Are There Barriers For Women in the Outdoor Industry?
“Instead of raising eyebrows at the thought of a woman in a masculine position or hobby, eyebrows need to be raised at the negative and judgmental behavior by those who are doing it.”
I asked this question in the popular Facebook group “She Huntress - Community Tribe for Women Who Hunt” and the answers I got back were astonishing. 41 women from the group left comments explaining why they thought yes or no. Out of the 41 comments, 26 of them said yes, there are barriers.
I’ve wondered the answer to this question myself and it’s apparent from the comments and all of the articles written over the subject that I am not alone.
Women are growing the outdoor industry. In 2017, women made up 47% of the outdoor participants in the US, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. This number isn’t going to get any lower any time soon, so the problem of gender bias in the outdoor industry needs to be talked about.
There seems to an underlying perception that women have to “prove themselves” while participating in outdoor sports such as hunting, shooting, climbing, backpacking, etc. This perception is antagonized by both sexes that women who participate in predominately male activities must prove that they are tough enough or manly enough. This is unfair in many ways not only because it creates an invisible barrier, but it also blurs the line between simply enjoying hobbies and competition.
Also, women who hold outdoor industry jobs are often scrutinized for “knowing their stuff” and in many cases are not taken seriously. It’s is almost like the saying guilty until proven innocent, except in this case it is uneducated until proven knowledgeable. Women have to prove their street credibility before a customer or worse, an employer, will take them seriously.
Unfortunately, the misconception that most women can’t be taken seriously can be found in traditional marketing techniques of using attractive models and social media influencers. Pretty faces are used to showcase and advertise outdoor industry related products, and it works. This is with every industry, however, but the pinch point here is that this negatively affects real women who are trying to gain a foothold in a predominately male arena.
Barriers are created by ourselves, other women, sexism and lack of resources. As one user replied to the original question about whether or not there are barriers for women in the outdoor industry, they said “Not at all! I have an all women’s outdoor guide business. The only thing that limits us as women are ourselves. I push the envelope. I’ve had other guide companies request me as a female guide. I’ve never felt I couldn’t achieve more, all the men I’ve encountered have always been supportive and fascinated...”.
Not all experiences were negative, which was expressed by another user who said, “Never had any issues with it, from hunting groups, friends, or working in the industry. I was actually surprised how accepted I was as a woman and a self-taught beginner”.
Some of the other comments left by Facebook users were not as supportive. A few replied with their thoughts and experiences:
“There are invisible barriers that exist for a woman operating in a predominately male industry. I don’t feel we can use that as an excuse or that it is always in play, but as someone who works in the industry and is often the only female in the room, my sex changes the dynamic. I believe it is opening more as more women participate in the industry, but there is still a ways to go before I could say none exist.”
“I got into the outdoor industry in 2005. And I had one of the first women’s hunting and outdoor blogs and did PR for several big companies. I worked with a bunch of great guys. But in the end, I was a woman and that 100 percent affected my ability to go places in the field. Both literally and figuratively. Things have changed. But I fear a lot of women are still too young to have a clear perspective on the disparity that still exists. Not saying it can’t be overcome. But it totally exists.”
“I had a boss with that attitude. After many calls to HR at the corporate office the HR department showed up at the store and interviewed us all. The boss was gone within the week. It was exactly the same, females had certain jobs, registers and clothing. He worked hard to keep me on the register, but the hunting manager let me have the archery position. I had bid on a camping position before archery came available and the fired boss had literally told me I wasn’t smart enough. He then hired a kid with no camping experience at all. I lucked out with the hunting manager standing up for me...”
“There absolutely is. The first time I ever tried to get a job at a gun range, the sales manager asked me to apply and wanted me on the sales team. When I interviewed with the HR lady, she didn’t think I could work the sales counter and wanted me to work the bar...with the other attractive girls with big boobs. Despite me displaying plenty of knowledge and competence, I would not have gotten the job had the manager not stepped in.”
Based off of this thread, it is apparent that more women have faced a negative response to being in the outdoor industry than positive. What can we do about this? This issue certainly can’t be tackled by a small group or even all at once. It will require a joint effort from industry professionals, outdoor brands and outdoor enthusiasts. No matter what industry you are associated with, there will always be that group of people who will always be hateful, negative and judgmental. Let those people sit in their negativity. Despite the evitable negative crowd, the overall culture must change in order for there to be a shift in the mindset. Instead of raising eyebrows at the thought of a woman in a masculine position or hobby, eyebrows need to be raised at the negative and judgmental behavior by those who are doing it.
A few ways that we as a community can overcome these barriers are to:
- Talk about it
Get the conversation going. The more it is talked about instead of being the pink elephant in the room, the faster the culture will change.
- Join like-minded people in social groups
There are literally thousands of groups online found on Facebook, REI’s Classes, Tours and Events, this list of organizations for outdoor women by the WON or Meetup that you can join and meet people of similar interests. One organization in particular to follow is Camber Outdoors. Camber Outdoors is a non-profit with a mission to expand the role of women in active outdoor sports and since expanded to serve all minority groups.
- Don’t be afraid to fail
You don’t know how to do something? Great! Welcome to the club. We have all started out as a novice in something, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and “fail” every once in a while. So, what if you are 45 years old and just learning how to fish? That is fantastic! Keep going, and don’t let some jack wagon tell you that you can’t.
- Don’t take yourself so seriously
Remember to enjoy what you are doing, whether as your profession or hobby in the outdoors. You don’t have to have an Indiana Jones experience out there in order to be an authentic outdoors person. Have fun and enjoy what you are doing; forget about perceived stereotypes- those come from people who rarely have anything good to say.
I could talk forever on this subject, but I will break the conversation up in bits. I posed a simple question on the popular Facebook group for women who hunt to get some real, raw and unfiltered feedback. The fact that out of the 40 comments, 26 of them said yes to the question that there are barriers for women in the outdoor industry should serve as a reminder to us all that this is a real issue and we need to focus on fixing it.
Written by Rebecca Adams
Camber Outdoors. (n.d.) About. Retrieved from https://camberoutdoors.org/about/
Outdoor Industry Association. (2020, 29 January). 2019 Outdoor Participation Report. Retrieved from https://outdoorindustry.org/resource/2019-outdoor-participation-report/