An interview with Jutta Kleinschmidt.

About

Jutta Kleinschmidt is the first and only woman to date to have won the world’s toughest and longest rally, the Dakar Rally. Based upon her personal and professional experience, she’s now become an awesome speaker for motivating an audience and a renowned coach and event professional. Hearing her talking about taking risks for success, challenges, how setbacks can become opportunities or even what it is for a woman to be successful in a male domain is definitely inspiring.

Interview

Marie Majkowiez (EWB): 
“Why, from your point of view, weren’t there other women who won the Dakar?

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“It’s not easy to make your way through to finding the budget you need, especially when it comes to cars. Of course, this is difficult for both men and women. But, when it comes to getting the best material and support, even in your own team, people tend to think that a woman has less chances to win. It’s difficult to get the same credit. If you enter a plane and the pilot is a woman, most of the passengers won’t feel very comfortable. It’s still in the minds. Therefore, as a female pilot, it’s hard to get the support you need to win at the end of the day. Of course, it’s not the only reason. Statistically, there are much less women involved in motorsports than men. At the end, I think all these reasons together explain why we haven’t had another female winner so far.”

Maxime Lagane (EWB):
What made you quit your successful career as an engineer with BMW, follow your passion and start a new adventure as a professional motorsports driver?

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“I think you already answered: because I followed my passion! It was strong enough for me to take some risks. If you really want something, even if it’s not so sure that you are going to be successful, go for it, try it, that’s the key! If your passion is strong enough, then you will find the strength and courage you need. At the end of the day, I wasn’t even thinking about the risks. In my case, it was rather a financial risk, more than a personal one. I cut down all the costs, leaving much more sparsely. The most important thing is to have a plan B, in order to be able to survive without other people’s support. In my case, this plan was clear: if, at some point, I needed money to survive, I could start to work freelance. I was young enough and I knew if I couldn’t succeed, I could still go back to work and find another job as an engineer. Maybe not so well paid than the one I’d lost!
In fact, it’s not really about making a hard choice, it’s mostly about following your passion; that’s what pushes you there.”

Marie Majkowiez (EWB):
I wanted to ask you how you think your career would have been different (or not) if you had been a man…

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“That’s a good question! It would have involved advantages and disadvantages. If we start with the benefits, if I had been a man, it would definitely have been easier to be accepted in the team.
During the races, I wouldn’t have had to face the fact that men tend to fight harder against a woman, because it’s still a shame to lose against a woman. Successful race drivers have huge egos!
Then, being a man would also have had drawbacks: I would have had less attention from the press. As a woman, especially when I won, the situation was really outstanding. It’s something I can still use after my driving career, giving speeches as I’m doing and taking part in other PR events.”

Maxime Lagane (EWB):
On that particular matter, you mentioned before that you feel gender equality is not achieved in this domain. What were the main things you noticed in the motorsports industry which make you say that? Does it come from the men’s egos, is there a problem with the sponsors when it comes to getting enough budget as a woman?

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“Sponsoring is really not a problem, because as a woman, the sponsors like you, especially when you are winning. The main struggle is inside the team itself. You need support from your teammates. Sometimes the team manager doesn’t really believe in you. When it comes to engineering and mechanics, it’s a huge disadvantage to be a woman; nobody would have believed in my skills when it came to setup if I hadn’t been a professional engineer! When it comes to the competition itself, for instance in cross-country, some drivers even pushed me off the road (only some of them, not all of them) because they couldn’t imagine losing against a woman. It’s only a few but this few can really make your life hard…”

Marie Majkowiez (EWB):
As a little girl, what made you come into this sport?

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“As long as I can remember, I’ve always liked motorcycle. It has always fascinated me. I found that super cool. I also like competition. It’s fun and time pasts fast if you do that. It also pushes you to your limits. I love adventure, because you never know what is going to happen. And I love surprises! For instance, even if it wasn’t allowed, as kids, we explored old left homes, it was fascinating.
At the time I started, activities and interests were much more gendered than today. I was much more interested in technics, adventure and dangerous sports, which were considered as boy’s stuff. That’s how I ended up there!”

