With gender equity issues in the spotlight, the Outdoor Industry is making it clear they want to be ahead of the curve when it comes to putting more women executives in leadership roles.

A new report conducted by San Francisco-based executive recruitment firm Hedrick and Struggles highlights the perspective of four executives in the space when it comes to this issue — and the outlook, for the most part, is positive.

outdoor industry gender equity

Camber Outdoors CEO Deanne Buck at an executive roundtable discussion with the outdoor industry. Photo: Daniel Silverberg

“That was always my biggest thing — that we couldn't look at the women's market as separate from the women in our company,” says Burton CEO Donna Carpenter. “If you're really going to go after the women's market, you've got to have women in leadership positions. It can't be a token woman; it can't be 10% of the leadership. I've heard the tipping point is a third—once one- third of leadership roles are held by women, the dynamic changes.”

Indeed, the outdoor and adventure sports space has long been dominated by male executives. But as more forward-thinking companies emerge, and as many heritage businesses rethink strategies that involve speaking to the women’s market, the tides seem to be turning in favor of more females in leadership roles.

The report was conducted as part of Camber Outdoors‘ “CEO Pledge” to improve outcomes for female leaders in the space. Featuring a transcription of a roundtable discussion with Carpenter, as well as former CamelBak CEO Sally McCoy, REI CEO Jerry Stritzk and Brooks Running Company CEO Jim Weber, the report acknowledges there is still a lot of work to be done.

“There's now more awareness and conversation, but candidly, if you look at the outdoor industry specifically, we still have too few women in leadership positions — at least at the CEO level,” says McCoy. “We need to do better. And we know we need to do better.”

Camber Outdoors Executive Director Deanne Buck explains that she feels the industry’s gender imbalance exists mainly due to companies looking to a pool of talent that already “understood the culture” with specific skill-sets to fill key roles in times of growth over the past decade.

She says that in order to continue attracting the best and most diverse talent, companies will need to make deliberate decisions about what their workplace culture looks like.

outdoor industry gender equity

Burton CEO Donna Carpenter at the company’s Burlington, Vermont headquarters. Photo: Burton

At Burton, this is something that Carpenter has been working on for more than a decade — especially as many of the company’s initially young employees started families.

“We weren't very good at talking about and planning for maternity and retaining women. So, we acted,” Carpenter explains about the early years. “If you think about women who are in sales, product, or marketing, they have to travel for these high-level, high-profile positions. After consulting with the staff, we introduced a policy that says that for the first 18 months of a child's life, we will pay for a caregiver at home while you're away or for someone to take on the road with you.”

Burton decided paying for an extra companion plane ticket for women traveling with young children made sense in the grand scheme of supporting and retaining their senior female staff. “After we put all these policies together, the women began to appreciate that we were looking at them holistically — as caregivers and professionals.”

The interviews are part of an ongoing initiative for Camber Outdoors, formerly known as the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition before the organization was rebranded in 2016. Since then, Camber has embraced an even more visible role as an advocate for equitable and inclusive workplaces.

"By committing to women's leadership as a strategic priority for their business, active-outdoor industry companies are setting an example for the rest of the country," said Camber Outdoors’ Buck. "A workplace culture that fosters women in executive roles is necessary to attract and retain the best talent and move the business forward."

As the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show gets underway this week, more discussions around this topic and other issues facing our industry will take place at the show’s first iteration combining the snowsports and outdoor industries in Denver, Colorado. Stay tuned for our report on the show.

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