Rebecca Morley catches up with last year’s BikeBiz Woman of the Year finalists to talk about their experiences in the cycle trade. Today, we hear from Michelle Jakeway, head of marketing at British bike brand Raleigh
This piece first appeared in the April edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
I’ve always seen myself as a creative person with a huge interest in consumer behaviour, so a career in marketing felt like a natural fit. After undertaking a BA Hons in Marketing, and then a Master of Arts degree in Marketing Management, I started out as a marketing assistant. Largely involving stuffing envelopes about domestic heating, this was a far cry from my dreams of the working world but began my understanding of the industry and unleashed an aptitude for hard work which has never left me.
I then moved into various marcomms management roles within the renewable technology industry with a large German organisation (experiencing the same market challenges around decarbonisation, as we do today). In 2016 I decided to combine my skillset with my passion for cycling and joined the UK’s best known bike brand – Raleigh. After having my two sons, and progressing through the business, I’ve led various departments during my six-plus years here, working with some fantastic colleagues across digital, collection management and events.
There have been so many! One that sticks out particularly though is when we launched our 35th Anniversary Raleigh Team Aero Pro Burner. I loved delving into Raleigh’s rich history to tell the story around the bike, so was elated when it sold out in just 57 minutes.
Another has to be when I led the Raleigh rebrand project in 2021. Being the brand custodian is no mean feat (especially when you’re driving the direction of the UK’s best known bicycle brand that’s been around for over 130+ years).
However, I loved the challenge of galvanising support for the brand, and helping modernise our offering to evolve for the years ahead. This has really continued in 2022, having just launched the new Raleigh Motus e-bike range – providing the same quality and innovation that Raleigh always has, but using modern technology to support the riders of tomorrow.
Pushing for change
When I first started, there were very few women in the industry – especially at a senior position. The industry didn’t feel like it was a playground in which women had much of a voice. Through time though, Raleigh has pushed for change through every touchpoint – product design, communications, and outreach.
We’re making cycling more accessible for people of all walks of life – showing riders of all ages and backgrounds that it’s not just for the lycra-clad sporting enthusiast, and with that, inspiring real women – mothers, daughters, grandmas – to take to a life on two wheels.
At Raleigh, I’m living the change that women are being heard as leaders in the industry and hugely valuable consumers in-store too.
I do see [the gender gap] closing. At Raleigh, we’ve made some huge steps forward; for example, female employees back in 2015 accounted for just 20.3% of our company workforce, but in 2021 this had risen to 34.0%. This is still some way from where we want it to be – highlighting there is a lot more work to do – but it’s encouraging to see the gap is closing.
In order to keep this positive trajectory, I feel the industry needs to continue to hear women’s voices; offering flexible and remote working is a way to tap into the huge talent pool out there. Making roles more accessible that fit around modern lives, which includes being supportive when there are children in the mix, means women too can be part of our wonderful industry – adding some serious firepower along the way.
Do not hesitate in making your move into the cycling industry. During my time with Raleigh, I have met some of the most wonderful, inspiring and passionate people. The industry really isn’t very big, so it’s easy to get to know people – it’s super friendly and there is a real community feel.
In my opinion, there is no better industry to be part of at the moment. As Gear Change pushes for decarbonisation and active travel, we’re bringing the humble bicycle back and proving it can be a viable mobility solution for many short journeys. Whether you ride competitively, for health and fitness or utility, we’re all united through the joy of cycling.
I am passionate that, like our Dutch counterparts, we too can become a cycling nation. But to get there the industry needs to reflect the gender split in society. I hope sharing my experiences can inspire more women to get into the industry and become part of the solution.