Maxime Lagane (EWB):
From your experience and everything you’ve seen in practice, what could be done by the International Sport Federations to promote women’s rights as you’ve done within the FIA?

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“I think they have a very good new serie that I actually like very much, which is called Extreme E. It’s a kind of cross-country racing starting next year with electric cars. What they did and announced a couple of months ago is fantastic: they will do teams pairing up a woman and a man in the same car and race track, which can only succeed together. As the cars are all the same, it’ll give a lot of women a chance. Series like that are fantastic because you all have the same chances. There is no excuse, you can really prove your skills and talent. We have to try mixing women and men more. I’m against races for women only; I’ve fought all my life against men and I don’t really see why women should be disadvantaged. Motorsports, like riding or sailing, have nothing to do with strength, unlike many sports. That’s an important part of the fun: we have a chance to compete against men, to be equal.
It should also motivate more women to come into theses sports!”

Marie Majkowiez (EWB) :
You are talking about numbers, what do you think about quotas?

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“Normally, I don’t really like it, because I always think the best one should get the job. But at some point, it’s necessary, because otherwise, women never get the chance! I wouldn’t choose a woman only because of quotas, but I like the idea that a woman gets a chance she would never have had if quotas didn’t exist. What we, women, do wrong is that we don’t network enough. Men are much better when it comes to networking: they help each other much more that we do. It’s a big disadvantage we have. It’s something I have understood over time. When I was young, as I started my career, I was more or less fighting alone. I have the feeling that men help each other much more when it comes to getting a position, advantages. Women have to learn how to use connections.”

Maxime Lagane (EWB):
On that point, what is the place of men in this fight, how can they concretely contribute to more gender equality?

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“They can help women more! Some men really do that well. I have to say that I met a few in my career. But it would be great if we could have more of them, I mean men who really believe in the skills of women and start thinking differently. For instance, in my career, I’ve had both genders as co-drivers, and, especially when it came to work hard, women were much better than men! Beginning to think differently means really starting to believe in women’s skills. Nowadays, more and more men understand that. If we mix our skills, we can become really strong. What I can feel in my job now is that I’m a person happy to make compromises, which is something often necessary. Keeping everyone calm and happy is usually an ability mostly found in women. Moreover, a man will find it easier to negotiate with a woman than with another man. If men understand that having women in their team is really a good thing for many reasons, they will also support them more.”

Marie Majkowiez (EWB):
I really like what you are saying because it’s like succeeding together instead of keeping on opposing both genders, which is maybe the main mistake we still make nowadays. Have you ever heard about the SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals) from the United Nations?



Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“I’ve already heard about it, but I can’t say I’m really informed about that.”

Marie Majkowiez (EWB):
“It’s 17 goals and gender equality is one of them.”



Maxime Lagane (EWB):
The aims of the United Nations are very wide and include lots of aspects like developing education and fighting poverty. Achieving gender equality is one of these goals. Our association is really in line with these values and would like to support and promote the SDG’s. Being aware of these inequalities is very important. As a man, I think we are not always conscious of this matter. I’m also a happy father of three girls, which is quite a challenge, to be honest. My older daughter is about to go to school. I think it might be a good idea to include gender equality, amongst other subjects like health or food, in the education we give to our kids, what is your view?

