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Last week, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was accosted by Republican Congressman Ted Yoho, who in front of reporters called her a f***ing b**** on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. This was, according to reports, an unprovoked attack. He did this when he was walking shoulder to shoulder with Republican Representative Roger Williams and in front of the media. The story was reported in The Hill. Since that incident originally took place, it has been covered extensively in the media. In fact, it also broke C-SPAN Twitter video records, as well. The clip is C-SPAN’s most-retweeted ever, according to C-span communications director Howard Mortman.
Regardless of your politics or opinion of Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, the Congresswoman eloquently reminded us during her remarks on the floor of the House of Representatives last week that all women deserve to do their jobs and be treated with respect. It is sad that this behavior still exists and was on full display on the steps of the Capitol. It was prevalent when I started my career in Washington serving as a lobbyist for the Mayor of New York City. And in the nearly three decades I have been involved in the outdoor industry, I have witnessed sexual harassment incidents on trade show floors, in meetings, and at events. It needs to stop. This incident provides an ugly glimpse into today’s workplace reality that extends to all professions and the fact that there is still a great deal of work to do to effect true change.
Why is this relevant to the audience of OBJ and colleagues in the outdoor industry? Because we are not immune to this behavior and women who work in our sphere continue to face the issue of a hostile workplace, as we have seen in studies and stories by Camber, OBJ and Outside magazine.
After deciding she could not accept Congressman Yoho’s “apology”, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez decided to take action. She addressed the incident on the House floor and thoughtfully outlined her point of view in a measured, straight forward manner with precision and passion, but not emotion. She spoke about this incident as an issue that all women continue to face, and to which they can relate. “It impacts all of us,” she said. She clearly had prepared these remarks and given a great deal of consideration to their structure. Her speech lasted roughly 38 minutes, had a beginning, a middle, and an end. By the time she had finished speaking, she had made her case crystal-clear for why she was not accepting the so-called apology from Congressman Yoho and why his apology was nothing of the kind.
Author Connie Schultz commenting on MSNBC said: “Yoho and his crew would have liked her to just let it drop. Instead she said, you know what, permission denied. Permission denied. If you’re going to do this, we’re going to talk about it so all of America can have a conversation.”
Her planning, practice, and clear delivery made all the difference in the world. She did what any effective CEO or leader would do when faced with commenting on a sensitive and controversial topic. With a steady hand, she skillfully helped Congress wake up to the insidious nature of unchecked sexual harassment and in doing so landed on the front page of The New York Times, not in the middle in the politics section. It is incredibly hard to get on the front page of the “Gray Lady.”
This strategy was a master class in PR about how to attack a painful issue in a way that is relatable and understandable. It is an excellent skill to perfect for our industry, as we not only address gender equity and sexual discrimination, but also, diversity.
These kinds of discussions are never easy, but they are necessary and they are hard. We are making some progress in the outdoor community, but there is much work to do. We are seeing more female CEOs and female board members in the outdoor industry: e.g. Outdoor Retailer, where the majority of management is female. We’re seeing it at companies such as LifeStraw, Smartwool, and Vail Resorts, not to mention my colleagues in the PR agency world and media trade outlets. Respect Outside is making inroads by providing sexual-harassment prevention training to businesses in the outdoor industry, including manufacturers, retailers, outfitters, nonprofits, government agencies, camps, and universities.
Let’s keep working together to establish an environment where women in the outdoor industry are treated with respect and have a clear path to a gratifying future.