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Zwift’s Lisa Bourne: “Everyone Should Have Equal Access to the Sport”

Triathlon has a diversity problem—but there are many people working hard within the endurance industry to improve this. In this five-part mini-series, we’ll be talking with some of them.

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Triathlon is a welcoming sport, but it is still largely a white, able-bodied, affluent, and heteronormative sport. According to a 2016 USA Triathlon Membership Survey, 84% of participants identified as white, 5% Hispanic/Latino, 3% Asian, and just 1% Black.

Although equity can sometimes seem like a finish line that is a long way off, the hard work of the people outlined in this five-part mini-series helps show that there is already a sea change in the endurance world. In these five interviews, we’ll be talking with some of these people about the valuable work they are doing already in the sport, industry, and at companies like Zwift, SOUL CAP, and Peloton. Each of them are making access easier for every kind of body to feel at ease and at home in training and competition, with multiple points of entry. 

RELATED: Why Aren’t There More Black Triathletes?

Last week, we spoke with Shannon Woods from Brooks Running and this week we’re hearing from Lisa Bourne, Senior Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Social Impact at Zwift.

Where are you from, and what was your relationship with sports as a younger person and as an adult?

I grew up in Washington D.C. and didn’t come from a very active family. In high school, I was fortunate to be part of my school’s first all-girls varsity soccer team. In college, I fell in love with spin class and, in 2000, I decided to buy my first bike. The worlds of cycling and social impact first came together for me that year with the Tanqueray AIDSRide, where I trained and completed a 350-mile ride from North Carolina to D.C. to raise funds and awareness for those living with HIV/AIDS. Over the last 20 years I’ve developed as a cyclist and continue to train for long distance events worldwide, from California to Spain to Italy. As a younger person, I was more involved with team sports, and, as an adult, my competition has shifted to me, myself and I!

When did you start working on DEI, and how did your career path lead you to Zwift?

I’ve dedicated large amounts of time throughout my career to mentoring others, advocating for women on bikes, and generally always finding myself as one of the only Black women in the room. In my very first job out of college, I developed and led Accenture’s first internal mentor program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. When I lived in Seattle, I was elected to Team LunaChix, which was sponsored by Clif Bar, and our entire purpose was to get more women on bikes, to ensure they felt like they belonged and felt safe with their riding skills. 

Last summer I began to serve as a volunteer Diversity & Inclusion consultant for Carmichael Training Systems, helping its founder, Chris Carmichael, diversify his coaching talent pipelines. That volunteer opportunity connected me with Zwift and led to my current role. In addition to my MBA from Harvard Business School, I bring close to 20 years of professional experience to Zwift from a range of industries: IT, consulting, retail, e-commerce, and non-profit. I feel immense gratitude every single day for the role I get to play in bringing more diversity into Zwift and into cycling at large.

What is your mission at Zwift? How is the company working to improve DEI in cycling?

Zwift is a fitness company born from gaming, and we’re on a mission to make more people, more active, more often.  Our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) and Social Impact (SI) team was established at the end of 2020. We’re focused on driving inclusion and participation from women, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ riders who have traditionally been excluded from the cycling landscape.

Zwift became the title, multi-year sponsor for the L39ION of LA, a team developed by Justin and Cory Williams which is on a mission to diversify the sport. In February, DEIB launched our Black Celebration Series—a year-round initiative that includes in-game activities, internal employee-facing events, and social impact initiatives. Each of these components celebrates the Black experience in cycling and running as it shines a light on the accomplishments of Black athletes and lays the foundation for future advancement. We also support the Los Angeles Bicycle Academy (LABA)—a nonprofit on a mission to empower, educate, and develop leadership skills in boys and girls from communities where access to the sport of cycling is limited. We’re currently wrapping up a LABA mentorship program where our Zwift staff are sharing their experiences and educating the youth on the team about career journeys within the sport! 

In March, we kicked off our Women’s Ride and Run series and deepened our partnership with the Women In Sports Foundation whose mission is to unlock the possibilities in every girl and woman through the power of sport.  Above all, we’ve recently announced that Zwift will sponsor the Women’s Tour de France (The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift) starting in 2022 and for the next four years. Zwift has always been about driving gender equity on our platform and now we get to deliver the same equity to the female pros in the peloton. 

Finally, Zwift has delivered meaningful PrideOn campaigns for the past several years which we design to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community and drive inclusion on our platform. We’re proud partners with Athlete Ally who are working to secure equal rights for transgender athletes.  This month, our LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group will officially launch, along with our ERGs supporting Women and BIPOC employees. In short, we’re always looking for the most meaningful ways we can amplify diverse voices in the sport and ensure our community feels valued and heard.

What is the biggest challenge you’re facing?

The biggest challenge right now is balancing the long term, evolving nature of DEIB work with the fast-paced culture of a startup organization. DEIB is about re-learning, shifting points of view, and it takes time.

Why is this mission important to you personally and/or to the company?

Encouraging diversity and inclusion in cycling and the cycling industry is important because representation matters. Seeing yourself represented in a sport, a profession, or a major area of study is key to planting the seeds of opportunity and growth.  I openly share how I never knew cycling was a professional sport growing up, which limited my world of opportunity. It goes back to equity. Everyone should have equal access to the sport, and that’s just not the case right now. If individuals feel like their voices are being heard, they will invite others and grow the sport. Growth of the sport and the industry is good for all. We float all boats.

RELATED: How to Ensure Triathlon’s Diversity Efforts Will Actually Work