Have you ever thought about the advancement of women in the outdoor industry? Or just wondered why there aren’t more women leaders represented in that space? I recently participated in the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition (OIWC) networking event hosted by REI and being held in 6 different cities. I was invited to speak as the Keynote for the Manhattan Beach location with Deanne Buck, Executive Director, kicking off the event. I’d never heard of this organization prior to this event but what a cool and inspiring collection of women, coming together to help one another understand how to change this dynamic. The best part, big CEO’s in the industry like Jerry Stritzke of REI, have come together in support of the coalition. REI alone pledged $1.5 million to the effort.
First, money is being used to help women pitch their ideas and get support for innovations through the OIWC’s Pitchfest. Deadline to enter is June 1, 2015. Imagine how you can be coached and get immediate exposure on something you are passionate about, then maybe get showcased and supported to bring your ideas to the industry. It’s an excellent opportunity for opportunistic outdoor women.
The men have probably tuned out by now, but wait! Men, we need your help and support, too. Advancing women in the outdoor industry or in any industry takes a fundamental shift in how we think about women in these fields. To further these goals both men and women need to eliminate the stigma of gender inequality/bias from ourselves. We need to look at the ways we think of our role in the industry and stop caveating things as men or women biased. There are different skills that everyone brings that need to be acknowledged and embraced, gender aside.
Men have been groomed for executive and leadership roles for longer than women and may understand the corporate playing field in a way that women may not. Women may simply have a different style or lack experience but are just as capable of high-end leadership as their male counterparts. There are still handicaps and stereotypes that need to be broken out of but it all starts with the idea about ourselves: we have potential, regardless of our gender. We must reframe our thinking of women leaders as “women” leaders and simply see them as “leaders,” removing the gender bias. It’s subtle, but profound. Why should anyone limit their potential simply because there is a gender preface: “woman” leader?
I believe the men of power today can help mentor and create opportunities for women and I believe, women must seek out and accept guidance as a type of skill development rather than a sign of weakness. Ultimately, if we are successful at shifting the dynamic and creating space for women in the top tiers of corporations than companies will reach more women for further business potential; a woman’s influence will reshape a business and attract more women into the industry; and ultimately, a combined gender leadership will strengthen the industry as a whole.
The OIWC is a powerful and influential organization that with the support of the outdoor industry and CEO’s like Jerry, they can really change the tide and bring more women up into the leadership ranks. Check them out online and show your support by either becoming a member or dropping in on one of the networking events (next one is July 16, 2015, see their site for more details). We need all the support we can get to build our communities around the idea that leadership has no gender, then inspire women to bring up their skills to be competitive for high-end leadership positions across all industries.
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