rides on trails or can be found out hiking with her mini-dachshund DW and husband, cycling coach and kinesiologist Peter Glassford.