Women Bike Wednesday: Roll Models Gearing Up Female Riders in DC

W&B Logo _ CommuterIn February, the League’s Women Bike program was delighted to announce a $15,000 grant for an innovative advocacy initiative that we were confident could be a model for the rest of the nation: the Women & Bicycles campaign created by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

Last month, I sat down with Nelle Pierson, WABA’s Events and Outreach Manager, to see learn more about the concept and how the effort is shaping up thus far…

The wheels started turning when Nelle Pierson saw a clear intersection between the now-famous tenets of “The Tipping Point” and getting more women on bikes.

The best-selling book by Malcom Gladwell highlighted the impact of Connectors; people with the interest and ability to spread an idea within their personal circles and create a ripple effect throughout their community. Pierson, the Events and Outreach Manager for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, did a quick mental inventory of her bike friends and had a realization.

“I thought, ‘I have bike friends who represent those personality types, those evangelical people who are prosthelytizing about bikes,’” she recalls. “What if we bring those women together and provide them with the tools they need to really sell it?’”

Nelle Pierson at the start of the May Mothers Day Ride (Photo by Maggie Smith)

Nelle Pierson at the start of the May Mothers Day Ride (Photo by Maggie Smith)

That what-if turned into WABA’s new Women & Bicycles program. In 2011, the local advocacy organization started a community-wide conversation to address the fact that just 23% of area riders are women. To bridge that gender gap, Pierson decided to harness the power of Connectors, building the Women & Bicycle initiative around 10 Roll Models — experienced female bicyclists who want to share the benefits of biking with other women who may be interested in riding but need additional support or community to get them rolling.

“One person who cares really strongly about the issue, who’s sharing events on Facebook, pulling people together, they’re likely the ones who are social and eager to follow-up,” Pierson says. “And luckily, we have a lot of those people in DC!” Within a matter of days, WABA got 22 applications from area women to be Roll Models for the program. But, Pierson realized, even the most enthusiastic needs some sort of structure to channel their passion.

Open House with interested participants and initiative Roll Models (Photo from WABA)

Open House with interested participants and initiative Roll Models (Photo from WABA)

For that, Pierson worked with local advocates to create a first-of-its-kind Women & Bicycles workbook, designed to act, not just as compilation of helpful information for female riders, but as a catalyst for discussion and problem solving. The perfect setting for that kind of conversation? A dinner party, of course! After all, such informal, small group gatherings have proved their commercial and political impact again and again. “The Tupperware party worked,” Pierson says. “It got it in homes of hundreds of thousands of people. Mary Kay, which had a similar model is a multi-billion-dollar organization now. The Obama campaign took advantage of that concept with house parties, too. How do we tap into these approaches to succeed in the bike world?”

Engrossed in the Women Bike workbook! (Photo by Maggie Smith)

Engrossed in the Women Bike workbook! (Photo by Maggie Smith)

It didn’t take long to find out — even the initial meet-ups were a clear success. Roll Models were reaching out through their social, professional and other creative network to engage as many as 20 interested bicyclists. “The dinner and discussion format works really well,” Pierson says. “It’s relaxed and fun, and we’ve routinely gone over time because gals want to hang out and continue talking!”

Successful meet-up / bike shop dinner party!

Successful meet-up / bike shop dinner party!

But the dinner is just the first course — the follow-up and mentorship is just as important. “Roll models are taking greater initiative to recruit mentees, and figure out how to follow-up,” she adds. “Erin has created a Women Biking Listserv, and suggests upcoming events, makes herself available to go to bike shops, and is coordinating her own rides. Angie recruited 20 people for her Meet-up and tailored the information to meet their more advanced needs. Laurie, a co-owner of a bike shop recruited 20 women for her meet-up, and used the event as a catalyst to launch her Women Biking group; a combination of rides, yoga nights, and happy hours.”

Beyond the small groups, the Women & Bicycles program is engaging other women through rides, events and a vibrant Facebook group that’s attracting more than 150 new participants each month. “It’s working,” Pierson says. “From a communications standpoint, we are reaching people and the information that’s being shared is sincere, substantive, helpful and proving the importance of this program.”

Zahra Jilani at the Mothers Day Ride (Photo by Maggie Smith)

Zahra Jilani at the Mothers Day Ride (Photo by Maggie Smith)

And, as it turns out, there are plenty of roll models — both women and men — eager to be Connectors in their circles. “I presented to a group in Fairfax, and everyone wanted the PDF version of the workbook,” Pierson says. “A gentleman said to me, ‘This is really nice — I want it in my bike shop.’ He made a contribution to the program and now his bike shop printing and distributing it.”

Click here to download the PDF version of the Women & Bicycles workbook — and stay tuned for additional resources to roll out a model campaign like WABA’s in your community!

My Signature

Carolyn Szczepanski
Communications Director

Carolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League’s blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women’s Bicycling Summit and launched the League’s newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.

via Bikeleague.org Blog http://blog.bikeleague.org/blog/2013/06/women-bike-wednesday-roll-models-gearing-up-female-riders-in-dc/