Celebrating community and inclusivity: women and the outdoor industry
By: Ava Hansen
If you enjoy wandering outdoors or leading others through nature, you may have noticed a few things…. This activity can require certain skills, some of these skills can be gendered, and it is much more fun to have these experiences where this is an atmosphere of camaraderie rather than competition.
It wasn’t many years ago that being young and female and working in the outdoor industry would be a constant struggle to prove oneself capable. That’s not to say that there aren’t still aspects of competition, or experiences where a lady feels like she’s got to prove herself, but overall – 2018 is a great time to be a female guide – and that’s in large part due to role models, work environments, and overall community.
Find your community! Surround yourself with other empowered female guides. By getting the opportunity to guide you are getting the chance to be an incredible role-model for young adults. What a gift – show them that anything is possible. Don’t doubt yourself. Know your skills and always bring you’re a-game.
Kayak Guide, British Columbia, Canada
From my earliest experiences in the guiding industry (both leading nature walks and kayaking) I had more experienced female role models to look up to - Shout out to the guiding men who also have also encouraged me to push myself and grow professionally and make sure I’m working with a feminist attitude myself!
At time we need someone to exemplify what’s possible – however, if you don’t see that role model in your community or as a public figure - what’s to say you can’t become your own role model.
I participated in the kayak guiding industry for four years, starting at age 16. I progressed to an AOG and assistant overnight tours… I always felt keenly supported by male and female mentors alike…
I excelled at being especially sensitive to client needs and steering the tour towards more comfortable limits for all clients. I kick ass at providing the emotional support people sometimes need in uncomfortable situation. Several times I caught situations that my male co-workers didn’t pick up on which saved several tours a lot of trouble, anxiety, and discomfort.
I began to focus on gaining respect because of my depth and breadth of knowledge about local ecology and history. It was my genuine passion for sharing this knowledge with clients and encouraging them to think differently about the environment I care so much about that came to define my guiding success. As per usual, I can’t help seeing a metaphor for the rest of life in the wonderful microcosm of sea kayak guiding. It is a fabulous world that has helped me grow and develop my own self-understanding, courage, and compassion and truly learn to value me for exactly who I am.
-Kaya Guide and Student, British Columbia
Encouraging friends and coworkers
Work environments where coworkers are more likely to help you learn a new skill and share their own tips is far more productive than a competitive environment fuelled by ego. To be honest, we’ve probably all got an ego that comes off a bit strong if we’re a guide. But are you surrounded by people who are willing to put that aside as they help you learn? Is it an environment where we are not afraid to “fail” in front of our friends/coworkers, laugh at our mistakes, and feel encouraged to try again?
If you are not surrounded by encouragement, try to alter that or consider moving on.
Working as a young female guide I have encountered situations where my skills, competence and knowledge have been questioned and challenged. Through these trials I have learned to stay confident and stick with my gut as I know I have the proper skills, training and knowledge to be in the situation I am in…At the end of the day I feel empowered and inspired to work in such a supportive and small community that is constantly growing with a strong female presence…It is truly empowering to be competent, grateful, and inspired while doing your daily job on the water.
-Kayak Guide, British Columbia
The whole outdoor industry is making attempts to combat the lack of representation of diversity and ability levels enjoying activities in nature – the mother that nourishes us all. On social media women’s outdoor collective groups are rampant (@girlswhohike , @fatgirlshiking, @camberoutdoors, @wildwomenexpeditions, etc…) REI and Mountain Equpment Co-op offer women-specific instruction nights to create a really comfortable environment.
Barriers to connecting with nature seem to be primarily caused by people – stripping natural areas in favour of cities, making outdoor gear expensive, a lack of creative ways to accommodate people with various abilities. We have opportunities to amend that by keeping supportive and inviting communities thriving, continuing to push ourselves and each other, and making outdoor activities increasingly accessible.