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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

The North Face sponsors new women's AMGA course

Only 8 percent of AMGA guides are women. This new program will change that.

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Erica Engle flakes climbing rope
Erica Engle flakes a climbing rope. She began guiding in 2006. She is a fully-licensed IFMGA guide in the ski, rock, and alpine disciplines.Irene Yee

When Erica Engle started working toward her American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) certification in 2006, there were only a few female role models in the guiding industry. More men than women taught her the ropes. But now, thanks to a grant by The North Face, the AMGA expects to see a lot more women in its programs.

Announced yesterday, the AMGA is launching the first Women’s Rock Guide Course—the first of its kind for professional rock guides.

“Part of how you succeed is by having a strong network of colleagues and mentors to help open opportunities and direct you to connections and things you could be doing,” Engle, the 11th woman to become an IFMGA guide, told SNEWS. “One of the goals here is to foster a cohort of women who have each other to network with. Once you build that bigger cohort of people moving through the upper levels, you tend to see more generations of cohorts behind that. That’s part of this hope.”

The North Face grant—part of the Move Mountains Grant Program—will create partial scholarships for 12 women to take the AMGA’s first level rock guide training course. The grant also builds in funding to support Implicit Bias Education at the AMGA’s annual meeting for guides from across the globe, to help create a more cohesive and supportive working environment for all guides. The grant will also empower the AMGA to drive those conversations at the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations.

In its research, the AMGA discovered that only 24 of 303 (8 percent) Certified Rock Guides are women, as of now. Female guides, including Engle, say that long-standing cultural stigmas, false perceptions, potential discomfort with being the only woman, and few female mentors and role models have kept women from becoming guides.

The course, which kicks off in September in Boulder, Colorado, includes the same curriculum as non-gendered rock courses. But it will be taught by an all-female instructor team, including Engle as well as Angela Hawse, Margaret Wheeler, and Karen Bockel. (The former were mentors/instructors to Engle and the latter through Engle’s certification program.) It will also provide an environment that’s free of some of the traditional gender stereotypes surrounding leadership. 

Moving forward, the AMGA is focusing on diversifying even more and recruiting underrepresented identities and people of all backgrounds. Last fall, the AMGA teamed up with the American Alpine Club, Flash Foxy, and Brown Girls Climb for a pilot Single Pitch Instructor course to create a safe space for conversation and questions.”Our end goal is to create an environment where we have integrated courses,” Engle said. “In this stage, some level of affinity spaces is an important component.”

The application deadline is March 17, 2019. Find more info about the program criteria, requirements, and how to apply here.