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It was almost 22 years ago this month that I landed the job of my dreams: Assistant Gear Editor at my favorite magazine, Backpacker. I was 25 years old and fresh out of grad school. I knew nothing about how magazines work. I knew nothing about editing or writing. I only knew a little bit about gear (thanks to a part-time job selling it at Chicago retailer, Erewhon Mountain Outfitter). And I had no idea that the industry I was entering into was predominantly male. All I knew was that I was deeply in love with hiking and camping and backpacking, and this job was my ticket to play.
I am eternally grateful to the two men that decided to give me a chance, John Viehman and Tom Shealey, because I’m certain they had considered resumes that were far more impressive than mine. ( I had been literally begging for a job for about six months, and my persistence paid off.) I learned much later that no other women had applied for the job. There were simply not a lot of women testing, reviewing and writing about gear at that time. On press trips and at media events in those early days I remember wondering why all the women I met seemed to be in public relations or marketing roles.
I’m glad to report that things have most definitely changed in the last two decades. There are more women than ever in upper level management and executive positions. There are more women working R&D, as wilderness guides and even in outdoor media (proof: there were over 20 female applicants for my recently vacated position as Backpacker gear editor). Admittedly, these statements of mine are anecdotal. Because until recently nobody was tracking the gender imbalance in our industry. We all saw it and felt it, but it wasn’t until OIWC (Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition) published their Member Census in 2014 that we had some baseline data about the composition of our industry.
As Mark Satkiewicz, president of Smartwool, said in his keynote speech at the OIWC breakfast at SIA, we need to do better to change the gender disparity that exists in our industry. If we do that, our businesses will grow. And the fact that we’re even having this conversation is another step in the right direction.
This month, SNEWS celebrates the women of of the outdoor industry. For the next 30 days, we’ll profile at least one inspirational woman per day who works and/or plays in the outdoors. We’ve got CEOs, product designers, product reps, marketing gurus, guides, writers, athletes and park rangers. We’ve talked to women ranging in age from 13 to 106 about their adventures, their career paths and challenges, being working moms and giving back to their communities through mentoring, trip offerings, gear “libraries” and countless other ways. We’re also taking a look back at the history of women’s outdoor gear and how it’s evolved.
We’re thrilled to have the support of Kelty, who shares our desire to spotlight great women doing great things within our industry. We’re also grateful for the support of OIWC, which is now celebrating its 20th year of bringing together and expanding the opportunities for the women of our industry.
Please, stay with us each day this month, and we promise to introduce you to someone worth knowing, like Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro. In her interview (it will appear later this month), she told us “I hope more women can find joy in this industry by making their own mark, by being entrepreneurial and creating their own pathways. We don’t have to wait for the opportunities. We can create [them].”
I couldn’t agree more, and I hope that these stories inspire us all (both men and women) to do just that.
Kristin Hostetter, Editor-in-Chief