Aneela McKenna is quite the powerhouse. With more titles than we can count, what she gives and brings to cycling is nothing short of incredible. Not only is she a founder Mòr Diversity, an advocate for inclusion in cycling, and a mountain bike guide, but she's also a Chair of British Cycling's D&I Advisory Group.
Aneela is passionate, open and dedicated. There is no simple way to sum up who she is and what she does in a way that does it justice. Here is her story.
In your own words, who are you and what do you do?
I’m 49 years old (nearly 50!), live in the Tweed Valley, Scottish Borders, am originally from Glasgow, and I have been riding bikes since I was in my 20s.
I’m also an advocate for inclusion in cycling and for there to be an industry that is diverse and represents today’s society. I am the founder of Mòr Diversity, I am also a mountain bike guide, coach, and tutor and present/speak at events on all things inclusion, cycling, and the outdoors.
In cycling, I work with and support organisations and brands such as British Cycling, Cycling Scotland, the Bicycling Association, Endura, Santa Cruz, the North Face and, last year, the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships.
What is your job?
Mòr Diversity is a consultancy and advocacy business where I provide professional services to brands and organisations to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).
Setting up Mòr Diversity was a huge step for me in 2020. I was brave enough to remove myself from a toxic work environment to do something I love. I moved out of a public service role to follow my passion and bring my 20 years plus expertise in EDI into the cycling and outdoors sector.
I told my story in this film ‘After the Storm' if you want to know more about why I left and my experience of racism in my previous workplace.
I’m also a Founder of and involved in three MTB grassroots organisations, which all have to do with increasing participation and creating safe spaces for groups underrepresented in cycling – the FNY Collective, MissAdventures, and the Colour Collective.
Speaking at the Scottish Mountain Biking conference and representing the Colour Collective (credit Finlay McDonald).
How long have you been working in the bike industry?
I have been in the industry since 2008 when my husband, Andy, set up Go-Where Scotland, a successful mountain bike tour business running trips all over Scotland. We also ran Innerhaven, MTB-friendly accommodation which was based in Innerleithen from 2007-2017.
I started out helping with the running of the trips, like cooking food for the guests, doing chores, and looking after the needs of our guests. I also got to ride some cool places which was a bonus (Torridon, Cairngorms and Deeside to name a few).
I then took my MTB qualifications in 2016 which meant I could professionally guide on tours and introduced ‘Mountain Lassies’ to the schedule to encourage more women to come on trips. There were very few women-only events back then and it set the path for more to come.
Guiding Mountain Lassies. Credit Cat Topham.
In 2018, I set up the FNY Collective with Emma Neale, a women’s mountain bike charity in the Tweed Valley which has grown from strength to strength seeing around 350 women ride with us every year. There was a demand for women’s spaces which has accelerated the pace of women’s participation in the sport.
I then went on to work with girls in setting up MissAdventures and I took further coaching and overnight expedition qualifications to run bikepacking trips for teenage girls. This has been so rewarding to see how these trips have been a life-changing experience for the girls giving them confidence and a sense of self-worth which is so desperately needed for girls at that age. Nils Amelinckx who sadly passed away, supported me with this work with access to bikepacking kit for the girls. With his help, I have been able to take over 50 teenage girls on wonderful adventures and will continue to do so in his memory.
In 2020, everything changed with lockdown and that’s when Mòr Diversity was born. I haven’t looked back since.
How have things changed since you started?
Sometimes, I have to kick myself as I still feel like I have landed my dream job. The only problem with that is I don’t switch off.
I’ve also had to learn to say ‘ no’ which is a skill in itself and pick my choices when it comes to what work I want to do. I don’t feel awkward anymore saying that it’s not for me which is hard when you know the work is impactful and will lead to change. There’s only so much I can give. My work-play balance is important, especially with having a husband who has MS and who needs attention and care to make sure we can both live our lives to the fullest.
I also believe in myself a lot more and recognise that we don’t all have to be perfect all the time. We put so much pressure on ourselves to not make mistakes but I’ve discovered, since I left the toxic job, that if we can be honest with ourselves we can easily move forwards and not procrastinate about the things we should have done or not done.
