We’re starting out Monday morning here in Madison with an apology – and a shout-out – to our colleagues and friends out at the Ouray Ice Park.
First the shout-out: We heard great things about the 16th Annual Ouray Ice Fest. You folks work your butt off to pull off this massive event, and it’s appreciated by those who attend, and vicariously by those who don’t. Thank you, so much.
Now, the apology: We went off half-cocked late last week upset about something that we misunderstood about the Ouray Ice Fest Competition. We owe Bill Whitt and the rest of the crew in Ouray a sincere apology for not getting the facts before we dove in with both feet. We’re really sorry that we added stress, drama, and intrigue on the eve of an event that’s already stressful, drama-filled, and intriguing (in all the best ways – but that’s still challenging.) Y’all didn’t need that and we hope you’ll forgive us.
For the rest of you, here’s what happened: When the Ouray Ice Fest competition roster was posted last week we were super-excited to see our friend Scott Backes on the list, as well as Midwest hardman and friend-of-friends Matt Gambrione. The list for men contained another thirteen names, for a total of fifteen. Reading down to the women’s roster, we counted Mountain Hardwear athlete Dawn Glanc, and one, two, three other women, for a total of four competitors. Having a roster of fifteen men and only four women was concerning. It didn’t seem equitable in its own right. But then, we also know a female athlete – a good friend of ours – who was turned away because “the roster was full.” This is when we leaped instead of looking.
“FULL, at FOUR? What’s up with THAT?” That’s what I thought, anyway. (There might’ve been an expletive or two in there for good measure; but – hey – only in my head…)
We escalated things at that point through the social media channels. Here I say “WE” because I launched out from the PEMBA feed, so this was MY doing, ultimately. I want to be clear on this: This wasn’t a PEMBA initiative; rather it was my own using PEMBA’s online resources and contacts. This shouldn’t have happened, and I take full responsibility.
The next day – later the next day – we found out how things work at the competition. At Ouray this year, as with every year, there’s only twenty spots available due to the complex logistics of letting each climber have a turn. Accordingly, each year they’ve run the comp with fifteen men and five women. This year, they received thirty-two applications (twenty-five men and seven women) for the twenty slots. Five of the seven women who applied got in, and one subsequently had to back out. The other two athletes were contacted as replacements, but by then they had already made other plans. So the organizers decided to go with just the four, which makes total sense. By the math, about two-thirds of the competitors could get in, and – by the math – about two-thirds of each gender got onto the roster.
As a math problem, this seems fair enough, doesn’t it?
So, by history, by tradition, and by the math, we really can’t fault the Ouray Ice Park for running with the same roster that they always have, minus the one female athlete who dropped out. And it’s for this reason that we offer our sincere apology, today. Further, thanks – AGAIN – for all you do. We’ve been at your event many times over the years, and it’s for good reason that it’s considered to be the best ice fest in North America. To go one step more, you deserve HUGE props for all you’ve done to develop the sport of ice climbing in North America; we wouldn’t be where we are without you – and “WE” in this case means the Outdoor Industry – so thanks for that. So, between shout-outs and apologies, as far as we’re concerned with the Ouray Ice Park and the crew there, this is the end of the story.
But for the rest of us in the Outdoor Industry, we still have some challenges. Chief of these is that gender equity is not a math problem. Who says that doing what’s “fair” by the math is what’s equitable? Also: Is doing what we’ve always done the best way to correct inequity? Probably not. Correcting an inequity often means putting a thumb on the scale for a time until the scale balances itself, as witnessed by the impact that Title IX has had towards addressing gender inequity in high school and collegiate athletics. Don’t we in the Outdoor Industry want to be both fair AND equitable?
Further, the opportunity to the industry represented by the women’s market is not a math problem that’s best presented as a three-to-one ratio. Or – rather – if it IS a three-to-one ratio, it might be women-to-men rather than the other way around.
Plainly put, we in the Outdoor Industry need to do more to develop women’s participation in outdoor activities. There’s something startling about the idea that women represent 51% of the US population, while only 44% of the Outdoor Industry’s active participants are women.
Why is this startling? Well, women represent our best opportunity for growth, both now and for the future. There are several reasons for this:
- First – The opportunity is represented in the math itself: If men’s participation stayed flat and women grew to represent 51% of our market, we’d increase our market base by about 10 million participants.
- Second – Women are more social than men, and are more likely to share what they do with others. For activities that women enjoy, they tend to bring their friends, their kids, their significant others, and anybody else who will come along. So likely we’d pick up a few more million participants there, and some of these would be the children of women who enter our ranks now. By including kids, we assure future growth in participation, also.
- Third – Women comprise up to 75% of the active users in the social media channels, so they’d put the word out, too. If 10 million new female outdoor enthusiasts dropped into our market, the whole country would hear about it, no doubt. More people would know more people who play outside, and so the idea would spread.
There’s all kinds of anecdotal evidence to support this idea as well. We don’t even have to go too far beyond our own doors here at PEMBA for success stories, in fact. Years ago when men were 90% of the climbing market, at Boulders Climbing Gym (which I helped start here in Madison in 1996) we made a concerted effort to foster women climbers, and today they are over half of the member base. This fall, here at PEMBAserves.com we made a pointed decision to include more content by and for women, and our traffic has doubled in three months.
The message is clear: We need to do more. As an industry, for the most part we’ve already moved beyond “shrinking it and pinking it” from a product perspective. We now make high-end performance products for women enthusiasts. Now, we need to put in the effort to get more women involved in the activities that drive the Outdoor Industry. This might start by putting a focus on equity in representation at our signature events, but it could go beyond this as well.
The challenge is clear: Whatever we need to do to get more women outdoors, we need to do. It’s a huge opportunity, and – more than this – it’s the right thing to do.