Why the Outdoor Industry Needs to Advocate for Women Execs

Wendy Yang understands what it’s like to be an outsider.

“Our industry is still dominated by white men, and to break into that takes special courage and confidence,” said the president of Deckers Brands’ performance lifestyle group, which includes Teva, Sanuk and Hoka One One. “You don’t necessarily have the same hobbies or come from the same experiences, so you have to find other ways to be heard or understood.”

At a time when an increasing number of female enthusiasts are engaging in outdoor activities and looking for specific product to cater to their needs, Yang believes it’s critical for women to raise their voices.

According to data provided by The NPD Group Inc., women’s outdoor footwear sales in the U.S. totaled $1.3 billion in the 12 months through March 2018.

“The female consumer buying power is considerable, so more and more, the industry is [paying attention] because they want the dollars. We all have to listen harder to understand the different consumer insights from gender to gender,” Yang said.

While there is clearly opportunity in a fast-changing market, Merrell president Sue Rechner said it’s critical for women to rise to the top and exchange ideas.

“There are not as many women in these roles, so I don’t have as many women to lean on or collaborate with or even mentor,” Rechner said. “I have to go outside the industry to get inspiration or engage with people that are in a position that’s at my level. While that’s not bad, and you definitely expand your horizons, more sounding boards and collaborative partners would be helpful.”

Deanne Buck, executive director of Camber Outdoors (formerly the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition), believes giving women positions of power will have a positive impact on the bottom line.

“When we look at leadership teams that are great and drive good decisions, it’s usually when there’s debate and people bringing diverse experiences and perspectives to the conversation,” Buck said. “If there are women in the ranks of leadership with men, there becomes a richer dialogue and debate around the decisions that are being made.”

Despite some considerable growing pains, the industry now has more female leaders than ever before. But Amy Roberts, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association, said companies must keep at it.

“Without a concerted effort to make sure you’re interviewing women for executive positions or you’re considering women for board seats, it’s easy to backslide,” Roberts said. “It’s not something [where] we can take our eye off the ball.”

In addition, the industry must tackle other significant problems, according to Roberts. “Now we’re moving into an understanding of: How do you have an industry that’s more inclusive and diverse beyond gender?” she said.

Buck added, “There’s a framework for companies and leaders to take their learnings and say, ‘How do we become the employer of choice for all who love the outdoors?’ The outdoor industry is poised to broaden what their definition of an equitable and inclusive workplace is and look expansively at the talent they’re attracting and retaining.”

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