Jennie Gow – the commentator: ‘We need a bit of good in the world right now’
This is one of a series of interviews with women in key roles in Extreme E, the new electric off-road championship with a stated commitment to equality as well as the environment.
Jennie Gow, 43, is a British motorsports reporter and presenter who will be moving into the commentators’ box to bring Extreme E to viewers around the world.
How do you feel about being involved with Extreme E?
I’m so excited – and slightly nervous; it’s a big departure from my skill set. But the championship itself is a thoroughly exciting proposition and you can tell by the people involved that it’s something new and dynamic. And for them to approach me – I felt very honoured by that.
It is inherently good, and we need a bit of good in the world right now. So for me, a lot of things came together to take me out of my comfort zone, but in a world that is my comfort zone. I’m delighted to be part of it.
It is exciting and trailblazing, and I think Extreme E is offering something a little different that you can buy into if you’re a purist, or if you’re a bit more radical and like something a bit funky.
When you say you’re departing from your skill set, do you mean by commentating rather than presenting?
Yes. We know there aren’t many females doing commentary roles across the world for motorsports – it’s been tried and it’s not gone well. So I am opening myself up!
However, this is a championship that is inherently equal. It’s equal through the teams and drivers and it wants to be equal in the commentary box. To inspire the next generation of people coming through – as engineers, mechanics, drivers, whatever – you’ve got to show the way. And it takes brave people to do that, to get into the driving seat alongside world champions and to try and change – and I just want to be a little part of that.
Do you think the rest of motor sports could learn something from Extreme E? How are electric cars viewed within motorsports?
All these series that come online that are electric are trailblazing. Because they are forward-thinking, they’re having to adapt and work with new technology. You have to have these world-class championships to bring forward technology and develop things.
When Formula E started, they had to change car [mid-race] because the battery wouldn’t last long enough; now it lasts long enough. All of these things drive innovation.
It is exciting and trailblazing, and I think Extreme E is offering something a little different that you can buy into if you’re a purist, or if you’re a bit more radical and like something a bit funky. It can appeal to both.
You made a documentary that questioned whether the tightly-clad ‘grid girls’ often seen at races are outdated. What do you think about the gender balance espoused by Extreme E? Does it present a more progressive face of motorsports?
Hugely. It’s really important that we move away from the traditional grid girl. The times of having a female in a very sexy outfit who is not allowed to interact with the driver or rider at all and is purely there to hold a sign – those days are gone.
We want spokespeople – men and women – who can represent a brand, and deliver a message, interact with drivers and riders and be part of an overall experience. There comes a time when change has to happen. I think Extreme E has really embraced that by having this gender equality and parity. I hope that philosophy comes through, and shouts loud and proud!
What challenges have you faced as a woman in a male-dominated sector?
I always describe it like a very large ship – it takes a long time to turn it. We are seeing change, we are seeing more [women] enthused by motorsport – as well as mathematics, technology and science – but it will take a long time to change. There is some resistance within the paddocks [race-track enclosures] especially – that environment is very masculine.
To fit into that as a female, you have to be ‘one of the lads’, not mind swearing – if you mind your Ps and Qs you’ll be offended in five minutes! I was always quite laddish and I’ve never had too many issues.
You get the usual abuse and trolling, that’s what we live with nowadays, and people who don’t want you as a female to be involved in the motorsport world. Going into the commentary box will be my biggest test so far as to whether we’re progressing or not. And that’s what makes me nervous.
Jennie Gow will be commentating alongside Layla Anna-Lee and Andrew Coley with the first race kickstarting in Wadi Rum, Alula, Saudia Arabia – 3+4 April. Find out more and follow Extreme E :
Photo credit: Extreme E