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Has your outdoor business taken the OIWC pledge?

Thirty outdoor CEOs have made the pledge to foster better workplaces and paths to leadership for women in the industry.

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OIWC Director Deanne Buck at the organization’s CEO Pledge event at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market – Photo by Jenny Jakubowski.

Thirty CEOs have signed an Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition pledge to foster better workplaces and paths to leadership for women in the industry.

Supporters of the OIWC CEO Pledge met at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market to celebrate the growing numbers of women joining the industry’s ranks. But more than that, the event seemed to be a forecast for rising bottom lines and a healthy, sustainable industry, overall.

Part celebration and part call-to-action, the night recognized the outdoor brands that have to-date signed onto the CEO Pledge, thereby committing to promote the participation of (and leadership opportunities for) more women in their companies — and in the industry as a whole. It also acted as a reminder not to get complacent with the work that has already been done.

“I ask you to find a colleague in the industry who has not signed the pledge and explain to them why this is important for this industry and why it’s important for their businesses,” said Jill Layfield, CEO of and OIWC board member.

The only national organization of its kind, the OIWC is dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and companies in the outdoor, snow, run and bike industries. And it’s doing so with gusto. It’s most recent charge, the CEO Pledge, was announced at last January’s Outdoor Retailer Winter Market by way of REI CEO Jerry Stritzke, himself a key pledge supporter whose company donated $1.5 million to show its support.

Since the announcement, an additional 18 brands have added their names to the pledge, joining the 12 initial signees and drawing the organization closer to its goal of 50 signatures by the end of the year. “I couldn’t be more proud of my fellow leaders in the industry embracing this with open arms,” Stritzke said. “The outdoor industry is about passion and dreams, and I think that the girls and women in our lives live that.”

Recent signers-on list both personal and business-focused reasons for participation. Bill Cotton, CEO of Optic Nerve, pointed to his two daughters and a desire to see them have opportunities in the future. On the other hand, including women in the outdoor industry workforce just makes smart business sense, emphasizes Mona West, vice president of emerging brands for Cascade Designs. “It’s representing our consumer base, getting diverse opinions in increasingly sophisticated business environments. It’s ultimately going to help the whole industry grow in a way we haven’t seen before.”

Photo by Jenny Jakubowski.

And showing that growth is among OIWC’s raisons d’etre. “We’re providing more resources for individual members and upping our game for the rest of the companies in the industry,” said Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, recently appointed director of people and culture for the OIWC. Thanks to data that will be collected from participating CEOs (e.g., male-to-female ratios at different position titles), the organization aims to have an even more solid base for its claims that including women among the outdoor industry ranks makes solid business sense.

But, the OIWC plans to give as much as it takes. Companies that sign onto the pledge receive a host of resources to help explain the commitment both internally among current employees and externally to the public. The OIWC will also help the company make itself more appealing to future female employees in a variety of ways, including by providing programming to attract, retain and promote women; appointing a dedicated point person to help the signer-on find relevant information, connections and advice; and helping members to design high-impact strategies to improve workforce diversity and organizational well-being.

“We’re trying to make it accessible,” said Tori Barnett, OIWC marketing director. “We’ve always been a partner of the individual employee, and now we’ve positioned ourselves as a partner to the company and the industry as a whole.”

Bottom line though, said a slew of participants, getting more women involved in the industry — and signing the pledge to show a commitment to progress that mission — is just the right thing to do. “It’s moving us on a path that will create success for the industry,” said Jim Kelley, CEO of The NPD Group. “This isn’t a women’s message or a feminist message. It’s an empowerment message.”

Laura Schaffer, Mountain Hardwear corporate responsibility manager and OIWC board member agreed. “If we are going to grow as an industry, we have got to dig in.”

–Courtney Holden