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“Yes! You never ever learn that to school! That’s a very good point. I don’t know what should be included in this kind of lessons, but I think it would be fantastic if our children would have something like one lesson a week about this topic. It would be super helpful, I never really thought about that. Even if it’s making progress with each generation, it’s better to start when you are young. At this time, it’s all about education. When I grew up, there were so many things I “shouldn’t do” because I was a girl… As a little girl, I wanted to play football with the boys. When I asked, they always said no, because the girls were not good enough in their opinion. I offered them to let me give a try, because I couldn’t accept their judgement from the beginning. I’ve always fought for these little things. Now, it’s already much better that 50 years ago. But there’s still many stupid things in our minds, like “boys don’t cry” and this kind of stuff. If we talk again about a matter we discussed before, it would be very nice if people could enter a plane with a female pilot and, instead of feeling nervous, telling themselves “I’m sure she’s very well prepared”.
It’s the same for black and white! Why do so many people still think that if you are born black, you are less valuable than if you are born white? It’s a huge problem in America, because then the black people don’t get the same chances and education and it makes things even worse. It’s something we could fix through education.”

Marie Majkowiez (EWB):
“It’s hope for the future!”

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“Remember we’re not there yet, but it’s already much better. Some decades ago, women weren’t even allowed to get a job or to vote! If you consider that, we already made progresses.”

Marie Majkowiez (EWB):
I’ve got a difficult question to ask you. These last months, we’ve talked a lot about sexual abuses and harassment in various kind of sports. A recent study leaded by the Government of France showed that up to 10% of women have suffered such things in relation with their sport practices. Have you seen such things in your sports?

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“No. Actually, I have no bad experience of this kind. But it’s a bit different in motorsports, because you don’t get this kind of typical training as a young person. You start receiving a professional training when you are in a professional team. Until then, you do it by yourself, as an amateur. It’s not like athletics and other sports, where the risk is much higher. I had some fans who would flirt with me, but it was always my decision! I’ve got a strong temperament and it helped me to say no. Sometimes, especially when you’re a young girl, you don’t have enough strength to say no, that’s what doesn’t make such things easy to deal with.”

Maxime Lagane (EWB):
Talking about your career, we can guess you’ve been facing many hurdles. We are now in 2020, but at the time you started your career, the situation of women was certainly worse than today. Each time you faced an issue or during a race, what helped you succeed and become stronger? What kind of advices can you give other women involved in struggles?

Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“I would actually say preparation is the key; it’s definitely what helped me the most. Prepare yourself. I knew what my weaknesses were and tried to improve them. Very often, when we are weak on something, we don’t really want to face it and work on it. But working on our weaknesses is the best way of improving oneself. Always try to be as well prepared as possible. Even today, when I have a complicated meeting, for instance with many people, I prepare myself very well, trying to guess which kind of questions the audience may ask and having the answers ready. It makes me less surprised and I already know a lot about what is coming up. In motorsports it’s the same. You can work on many things. The physic is very important. People think you’re just driving a car, but it’s not so simple. In cross-country, the goal is not to lose your concentration, because you drive really fast. With my co-drivers, we worked on many things which could make us better than the others. It could be communication, maps preparations or adjustments on the car. I really like testings, unlike most of my men colleagues who find them boring. Improving little things can really make a difference because at this level, everybody is very good (otherwise they wouldn’t be there). Being prepared also gives you more self-confidence. When I started, even if was strong and a fighter, I didn’t have much self-confidence, it’s two different things! Being prepared made me believe in myself. If you have to make a speech in a meeting, believe me, you’ll feel completely different whether you’re well prepared or not!”

Marie Majkowiez (EWB):
Is there anything more you’d like to share with our readers?



Jutta Kleinschmidt:
“Yes! I think it’s awesome that you take care of these subjects and I’m really happy that we made this interview. I hope that everyone who reads this article can fulfill her/his dreams as I did. It’s so important to live our life how we really want to live it. Don’t ever stop dreaming! The older you get, the less dreams you may have, but luckily, I never stopped dreaming. Of course, you may have to adapt your dreams a little bit to your age! But dreaming gives you the power and motivation to go for your goals.”

Thanks a lot, Jutta, for your time, your smile
and all this positive and motivational energy you shared with us!

To Go Further…

You will find more information on Jutta Kleinschmidt on https://www.jutta-kleinschmidt.de.
If you want to learn about the Sustainable Development Goals, please follow this link: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org.
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