In celebration of the amazing women in the outdoor industry, and of March as Women’s History Month, SNEWS has featured a number of female leaders in stories about Camber Outdoors’ Deanne Buck to 10 rad women-led companies. In this new Q&A series, we asked women in all sorts of leadership roles about their backgrounds, what they like most about their jobs and their best outdoor advice. Here’s our interview with Kate Wendt, REI’s Divisional Vice President of Strategy, as the first feature.
What’s your first outdoor memory?
Kate Wendt: I was born in Seattle and growing up in the Pacific Northwest, the outdoors is often ingrained in your life. For me, that meant a lot of time exploring the beaches and forests here. It really sparked a natural curiosity in me, and I think curiosity is just as important as intelligence. I appreciate the really small details. I have fond memories of appreciating not just the big picture and looking toward Rainier, but of smaller things—like the excitement of finding a crab under a rock.
What drove you to seek a career in the outdoor industry?
KW: I worked hard for 10 years to become one of the youngest female senior analysts on Wall Street, which is a prestigious position. But Wall Street is cutthroat, and your success is pretty much your singular success—it’s not collective or shared. I didn’t find enough meaning in that. I wanted to spend more time outside and have time with family and friends and for myself, and I didn’t really see a path in which I was going to be able to have that life and become what I wanted to become professionally. I don’t think I even fully realized, at the time, how much the outdoor industry really would allow and enable me to have that life that I wanted. They’ve taught me to be more mindful and respect my surroundings. That awareness is transferable to a lot of other things.
What is your favorite perk of working for REI?
KW: People usually say their favorite thing about REI is our Yay Days, which are two extra days we get off every year to play outside. They’re awesome. But for me, it’s the day-in, day-out work-life balance that matters. I had my first baby a year ago and I get to go home and spend time with her almost every evening. This is a company that really values having a full life and wants you to have that. I’m enabled to have both a really fulfilling career and work life, and also to be able to devote my time to other aspects of my life, as well.
What’s your one piece of advice for women seeking a career in the outdoor industry?
KW: A lot of people don’t see themselves as hardcore into the outdoors, and they see that as a barrier. Don’t be afraid to break in even if you’re not an expert. Challenge the status quo and ask difficult questions. I think the more progressive companies will welcome that. The ones that don’t probably aren’t where you want to be.
How have the outdoors empowered you?
KW: Trail running has empowered me to be willing to explore new places on my own and tackle new things. Sometimes I think, “There’s no way I’m going to get up that, or do that, or finish this,” and then I push my personal boundaries. I do my best self-reflection and meditation when I’m outdoors. Nature gives me that mental foundation to really be my best self.