Outdoor Industry Works To Close Gender Gap in Leadership

In a new report, outdoor execs weigh in on the state of women’s leadership in the industry and how they’re creating more opportunities for women. 

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Women make up 46 percent of all outdoor participants, according to the Outdoor Foundation. But historically, that participation hasn’t always been reflected in the number of women in leadership roles within the outdoor industry—an $887 billion economy, including more than 7 million workers.   

“When I look at the silhouette of women’s participation in the workforce from entry-level to the CEO, the outdoor industry mirrors the national silhouette: Women come in at about 50 or 60 percent of entry-level. As we start moving up the leadership ladder, it’s anywhere from approximately 10 to 20 percent of women in the C-suites (top senior executive positions),” said Deanne Buck, executive director of Camber Outdoors, in an August 2017 interview with the Co-op Journal.

“CEOs, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, have an obligation to publicly put a stake in the ground that women’s leadership is important.”

A new report from Heidrick & Struggles highlights progress the industry is making with respect to women in leadership and features insights from outdoor leaders, including REI Co-op CEO and president Jerry Stritzke. CEOs shared their approaches to bringing more women into leadership roles, like creating new parental policies to recruit and retain women at Burton Snowboards, closing the gender gap among bike technicians at REI bike shops, and increasing the number of women engineers from zero to 30 percent at CamelBak.

“I think CEOs, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, have an obligation to publicly put a stake in the ground that women’s leadership is important, and to create an environment supportive of this type of dialogue,” Stritzke said.

The report also looks at the specific impact of the Camber Outdoors CEO Pledge. Camber Outdoors—a nonprofit dedicated to achieving equality for women in the outdoors, from the backcountry to the boardroom—is “a major force behind accelerating women’s leadership in the industry,” according to the report.

By signing the CEO Pledge, leaders commit to attracting, retaining and advancing women in their workplaces. Since its creation in 2015, more than 75 companies, including REI, have signed the pledge.

“The CEO Pledge provides a platform for CEOs and leaders to elevate talent. They’re considering women’s leadership as important as other the strategic priorities to which they hold themselves and their company accountable. It’s not a quota. But what it says is that CEOs are committed to examining where there are biases in processes,” Buck said.

Stritzke says signing the CEO Pledge was an important milestone for the co-op.

“After signing the CEO Pledge, we had a team lead an initiative that we called The Mary Trail, named after one of our founders, Mary Anderson. The goal of the effort was to assess all aspects of our business through the lens of gender, asking questions like: How many store managers do we have who are women? How many people do we have in technical roles who are women? Are there gaps in our marketing or product offerings?” Stritzke said. “One area we’ve been working on for some time is gender equity in our store manager mix. We were at about 36 percent women in 2014. We’re up in the low 40s now.”

Industry leaders quoted in the report agree that “attracting, developing and promoting women is essential to long-term business sustainability,” and they share a commitment to continue to create opportunities for women in leadership.

“There are things you do because they’re the right things to do. And then there are things you do because they’re just good business. It’s amazing when you find something that sits in the intersection of both. I can tell you as a CEO of this company that this is smart, it’s right, and it’s good for business,” Stritzke said.

Read the full report: “Women in leadership: From backcountry to boardroom,” which includes interviews with Deanne Buck, executive director of Camber Outdoors; Donna Carpenter, CEO and cofounder of Burton Snowboards; Sally McCoy, former CEO of CamelBak; Jerry Stritzke, CEO of REI; and Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks Running Company.

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