Cindy Whitehead has led the fight for women's equality in skateboarding since she conquered the male-dominated profession of pro-vert skateboarding in the ’70s.
She was the first female to be featured in a two-page skateboarding magazine spread, and was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame last year with a special introduction by legendary feminist and rock and roll icon Joan Jett. The movement she founded, “Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word” has been highlighted through several skateboard collaborations and a TEDx Talk.
True to her mantra of always pushing progression, she is still thinking up creative ways to elevate the story of women’s skateboarding. Her most recent achievement is the release of a 144-page hardcover book, “It’s Not About Pretty,” which she says is meant to highlight female empowerment through skateboarding.
The first comprehensive photography book on the subject, “It’s Not About Pretty” retails for $35 with a portion of proceeds going to 501 c3 non-profits that create exposure and opportunities for girls in skateboarding.
"Women and girls in skateboarding are capable, they're interesting, and they're worthy," Whitehead said. "When girls pick up a book about skateboarding, I don't want them to see just guys; I want them to see smart, talented, ambitious girls who are doing things they love and kicking the ass out of social norms."
The book features 65 female skaters, from ages five to fifty-plus, ranging from pros to soul skaters, and running the gamut from pool riding, park, street, downhill, vert, cruising, and beyond.
On the heels of the book’s release, we caught up with Whitehead to learn more about why now was the right time for a book of this kind, and get a few words of wisdom (and inspiration) from her experiences as a woman in a male-dominated sport.
As someone who has been active in the skate community for years, what inspired you to create this book now? What will your next project look like?
I had been wishing for a book featuring female skaters since I was a teenage pro skater in the late 70s/early 80s. Every time a skateboard book came out it was 98% guys, and occasionally a couple of girls would be included.
In the last four years, I started thinking seriously about how to make this book project happen. We had so much content that had been shot over many years for our website that it just made sense to start working on it.
Ian Logan, my husband, is an advertising photographer who had worked on a book with the International Olympic Committee during the 2002 winter Olympics and had also been part of a couple book projects in the past, so he knew this wasn't an easy project. After hearing me talk non-stop about this idea, he was finally ready to go through thousands of images and start really working on this project.
It took us about a year of working with designer Elise Crigar— a female skater in Florida who works in the action sports industry— to make it happen. Ian was insistent that the book be the quality you'd see from Rizzoli or Tashen, and it be something that the girls could be proud to have on their bookshelf, coffee table, or show to their friends. It was important to me that every girls’ name be included along with where and when the image was shot.
My next project is launching two new boards we have coming out with Dwindle Distribution and Dusters California that will benefit the 501c3 non-profit Bridge to Skate, and working hard towards doing another collab helmet. And I'm in preliminary talks to do another book – this one being 180 percent different than "It's Not About Pretty."
As a woman, what are some of the tips you can give other women about elevating your career in a primarily male dominated industry?
Speak up. You may be the only female in the room at a meeting but you will realize quickly that guys have no fear of speaking up, throwing around ideas and being heard. If the setting isn’t about brain storming new ideas, make sure you've done your homework and can add a new perspective to the conversation.
Ask for “face time” at appropriate times throughout the year with your boss, CEO or direct manger – one on one meetings allow you to show your expertise and been seen/heard.
Cultivate women who are in your industry, learn from them and encourage younger ones to be included. These women are a wealth of knowledge, inspiration and help when you need it most.
Any key learnings you’ve taken away from challenging moments?
I’ve learned that NO in a business setting doesn’t mean NO forever. It may just mean “we can’t do this right now.” So I like to smile and say “OK, but remember I will come back and revisit this later and I think you’ll be ready.” Gently reminding them that you are not walking away and giving up is key. Coming back at another point in time and pitching your idea again is not giving up—and is even better if you put a fresh twist on it.
I also don't allow "failures" to get me down. I look for another way to solve the problem or make whatever I want to achieve happen. It's all about how you look at it. I had a major publisher tell me NO (and why they couldn't revisit it until 2018) only 30 minutes after I emailed them a pitch. I was ecstatic because it meant I could move on in another direction quickly and not waste time waiting for that answer to come in.
I've also learned that women are loyal to companies—sometimes more than we should be. We tend to stay at companies long after we know we should move on. For instance, if we know there is only going to be lateral movement for us. Instead of looking for a challenging new position elsewhere, where upward mobility is possible, we sometimes stay in the same place long after it's good for our growth and careers.
What are some ways you think the adventure and action sports industry can bring more women into leadership positions? How will this impact the industry?
Having an inclusive work environment is key. Making women feel that they have a seat at the table is important. Also by hiring the best candidate for the position—being female should not count against you. When the hiring process starts working that way we will see more women in leadership roles and it will encourage other women to pursue those positions.
Burton Snowboards has flourished in the female market with Donna Carpenter at the helm—seeing her in a position of power encourages more young women to reach for those same goals.
By placing women in leadership roles we expand our industry, which means more sales. Especially in action & adventure sports – women know which brands have female team riders, women in marketing, female designers, female CEO's etc. And they know this company is thinking about products with them in mind.
What are your thoughts on the current economic and political landscape as it relates to women today and the next generation?
I think what is happening in the world right now gives all of us women time to realize that we may have thought things were going along quite well and we were headed in a good direction, but in reality we need to continue to push forward to create equality not just for ourselves but for all.
Coasting is not an option. We need to be, and create, the changes we wish to see. Collectively we are very strong and can make change happen when we work together – we also have many awesome men around us who have our back and they too should be thanked for all they do.
I'd like the younger generation to not even know what the phrase "gender pay gap" means.
What is one thing women leaders can do at the moment to make an impact?
Stand up, speak out, and be heard.