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The Women’s Outdoor Summit Imagines a Better Future for the Outdoors

This year’s virtual event brought together women from throughout the industry.

For many hikers, the outdoors are an escape—a simpler place where we can leave behind some of our everyday problems. The disheartening fact is, though, that the outdoor recreation industry isn’t immune to two widespread problems that are receiving deserved scrutiny these days:  gender discrimination and toxic masculinity. At the Outdoor Women’s Summit from March 11-13, women who are current or prospective members of the industry came together to talk about how prejudice has impacted their careers and to propose solutions. 

This was the second edition of the summit, following an in-person event in 2017. This year’s 3-day virtual version featured women from diverse corners of the outdoor industry. In a prior survey, audience members had indicated that they were interested in discussing topics related to social and environmental advocacy and wanted to hear from leaders who could speak both about their own careers as well as justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI), shared organizer Noël Russell, of JAM Collective and Ravel Media. In addition to female CEOs, the summit included speakers ranging from Secretary of The Interior Deb Haaland, the founding team from Intersectional Environmentalist, author Carolyn Finney, and JEDI consultant and speaker Cristal Cisneros, amongst others.

The obstacles facing women in the outdoor industry aren’t necessarily unique; many of them will be familiar to anyone who’s ever worked a job. As Jennifer Kriske, founder of women’s cycling apparel company Machines for Freedom, told the audience during a CEO Roundtable, some symptoms are obvious, like the lack of women in senior executive positions.

“I always associate [senior leadership] with a white man,” admitted Kriske. Other problems, like sexual harassment, gaslighting, and lack of support from leaders, happen more quietly. For all the progress the industry has made, women still have “an uphill battle in an industry that promotes men at a much faster rate,” as observed by Teresa Baker, founder of the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge and one of the event’s volunteer organizers. Through sharing personal anecdotes, event facilitators empower their audience to know they are not alone and equip them to better identify when they find themselves in situations that can be very specific to experience.

Organizers Teresa Baker, Ravel Media, and JAM Collective set out to create an event that operated with the kind of inclusion and consideration they hope the industry will reflect someday. At the beginning of each event, staff went over pre-established community guidelines to help attendees and speakers feel safe. Instead of assuming gender, people shared their pronouns up front and encouraged gender-neutral language. Jaylyn Gough from Native Women’s Wilderness spoke about the importance of making land acknowledgements a common practice, and ASL interpreters were present for all events.

Two workshops during the summit centered around environmentalism as a personal practice. Kristy Drutman the founder of the Brown Girl Green podcast and media series, hosted a workshop  titled “Telling Your Own Environmental Story.” She reminded participants that “everyone’s story matters,” because we are all connected to the environment through our lifestyles and consumption habits. She proceeded to lead them through personal narrative exercises along with helpful resources and examples to draw on. She was followed by Cindy Vilasenor’s workshop, where shocking statistics about consumption—the US accounts for 5% of the world’s population, but consumes 25% of its resources—served as an illustration of why it is important that we all embark on our own imperfect sustainability journeys.

While this year’s summit was virtual (and free to attend), organizers are hoping to hold a hybrid live version of the summit in the future. For now, each event is available to watch on the event’s YouTube channel, and some portions will also be available as episodes on the She Explores podcast.