Is there anything you wish you could change about your role/job?
I always want to change things – to do things better and find more creative ways of doing things. Society is moving at a fast pace and we all need to be able to adapt and respond, so I am always learning and looking for new approaches and sharing these with the industry to help them stay ahead too.
What does the average week look like?
Lots of Zoom calls, lots of Bengal Spiced tea drinking, and just enough time to get a cheeky ride in before dark.
Recently I went off to a Sisters in the Wild gravel camp! Not my average week, but I was very excited because I don’t do enough of having ‘time out for me’.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to do your job/what you do?
Find your allies and networks, and build your relationships. Talk to people. Reach out and find what opportunities there are. I’ve discovered that the cycling industry is not easy to tap into so find the people that are willing to listen to your ideas and thoughts. Hearing encouraging words from others is sometimes the push we need to make things happen.
What do you like most about what you do?
I love working with people who have the same aspirations as me and who want to make cycling and the outdoors a place for everyone. There’s so much reward in that and seeing a growing community of champions for inclusion is just awesome. That’s the biggest impact for me so far, not to be a lone voice but helping others have their voices heard too and seeing people from all parts of the sector influencing change for the better.
If you weren’t doing this, you would be?
I have worked in my profession for over 20 years and for a large part of that in the bike industry.
If I wasn’t doing this and had free reign to do what I wanted without thinking about any of my responsibilities, I would be working in less well-resourced nations empowering women to live better lives through riding bikes. Bikes still have to be in the equation.
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
To have left a toxic work environment, to go self-employed and set up a new business has been my greatest achievement and to go on to do something I love and care about. That’s why it was awesome to work on the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships team as their EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) adviser and have had this unique opportunity to make a difference and give EDI a platform on the international stage.
So many wins to mention but the highlight for me was the women’s elite road race as the grand finale, the first time for a world championship as well as integrating para-cycling into the main event. It was incredible to see cycling take centre stage for 13 days across Scotland and how it brought communities together through the power of the bike. We won a few awards for the work we did. It was good to be recognised and set this a blueprint for future events.
The industry is in a bit of a tough situation in terms of the cost of living. Do you see it recovering any time soon and, if so, what will brands need to do to stay relevant and afloat?
It’s a tough time for sure, seeing people lose their jobs and so many of my friends have been affected.
Times are tough but this doesn’t mean we should stop building on the great work we’ve been doing on inclusion. I have heard a few comments which suggest ‘parking’ the EDI work. EDI should be integral to what we all do. We can’t hide from the fact that we still have issues of bias to address, a lack of representation in the sector and workplace policies that favour some groups more than others.
It doesn’t need to be ‘an add-on’ or ‘a nice to have’. It should be part of our everyday thinking and practice when we’re working on projects and plans.
What do you dislike most about the cycling industry?
The lack of diversity in the sector. It’s easy to recruit people like ourselves which leaves out a whole demographic of people in society. It doesn’t give everyone an equal voice at the table and so that impacts the decisions we make.
If we had more diverse perspectives on our teams it would help break up the ‘groupthink’ and allow us to do things that don’t always default to the norm or ‘that’s just the way we do things around here’. Having diverse perspectives can be good for organisations as it challenges us to think differently and with that comes growth and better performance. Diversity is just healthy for us all. It makes life much more interesting!
How do you keep things balanced when your hobby becomes your job?
I call it work-play balance. We all need our play time to keep us healthy and active.
Sometimes I sit at my desk and have a chuckle at the fact that I am writing about cycling and yet haven’t for the last fortnight got a leg over a saddle.
So I try my best to manage my diary so that I can find the right balance. As I work for myself I can work in the morning, ride bikes/ walk the dog in the afternoon, and get back to work in the evening.
If all workplaces had better flexibility for their staff, I am sure we would have a much healthier nation. We need to move away from the 9-5, neurotypical, ableist workplace and give people as much flexibility as possible to work in a way that fits their needs. There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ in the workplace anymore. That’s why inclusion is so much more important than ever before.
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