Women continue to scale outdoor-industry mountains. And they’re giving others a hand on their way up
In what is now at least the second year of what many call the “Year of the Woman,” Colorado has emerged as a national leader in the outdoor industry movement to make a leader’s gender unremarkable.
Not that long ago, a female president of the board, a female CEO or a female entrepreneur was noteworthy. Now, it’s normal — especially in Colorado.
Women are in the corner offices with mountain views: see Jennifer McLaren, at SmartWool; Annelise Loevlie, at Icelantic Skis; and Pat Campbell, at Vail Resorts.
They are in the boardrooms: see Angela Hawse, at American Mountain Guides Association; and Deanne Buck, at American Alpine Club.
They are guiding policy for industry nonprofits: see Amy Roberts, at Outdoor Industry Association; and Meegan Moszynski, at National Ski Patrol.
Female role models are captaining innovative new companies, experiences and events: see Jen Gurecki, at Coalition Snow; Niki Koubourlis, at Bold Betties; and the pro cyclists racing in the first-ever all-women Colorado Classic bike race in August.
“Really, it’s been the ‘Decade of the Woman,’ and we are nearing the end of the decade,” said Buck, who, as executive director of Camber Outdoors, has in the past several years enrolled more than 75 outdoor-industry executives in a mission to attract and retain more women to serve as leaders, including heavyweights such as Burton, W.L. Gore, Specialized, SRAM, Patagonia and REI.
The elevation of women in the outdoors has been successful. And while the mission for parity is hardly complete, women in the outdoor realm already are expanding the industry’s reach beyond gender.
Using the same diversity and inclusivity strategies that urged the industry’s boys clubs to welcome women, a vibrant generation of female leaders is working to invite overlooked and overshadowed people into the outdoor fold.
After looking across the industry and seeing a lot of white faces, Buck said Camber Outdoors is “broadening our mission.” The group started 23 years ago as the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition with a goal of getting women into executive jobs in the outdoor industry.
“Are we looking at race? Are we looking at culture and ethnicity and orientation and making sure we are equally focused on opportunities for everyone, not just women?” Buck said at last week’s Outdoor Retailer Snow Show. “We want to think about inclusion, where everyone can feel like they can be part of the solution to our challenges. We want to think about how we can create opportunities that are addressing everyone’s different barriers. That’s incumbent on us to do.”
At last week’s show — a downtown Denver rally of outdoor gearmakers and retailers that has evolved beyond wheeling and dealing into a social, cultural and political confab — Camber Outdoors unveiled its “CEO Outdoor Equity Pledge,” which included 50 CEOs of brands and nonprofits signing a promise to better engage underrepresented groups and focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
The effort parallels the Diversify Outdoors coalition’s Diversity Pledge, which launched last summer and urges outdoor brands to include people of color on executive teams and in marketing efforts. It joins grassroots groups such as Brown Girls Climb, Outdoor Afro and dozens of others seeking to infuse a broader spectrum of color into the outdoor industry.
Last week, Camber Outdoors released the results of a 2017 survey of 1,364 professionals in the outdoor, bike, run and snow industries that explored perspectives on gender, opportunity, careers and work/life issues.
The study showed that men typically think their workplace is fair and diverse, while women see room for improvement, with 47 percent saying they have witnessed or heard comments that are discriminatory based on gender. Also, only 31 percent of women said their company correctly handles sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
“Leaders at all levels have the opportunity to set the tone by publicly modeling inclusive behavior,” the survey found. “Fostering an environment where all employees feel included and respected starts with making sure everyone feels safe.”
Diversity and inclusivity are the hottest topics in the outdoors industry as white bosses — male and female — of venerable brands grapple with how to be more welcoming to increasingly diverse and urban populations. It’s a critical issue for the industry as it stirs grassroots support for public lands, conservation and stewardship among younger people of color who don’t see themselves well represented in the outdoor world. Diversity and inclusivity have become the essential tools for expanding a community that aspires to become a social, economic, political and cultural force.
And who better to trumpet the diversity and inclusivity message than women, who have spent the last century fighting for equity in both opportunities and paychecks.
“Women are more poised to be successful and lead the way here because this a paradigm they have been dealing with in the professional realm forever,” said Luis Benitez, the head of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, the second such state agency in the nation. “Women are best positioned to lead through this dialogue because they have had to find a way to say, ‘Hey, take the gender equation away. Am I the right person with the right skill set for this job, and if I am, then remove gender from the equation.’ ”
Moszynski is the first female executive director of the 81-year-old National Ski Patrol, based in Lakewood. But don’t think she’s captaining the 31,000-member association because of her gender.
“I do recognize it as a huge step for the organization to take, but they hired me for my education and my experience,” said Moszynski, a multilingual world traveler whose résumé includes work on clean-energy policy in China, training programs for women and children in Pakistan, and economic development projects in rural Cambodia.
Moszynski said challenges in creating equitable opportunities fall more along generational than gender lines, especially for a group founded in 1938.
“A lot of my role is balancing that history with our opportunities going forward,” she said. “How can we leverage our legacy into being innovative and modernizing.”
Five years ago, Niki Koubourlis set out to build a modernized pathway for more women to explore the outdoors. Today, her Denver-based Bold Bettiesis in 39 North American cities, offering hundreds of outdoor opportunities to more than 50,000 women. There are quick meet-ups for yoga or a hike in the downtown park, multisport weekends in Moab and two-week international adventures in Morocco, all curated for women.
“There are a lot of outdoor-gear companies leading the charge and getting behind diversity and inclusion initiatives, but they are trying to sell products to women,” Koubourlis said. “If they really wanted to reach women, they would know it’s not about the stuff — it’s about the experiences and it’s about the connections. That’s where we are focused: on authenticity.”
By offering women their own events, Bold Betties is reaching a broader world than ads with in-shape women in sports bras or rad dudes doing rad things. Most males are introduced to the outdoors by the time they turn 6, Koubourlis said, while most females discover outdoor play much later in life, making it more intimidating for them to explore.
By handling the planning and cultivating, Koubourlis said Bold Betties has introduced more than 20,000 women — many of them of color — to the outdoors for the first time.
“I don’t know of any other organization that is doing that,” she said, outlining a plan to expand into 50 cities by the end of the year. “It’s all about making it easy, making it safe and making it nonjudgmental.”
Jen Gurecki hoped to work as a ski tuner in a ski shop when she moved to Lake Tahoe more than 20 years ago, but, despite having worked as a ski tech for many years in college, she was told “women sell clothing,” she said.
She still remembers that — even after a winding career that has seen her teaching at a community college; working with Latino and Hmong youths at Yosemite National Park; helping launch a small-loan program for women in Kenya; owning a whitewater-rafting company; and, most recently, starting Coalition Snow, a ski-and-snowboard company making rides for women.
At last week’s snow show, Gurecki unveiled her latest project: Sisu Magazine, an adventure quarterly that shares the voices of women, people of color and the LGBTQIA community.
Gurecki calls it a “feminist magazine for everyone.” The first issue features the role of women in skateboarding and big-mountain skiing; a story outlining efforts to grow the ranks of women in the outdoor industry; and profiles of women entrepreneurs. The issue also includes a collection of art, photographs and stories reflecting overlooked perspectives in the outdoors.
“When you open Sisu, you have a magazine that is representative of all the humans in this industry,” Gurecki said. “We want to normalize, in our pages, some of these bigger issues. That’s the future of this industry. A place where all these difference voices can come together and just exist like it’s normal. What do we want this industry to look like in 10 years? Ideally, we would not be talking about these issues of inclusivity and diversity anymore.”