Ask me who my favorite pro outdoor athletes are, and I’ll list 300 skiers right off the bat. Shane McConkey, of course, the legend. Sammy Carlson, have you seen that boy bounce through powder in his To Be edit? Candide Thovex, enough said. Yes, all my idols are skiers because I’m obsessed and winter is coming (hallelujah!), but there’s something else they all have in common that rings true in any outdoor sport: they’re all dudes.
This trend continues through the entirety of the outdoor industry. A majority of people in leadership positions in the outdoor industry are men. When I learned about this, I couldn’t help but say WTF. In college, I see a pretty good balance of men and women getting outside. So why does the gap widen as soon as we hit the real world?
To look into this, I think it’s first important to acknowledge the college culture.
It’s all about experimenting, baby. And not with drugs, don’t worry mom, but with everything life has to offer. Like taking a scuba diving class even though you live in a landlocked state, or sitting next to a random person in the dining hall on your first day as a freshman. It’s about taking risks. College doesn’t really care if you’re a girl or a guy, or if you were born holding a paddle and a pair of skis in your hands, or if you’ve never seen a climbing harness in your life. College just cares if you’re ready to give it all you’ve got and totally send it.
Of course, there still are instances in college where you feel the gender gap in the outdoor world. Even though everyone is totally gung-ho for you to try anything, it can still be intimidating to do something like start a new outdoor sport. Especially when you go to the climbing gym and twenty guys turn from their routes to look at you as you enter. There’s also almost undoubtedly going to be a guy doing pull-ups in the middle of the doorway that you have to swing aside, a metaphor for trying to enter into this male-dominated territory.
That being said, all-women’s clubs, like the Backcountry Squatters and Bridger Babes here at Montana State University, can help make starting new sports and getting outside less intimidating. They provide a community of like-minded women ready to send it with you, so you’re never alone with all the boys. Don’t get me wrong, that can be fun too. But at times, like when you’re walking into that climbing gym for the first time, having your gals with you definitely raises your comfort level.
Montana State University’s Outdoor Recreation Program has about a 50/50 male/female hire rate. College Outside has about a 50/50 male/female readership and user base. I have just as many sendy skier girlfriends as guy friends. But, this level of equality does not yet exist in the outdoor industry.
So why is there this disconnect after graduation?
I think it’s because, in the real world, we’re not supposed to experiment anymore. We’re supposed to grow up, which usually means playing it safe. This goes across the board for men and women, but for men, some things are less risky. And entering the outdoor industry is one of those things. For women, there’s the risk of not being as strong or as athletic to make it as a professional athlete. There’s the risk of people assuming you don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to outdoor gear or activities. There’s the risk of feeling like you have to prove yourself every day a little more than your male counterparts. And it sucks to face those risks.
But the reward is there. Think of how sick it would be to be your very own favorite pro athlete — I mean you probably already are, but you could justify it now! Or you could work with adidas Terrex, creating gear that literally saves the oceans. Or you could create a business that helps college students all over the country get outside (yeah that’s us, shout out to our rad female founder Sarah Lockwood). We just have to take those risks!
Luckily, just like when you go to the climbing gym for the first time, you don’t have to take these risks in the industry alone. College Outside, for example, works with Camber Outdoors who knows that a balanced workforce means great company culture for all people involved. Camber Outdoors is a 501c3 non-profit in the outdoor industry that works with companies to elevate and accelerate women’s leadership in the outdoors (plus, they have a dope jobs boards that you need to check out). The Camber Outdoors community is made up of companies, organizations, individuals, and foundations that are committed to creating gender equality in the workplace. Resources and initiatives like Camber Outdoors make the industry less and less risky for women.
So yes, the industry is unbalanced, but I’m hopeful.
Maybe it’s just because I’m in college which I’ve portrayed to be this ideal of outdoor equality, or maybe it’s just because I like to think the outdoor industry wants to change. But, honestly, I think my optimism is well warranted. The trend in college, companies like Camber Outdoors, and the sheer radness of women in the outdoors right now have me convinced that soon enough, numbers in leadership positions in the outdoor industry will also be 50/50.
Let me end by revisiting my list of favorite pro athletes. Yes, Sammy and Candide and Shane will stay on that list forever, but Angel Collinson, Michelle Parker, and Elyse Saugstad will join them there. They’re my role models too, not just because they’re so good at skiing I want to die watching their segments while I’m waiting for snow, but because I want to be like them when I grow up. And, believe you me, boys, I will be.
By Audrey Morris (Montana State University, Class of 2020)