I vividly remember the moment I became a REI co-op member.
It was 1995, and I was living in Southern California, working as a river raft guide on the Kern River out of Bakersfield. When I wasn’t on the river, I was climbing. I purchased my first climbing harness at REI. The staff member who helped me figure out the dividend I would receive by becoming co-op member would pay for itself that day.
What I didn’t realize at that moment was that my identity was shifting—my life and work were becoming centered on the outdoors. This shift would guide my major life decisions: a passion for climbing, love for the outdoors and the need for a sense of purpose.
In 1938, Mary Anderson, led by her passion for the outdoors, co-founded REI with her husband, Lloyd. When I bought my harness and became a co-op member, a thread connected Mary and me. Her passion and purpose directly fed mine.
Two days ago, 21 years after I bought that harness, the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition (OIWC), for which I am the Executive Director, received a $1.5 million Mary Anderson Legacy Grant to spark innovation through women’s leadership. REI’s President and CEO, Jerry Stritzke, announced this grant and a pledge—already signed by CEOs from iconic outdoor brands—to commit to making gender diversity a priority in their companies.
The pledge calls for visible commitment to women’s leadership, transparency in metrics and collective attention to creating more opportunities for women. The grant will help make it happen. People were on their feet and excited after the announcement; the energy in the room was electric. It was a proud moment—one that will resonate for months and years to come.
One of the biggest challenges facing outdoor companies is competition for talent with specialized knowledge who also understand what customers need. As the only organization dedicated to gender diversity and inclusion in the outdoor industry, OIWC is uniquely situated to bridge past and current efforts that broaden the diversity of today’s and future leaders. The CEO Pledge and Mary Anderson Legacy Grant will help make this happen.
As a fellow REI co-op member, I am guessing you, too, may have experienced a similar moment of awakening. Perhaps your love for the outdoors and a need for sense of purpose drives you, too. Where you shop and the brands you support matters. You directly influence the growth, health, and sustainability of an industry that understands you and is dedicated to enhancing the quality of your outdoor experience.
Consider turning your passion into your profession. The next time you think about how to improve your experience with a new piece of gear while you are out hiking, skiing, cycling or climbing, know that the outdoor industry welcomes your creativity and innovative ideas. We thrive on innovation and we are growing.
The outdoor industry is an inspiring place to work—I hope you’ll join me!