Outdoor Insider Fall 2017 - Page 6

regardless of gender?

Everyone should care about the companies they work for being successful, growing, innovating, and evolving, because it’s part of their own livelihood. All the research shows that diversity drives greater innovation, which helps companies keep ideas fresh and develop products that reflect the needs of the consumer. People bring different experiences into the workforce, and diversity creates healthier dynamics among employees, at a very basic level. So every person has some skin in the game, because ultimately it’s about their own company and its success. And that’s tied to ensuring that the companies are inclusive and welcoming to a diversity of people, experiences, and ideas.

How do some of these companies work together?

The opportunity in front of us is that we work with member companies that are open and willing to work together to solve problems. Sustainability is one example. The Sus-tainable Working Group and the Higg Index—a standard for environmental and social sustainability throughout the supply chain in the apparel and footwear industry—came out of the outdoor industry. Companies came together and said, "Let’s not each create our own index for what sustainability looks like—let’s co-create it."

Companies that make gear to get us outside have a strong need for engineers, product developers, and people with technology experience. Most of them are trying to solve for innovation advancements that evolve their products, because they’re looking at: How do I build better bikes, snowboards, technical jackets, etc.? The competition for that talent is steep. But our companies realize they have the opportunity to learn best practices from some pretty amazing companies, like REI and Patagonia and Burton-—to embrace women’s leadership as a strategic priority, not only for our companies but also as an identifier for what makes the active-outdoor industries a great place to work. Inherent in that are challenges of communicating why something as per-sonal to a company as employee recruiting and development can also be part of a broader industry imperative and identity. Solving for that is probably our biggest opportunity.

Through the Camber Outdoors CEO pledge, more than 70 companies have committed to attracting, retaining, developing, and advancing women in their workplaces. What kind of effect has that had?

Some CEOs say the biggest change is that it’s created conversation in their companies. It’s created the opportunity for people to say, “This isn’t working,” or “Here’s a place where I think we can improve.” And it highlights that the company is thinking about this as they are looking to fill new positions. They’re putting extra effort into ensuring that the candidate pool has broader representation of women. They’re thinking about: “Do I have the right team in place, with a diversity of perspectives and people to make the right decisions for my company to move forward?” Many CEOs who have taken the pledge have said it’s just different culturally in their companies now.

How have they been changing their approaches?

They’re hiring and developing people to solve business problems, versus hiring people to fill open positions. That’s a shift in thinking that is really important. When there’s an opening, hiring managers and division leaders have the tools to think more broadly about necessary qualifications for the position and the team that ensures they’re doing their due diligence to hire in a way that’s going to move the organization forward.

Research from McKinsey in 2016, in a series called Women Matter, found that for the first one to three years that a company embarks on moving women’s leadership—or moving talent acquisition—up to a strategic priority, there won’t be many outward or visible results that reflect this commitment. It takes about three to five years to effect tangible, sustainable results. This can be a challenge for member companies, because there’s a sense of vulnerability to sign a pledge and know that internal work is happening that may not reflect outward results for up to five years.

The Camber Outdoors Pitchfest allows women-led small businesses to showcase their work to leaders in the active-outdoor industries. What’s one success story?

I connected with one Pitchfest finalist from this year at Interbike recently. Her name’s Gloria Hwang, and she started a company called Thousand that makes bike helmets. Because of the visibility that Pitchfest brought to her company, she is working with REI to have her product sold in their flagship stores. She said it opened doors for her, and now she’s looking at how to grow her company.

Camber Outdoors also runs a mentoring program. Why is mentoring so important?

Many of the member companies don’t have the resources to support robust leadership development programs- so their talent development functions are fairly organic. In order to cultivate the next leaders internally, developing talent needs to be a very conscious part of every supervisor’s and every leader’s wheelhouse. When it isn’t front and center for a team or for a leader, because they don’t have the resources to do so, what can happen is leadership becomes more opportunistic. This favors those who reflect the current leadership demographic, because people tend to give the benefit of the doubt to people who look like them.

When employees make connections with leaders, it’s often in informal situations, but not everyone has the same access to those settings. So what the mentoring program does is it creates formality around something that is already in place—but not available to everyone. It also demystifies what it means to pursue leadership opportunities, especially for women. Sometimes people have no idea what it takes to get the next level of their career. Supervisors aren’t sitting down with their team on a regular basis and saying, “Here’s what leadership looks like in our company. Here are opportunities that are available, if you’re interested in stretching yourself.”

Because your work encourages greater inclusion of women, does it in effect encourage other types of diversity as well? Does a rising tide lift all boats?

We’re about all women. It’s complex, because there are intersections of identity, and individuals prioritize those intersections based on experience.. That’s the individual level. When you look at the system level or the organizational level, there are questions like: “Are companies creating inclusive work cultures? Are they curious about the needs of their employees? Are they willing to lean in and be uncomfortable and understand what employees need to feel like they can contribute to their workplace?”

One example is parental leave, which has primarily affected women in the workplace. Burton has invested in families, and they’ve seen great success. They will say that they did it for women, but that it’s great for everyone. All of their employees love the fact that they can have families and have careers. We are looking at how to create great places for all to work—that’s really the end goal—where diversity and talent thrive. When people have aspirations and feel like they can achieve those aspirations, either at their current job or their career in general, and they see how they can continue to develop as people and as professionals and get to the place where they want to get—that’s really the goal of what we’re doing.

What opportunities do you see for people to learn more about these industries, and for outdoor recreation and education professionals to be part of that?

I think there’s a ripe opportunity for leaders who are really working at the ground level of introducing people to the outdoors, to the activities that we all love, especially at the college and university level. They may have engineers or business-majors participants who have never thought that there are companies who need their skills and expertise in order to develop the next iteration of hiking boots. You can say to a participant, “I know you’re in engineering, and I know you love to climb. Did you know that Black Diamond and Petzl are great places to work?” There are entire industries where their skills and talents could be leveraged to contribute to their passion. Sometimes the focus is on going into the parks service or wilderness training, and less on accountants, engineers, and designers—who are also who our industries needs to drive it forward.

What about welcoming more women to the outdoor space in general?

Leaders need a firm understanding or acknowledgement of the influence that they have--not only on the future of the outdoors and who it’s accessible to but also the future of outdoor industries. This means making a concerted effort when people show up—all people to make sure the first experience is welcoming and arms wide-open. We can make sure new participants understand that there is a community from day one, and we can acknowledge that it might be intimidating if a person looks around and doesn’t see a lot of people who look like themselves.

One tangible, and proven, tactic is to host women-specific skills classes that create a space for women to learn from and ask questions of other women. . Research shows that women are often socialized to learn differently than men. Understanding that there are many ways that people learn allows leaders the opportunity, to make outdoor experiences as welcoming as possible and to meet people where they are for as long as possible—that will probably be one of the biggest success factors in bringing more diversity to those programs and to the outdoors.

'All the research shows that diversity drives

greater innovation, which helps companies keep

ideas fresh and develop products that

reflect the needs of the consumer.'