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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

Anglers spearhead gender parity in outdoor industry

More women are fishing—and getting outdoors—thanks, in part, to a new initiative by Orvis called 50/50 On The Water.

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Hilary Hutcheson fishing
Fly fishing guide and owner of Lary’s Fly & Supply Hilary Hutcheson celebrates another catch on the river.    Dave Perkins

The fishing community is becoming a leader in shifting the gender paradigm, a movement that dovetails with the outdoor industry’s growing focus on diversity.

Introducing: 50/50 On the Water, a program to create gender parity in the sport of fly fishing. Orvis launched the campaign at the July 2017 International Fly Tackle Dealer Show, following two years of research, development, and input from more than 120 industry professionals.

Widening participation drives sales opportunities for retailers and manufacturers and also increases conservation, which twofold strengthens the longevity of outdoor engagement and its economy.

“Diversity in the outdoor industry can become stronger because of conservation and our shared desire to protect resources,” said Hilary Hutcheson, fly fishing guide and owner of Lary’s Fly & Supply, who helped brainstorm the campaign. “If you pay attention to the health of the environment and take action, you’ll connect with people who are doing the same, even if you’re not adventure buddies. I’ve had clients from varied ethnicities and backgrounds start fly fishing because they were initially drawn to protect an important waterway or public land,” she said.

Big business opportunity

The growth potential is large: In the U.S., 35 percent of anglers are female, ages 6 and up, according to the 2017 “Special Report on Fishing” published by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and the Outdoor Industry Association. In fly fishing, women comprise only 31 percent of anglers on the water. The report also found that women are the fastest growing demographic in the sport of fishing.

Jackie Kutzer fishing
Jackie Kutzer, Co-founder of 50/50 On the Water, winds up her fly fishing rod on the river.    Jess McGlothlin

Similarly, the outdoor industry has experienced an uptick of women’s-specific clinics and events across segments including mountain biking, backcountry skiing, and splitboarding. More female guides and instructors, like climbing guide Andrea Charest, are mentoring women in the field. In less than three years, Camber Outdoors grew the number of outdoor industry signatures on the CEO Pledge from 13 to 75 companies, which are committed to establishing women in leadership roles.

Not all efforts are new, either: A handful of women-owned companies that pioneered women’s-only trips have thrived over decades. AdventureWomen, founded in 1982, leads a variety of adventure tours. Backcountry Babes celebrated its 20th year anniversary last year and continues to expand its nationwide women’s-only ski clinics.

Mission of 50/50 On The Water

50/50 was founded with three targeted goals: Change the industry’s perception of women by reflecting diversity across physique, age, ethnicity, and skill level; lower barriers into the sport by providing free-of-cost, women’s-only clinics and schools; and celebrate women in conservation.

To increase diversity in the outdoors, dissolving perceived and real barriers—be those related to age, ethnicity, body image, skill level, geographic location, physical ability, or socioeconomics in addition to gender—is a priority.

“Over the last few years, women have expressed that entering the sport comes with barriers—whether it’s time commitment, intimidation, or feeling overwhelmed with gear selection—and 50/50 On The Water was started to break down those barriers,” said 50/50 Co-founder Jackie Kutzer, who is at the helm of growing the sport’s diversity. At Trout Unlimited, she’s the Vice Chair for the Women and Diversity Initiative. Kutzer also co-leads the East-based chapter of Braided, a women’s fly fishing club that debuted last year in Southwest Colorado with a mission to build an inclusive angler community and to increase conservation.

Changing the ‘Boy’s Club’

“Fly fisherwomen have always existed, though the sport is historically male-dominated,” said Kutzer, who is also a fly fish instructor and Graphic Designer for Orvis.

women anglers
A February fishing trip to the Walloomsac River, Bennington, VT Abbie Mahurin

When Geri Meyer, Owner of Athena & Artemis Women’s Fly Shop and Co-owner Driftless Angler Fly Shop, started fly fishing she didn’t see women in advertisements, social media didn’t exist, and dial-up internet prevented web surfing.

“Had there been women advertising product, or more pictures and articles about female guides, the sport may have felt more inclusive. At the time, the sport was intimidating, and I felt like a pariah, which kept me out of fly shops and fishing clubs,” Meyer said. Groups such as Trout Unlimited, International Women Fly Fishers, and United Women On The Fly now help women connect with other anglers and make the sport feel more accessible, she explained.

Becky Leinweber has co-owned Angler’s Covey since the mid ‘90s, and she agrees.   

Becky Leinweber teaching women's angling class
Leinweber teaching an Angler’s Covey Women’s Fly Fishing Camp.Courtesy

At last year’s Orvis Guide Rendezvous, Leinweber learned about the Costa SLAM Film event package—three documentary films spotlighting women in fly fishing—at the Women’s Leadership Summit. She was confident that hosting the film series at Angler’s Covey would be a strong avenue to welcome more women to the sport, a long-time focus of hers.

A decade ago, she co-founded the Pikes Peak Women Anglers, a social fishing group for females of all skill levels to connect. Most recently, Leinweber joined the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance as a co-director.

“It’s great to have films showing women anglers enjoying the sport, which removes the barrier and makes the viewer think they can do it, too,” Leinweber said. “When a brand such as Orvis is involved in social impact, retailers also see the benefits of combining business and important issues like conservation. For instance, we had female fishing guides on staff, but until recently, didn’t have women reflected on sales floor. We’ve made that a priority for the same reason women in film are important.” Now, 5 out of 30 of the guides at Angler’s Covey are women, and three of those females also work on the sales floor.

Another fishing industry challenge: Women are more likely than men to drop out of fishing be it saltwater, freshwater or fly, according to the Special Report on Fishing. “One important aspect of female retention in fly fishing is having products that are designed to fit a woman’s body. It’s really hard to want to invest time, energy and money into a sport when you are physically uncomfortable participating,” said Meyer.

Motivated by conservation

Also, according to the report, 42 percent of adult fishing participants were very motivated by conservation—a level of involvement that also has room for improvement.

“Selfishly, diversity in the sport will increase the number of people protecting threatened water and aquatic species. It’s imperative that everyone in this sport becomes stewards of our natural resources,” said Meyer and pointed out the benefits of participant crossover between anglers and other outdoor sports and recreation: “An increase in actual demographics equals an increase in voices, advocacy, votes, dollars spent, and working bodies.”

50-50 launch at trade show
Orvis launched 50/50 On The Water at the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show (IFTD), Orlando, FL, July 2017.    Kami Swingle

The 50/50 campaign challenges retailers to get involved in at least one of four ways this year: host a women’s-focused educational event, design women’s specific classes, mentor female guides and retail associates, or host a women’s fishing trip. At print, 21 Orvis retail stores and 19 Orvis-endorsed dealers are signed-on to host 2018 women’s clinics, events, and trips in a commitment to 50/50.

“Now the challenge becomes how to we continue to diversify beyond gender? It becomes an issue of visual identification and inclusion,” said Meyer.

The 2018 Orvis Guide Rendezvous will offer a two-hour course on how to run women’s-focused events.