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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

REI spearheads effort to get more women in the outdoor workplace and leadership roles

REI announced a $1.5 million gift to the Outdoor Industries Women's Coalition and will lead CEOs in their pledge to bring more women to the industry.

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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2015 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 20 – 24. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives. 

Today we look REI CEO Jerry Stritzke’s big announcement at the show of a $1.5 million donation to the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition, plus his thoughts on where the nation’s largest outdoor retailer goes next.

REI CEO Jerry Stritzke - Photo by Andrew Bydlon.
REI CEO Jerry Stritzke – Photo by Andrew Bydlon.

One large gift to the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition, one giant leap for the outdoor industry as a whole.

At Outdoor Retailer Winter Market’s 2015 OIWC Keynote & Awards Presentation, REI CEO Jerry Stritzke announced a $1.5 million gift to the diversity-dedicated organization and challenged fellow CEOs to join him and 15 other companies in pledging to support the push for more women in the workplace.

“I’m proud to be a part of an industry that values everybody, has a sense of community and is about sharing a love for the outdoors,” Stritzke said. “We’re doing this because change starts at the top. It’s a testimony to the strength of our shared values.”

OIWC, headquartered in Boulder, Colo., is dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and companies in the outdoor, snow, run and bike industries.

As the packed house rose to its feet in applause of REI’s donation, Stritzke went on to explain how the Mary Anderson Legacy Grant will serve as a catalyst to get more women involved in the industry. Its tri-fold charge will include building programs and services for brands and retailers to better serve women leaders, creating new opportunities for entrepreneurial women, and offering match funding up to $500,000 to companies who join OIWC’s network or elevate their level of membership.

“It’s a game-changer,” OIWC Development Director Hillary Harding said. “We’re still tiny. This puts us over the moon to be able to serve women and the industry.”

Another key push forward for the organization, the CEO Pledge, involves a commitment by companies and CEOs to spark innovation, attract talent and advance women’s leadership. So far, REI’s Stritzke along with 15 other brand CEOs have signed on, including heavy-hitters like Patagonia, The North Face and SmartWool.

“Individual effort is not enough and opportunity is the key, so everybody should be creating opportunities,” Stritzke said. “That’s why I’m so thrilled that the CEOs in our industry are stepping up to make a commitment.”

Reflecting on REI’s legacy of female leadership like co-founder Mary Louise Anderson and former CEO, turned U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, Stritzke explained that the pledge sends a signal to the business community that women’s leadership is a priority. It’s also a reminder that the fight is not just that of women. Men need to be involved too, he said, if long-lasting change is to come about.

However, though diversity in the industry has improved, Stritzke noted now isn’t the time for complacency. “We aren’t actively accessing half the potential talent pool, which is limiting our innovation,” he said. “A vibrant outdoor leadership needs every person.”

The breakfast also served as a platform for the OIWC to announce and distribute its bi-annual leadership awards. The organization honored Patagonia’s Director of Global Environmental Initiatives Lisa Pike Sheehy with the Pioneering Woman award for the influential role she’s paved leading the way for other women. Sarah Harper Burke, Osprey’s retail marketing manager, took home the First Ascent award.

“This award is about the future health of our industry,” Burke said. “This award is about celebrating women in our industry. This award is about change. And most of all, this award is about a better, stronger business practice for all of us.”

Event title sponsors included W.L. Gore & Associates and the NPD Group, with Osprey and Outdoor Retailer as supporting sponsors.

I hereby pledge to …

In addition to gifting $1.5 million to the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition, REI and 15 other brands are calling on CEOs to sign a pledge toward diversifying their workforces. The promise includes:

⇒ Adopting recruiting practices that lead to more gender-balanced candidate pools for key positions.

⇒ Providing women employees with education, training and mentoring programs targeted at positive career planning and advancement.

⇒ Improving support for all employees with families to optimize recruitment and retention of women employees.

⇒ Establishing benchmarks and metrics to measure and report annually on progress toward goals and objectives.

— Courtney Holden

Before REI’s big announcement on Friday, we sat down with Stritzke to get a preview of his talk, plus how the retailer is striving to remain true to specialty.

black and white photo Jerry Stritzke of REI on stool in plaid shirt
REI CEO Jerry Stritzke – Photo by Andrew Bydlon.Andrew Bydlon

Why is women’s leadership such an important topic for the industry?
Throughout my career, I have benefited from the advice and guidance of amazing women leaders The first retail CEO I worked with was a woman, and she was a very important mentor to me. Today, I am surrounded by women leaders on REI’s executive team and on our board. They are a major part of what makes REI tick. I know the outdoor industry stands to gain as much as I have from the leadership that women have to offer. And, it’s already happening, from and Camelbak to Burton, Patagonia and others, and there’s so much more to come.

How has REI improved its workplace and recruiting efforts? What have you found as some of the best retention policies that work for women — and all employees.
I’m glad you point out that what’s good for women is good for all. We extend our job postings to sites that are specially targeted to women and people of color, and we look outside the industry because we know that diversity in backgrounds is critical. When we are recruiting for executive positions, including our board, we make gender and racial diversity a requirement for the candidate pool. This isn’t about quotas in hiring, but is about how we enhance our recruitment practices.

From a retention perspective, it begins with our values. Balance is a core value at REI. We encourage each other to enjoy all aspects of life. Recently, we launched “YAY” days. We give employees two days a year to go outside and play. But policies count, too. We have family leave, flexible work, and healthcare policies that are best in class and support our values.

As you survey REI’s growing business, how do you balance growth with the desire to remain in that specialty and local realm?
We don’t view this as a tension. Our growth will be supported by being locally relevant: in product, philanthropy and experiences. The systems that enable our growth create a more seamless experience for customers, but it’s our employees who provide the specialty flavor. They know the best places to play, and they know how to outfit you to make your time outside inspirational.

We think local with product, too. For example, strong cycling markets will have larger assortments. This past fall, we saw significant success by replenishing our Southern stores with a broader assortment of camp gear, cycling, and sandals.

There are lots of new exhibitors at Outdoor Retailer. How do you bring a small start-up into the big world of REI?
Our merchants are always looking for new vendors who bring meaningful product innovation to market. During OR, you’ll see them walking the show and meeting with new vendors. Once we find something great, we put the product online and in our flagship stores to test potential. We have some great examples of incubating new brands, such as BioLite and Hydroflask.

What technology or trend do you anticipate that has the potential to be disruptive to outdoor retail?
Weather is always a factor when winter matters to your business, and that’s getting more unpredictable. We need to get more agile as an industry. But we have tools to help. In technology, consider the fast onset of geotargeted, hyperlocal marketing. In manufacturing, consider 3D printing. These are pretty disruptive changes with impact beyond the outdoor industry, and we need to pay close attention. Perhaps more significantly, we should all think about urbanization. Our customer base is just going to be living a different lifestyle over time, and we’re watching this trend towards hyperlocal engagement so we’re set up well to respond with outdoor classes and clinics led by employees who know the local outdoor spots like the back of their hand. This is all about how to deepen our local connections even more to serve customers better.

–David Clucas