The latest outrage in bike industry sexism is the Maxxis Tires “Babes” calendar. I’m not going to go into it, other than to say that Adele Mitchell, in a piece for Singletrack, dismembered the Maxxis marketing department, one bad idea at a time. It’s a pretty excellent piece. Rather than jump on the bandwagon, I thought we would all be better served with a piece that celebrates the good that some folks are doing in the bike biz, and about that time I ran across a Facebook post by the pavement product manager for GT, Cait Dooley.
I’ve heard Cait’s story, in bites, over coffee and over beers. It’s a good story, either way. She’s a bike geek, through and through, and she’s a perfect example of why we do the entire world a disservice when we reduce women to sexual objects. She’s thoughtful and hard working and talking with her is a chance to get a fresh perspective on how to make a great bicycle. I asked her to write a ‘graph or two for me just reminding me of the details of her story so I could write about her, but then what she wrote was so terrific I concluded that the only thing to do was to let her speak for herself.
In Cait’s words:
I’ve been involved with bikes all life—I never really stopped riding from childhood to adulthood. When I went to college in Boston, I rode my bike to get everywhere. Eventually I started doing alleycats, and then track racing, and then every other type of racing I could find, including my favorite—cyclocross. I balanced an office job and training for a couple years, and then decided to run a small shop in Boston for while.
In 2012, I was back working at an office job. One September day I went skydiving, and then next day I put in my two weeks’ notice because I decided I wanted to chase after something else for a while. I was going to spend the rest of the fall chasing the US UCI cyclocross calendar while freelancing. Life had slightly different plans for me though, because just two months later, I was diagnosed with cancer. I kept doing my freelance work throughout treatment and I spent the next six months recovering instead of racing. I made a promise to myself when I got better that I would work in the bike industry within a year. I worked at custom framebuilder Geekhouse as the office manager during this time too, and he later recommended me for a marketing job that I eventually landed at Vittoria. I had done it!
I’m active on social media, and one day, the Director of Product for GT started following me. Cool! We’d be involved in some of the same conversations for a few months and laugh about some of the things that happen on Twitter. A few months later, he direct messaged me and said GT was looking for a global product manager and since I knew lots of New England folks, maybe I could float him some names of people that might be a good fit? I told him I’d think who might be a good fit and thought nothing of it, and gave him some names. Sea Otter was just around the corner, so I told him I’d bring him some tires to test out and we could actually meet. What I didn’t know is that when Todd had DM’d me, he was really asking me if I would consider going to GT, and our meeting at Sea Otter turned out more to be an interview than a chat about tires. He told me as much as we watched the dual slalom with Duvels in hand, and I was shocked, honestly. I hadn’t even considered myself! His suggestion made me realize I could do this and that I want this job, even if I hadn’t originally seen it for myself. I sent him over my resume, and went through the interview process. I got the job offer call while hiding out under a ledge during a ridiculous downpour at Transylvania Epic in 2014. Now that I’ve been here for a year and a half, I’m incredibly grateful that Todd saw something that I probably never would have imagined for myself, and he was essentially a stranger when he made that judgement.
What I Do at GT
I’m the Pavement Product Manager at GT, so I oversee all the urban, fitness, cyclocross, road bikes from concept to production. I work with industrial designers, engineers, sourcing teams, graphic designers, sales teams, vendors and assembly factories to make sure we produce the right bikes for a global market. If you’ve ever wondered who picks out all the parts from the water cage bolts to derailleurs, that’s what a product manager does. I also manage the GT women’s product line which includes both pavement and mountain bike products.
So yeah, Cait is amazing and she loves bikes as much as anyone, not to mention how she’s a survivor. She’s let that slip before, and moved on like she mentioned she had the flu—no fanfare. However, as she notes, she wouldn’t be in the position she’s in were it not for the vision of Todd Seplavy, head of product management for GT. He was the guy (there, next to her in the photo), who saw in her the spark of a product manager, even before Cait saw it in herself. That is worth repeating. Todd not only considered a woman for a very male-dominated position, but he considered a woman who hadn’t been considering herself. That part of the story I hadn’t known until now.
Cait says she has encountered resistance from time to time and she says Todd has had her back at every turn. We can grouse about the pinheads who don’t get it, or we can celebrate the ones who do. Let’s party.
They say it takes two. That sounds about right. One person to kick ass, and another to give her the opportunity to kick the ass.
Image: Cindy Balsitis