OIWC Column: ‘Beatrice the Hedgehog,’ people power and the bottom line

The Outdoor Industries Women's Coalition provides an update on where women stand in the industry, and why increasing their presence in the corporate ranks can help a company's bottom line.

Most all of us in the outdoor industry understand how the health of the planet directly impacts a company’s bottom line. The obvious reasoning goes something like: If there are no places left to play outside, there will no longer be a need for gear. More subtle persuasions include minimizing the impact of the products we make, striving for the highest quality possible and the “cultural cache” and organizational alignment gained by minimizing our collective environmental impact. At the end of the day, however, it is just the right thing to do. This is the “planet” part of what has become known as the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. Proudly, the outdoor industry is a leader in how to do “planet” right.

Recently, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia enacted Benefit Corporation laws that, in essence, create a legal obligation to the triple bottom line. Similar legislation is currently pending in seven other states. The flywheel of sustainable business is gaining momentum.

While the link to and commitment of the outdoor, snow and bike industries to the environment is ingrained and accepted, understanding why gender diversity in the workplace matters to our industries is less clear. The “people” contribution to the bottom line is ripe for understanding. This is where the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition (OIWC) comes in. OIWC seeks to position the human-powered recreation industries as the bellwether of triple bottom line success through the elevation of workplace gender equity and diversity to be in equal standing with our commitment to “planet.”

In order to figure out how far we need to travel, we first need to understand where we are. Let’s start with some facts from both within and outside the outdoor industries:

>> 12 percent of all OIA company CEOs are women.

*0 percent of OIA company CEOs with sales between $5-$20 million are women.

*10 percent of OIA company CEOs with sales over $20 million are women.

>> 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

>> The 50 highest-paid executives in the U.S. are all men.

>> White men are paid approximately 25 percent more than white women, 30 percent more than African-American women and 40 percent more than Hispanic women for the same work.

The percentage of women in leadership positions and pay inequity aren’t the only markers for gender equity and diversity in the workplace. They do, however, provide a lens through which to view how we might gauge future success in the “people” sphere.

In addition, research demonstrates a link between the presence of women in corporate management teams and companies’ organizational and financial performance. A 2010 McKinsey and Company survey suggests that the companies where women are most strongly represented at board or top?management levels are also the companies that perform best. In the speak of Jim Collins, business guru and author of “Good to Great,” a commitment to more “Beatrice hedgehogs” not only is an essential component of a sustainable workplace, but also positively effects the bottom line and is good for business. So, now comes the hard part … how do we get from here to “there?”

In 2011, OIWC updated its mission to include advocacy. In 2012, we surveyed our membership and the outdoor industry and received our marching orders: 68 percent of all respondents urged us to champion companies that are excellent places to work for both genders and 67 percent felt OIWC could make the most impact by working with companies in regard to best practices when it comes to gender diversity retention and advancement. Interestingly, for those in senior management roles, 73 percent ranked this as our No. 1 priority. According to the McKinsey report, three important steps a company can take to make gender diversity part of its DNA are options for flexible working conditions, mentoring programs for women and a commitment to gender diversity at the top of the strategic agenda. OIWC is here to help our industries negotiate these changes.

As part of our ongoing commitment to women in the human-powered recreation industries, we will continue to build upon our professional development curriculum to include leadership and skill-building programs. This fall, we will be releasing our full workplace study results that examines more in-depth the advocacy issues of underrepresentation of women in leadership and key decision making roles, as well as, the low rate of working mothers in our industries. We have developed keynote speaker programs for OR Winter Market, SIA and Interbike titled, “Thought Leaders,” to highlight success stories that will help us figure out together how to navigate the gender diversity terrain. And we are bringing together leaders in the outdoor, snow and bike industries to advise us on how to best work with our partners to move forward our collective endeavor of gender equity and diversity. Our bottom line is a commitment to working with all our partners to find solutions that move us to the next level of sustainability.