“You should be careful!”
“You should be quiet”
“You should be nice”
“You should smile more”
Have any of those statements been made to you personally? Well you aren’t alone. They are common phrases many women have heard throughout their life, and it’s time to take a stand against them. Outdoor adventure brand REI is throwing its hat in the female empowerment ring with a new initiative that seeks to encourage women to engage in more outdoor activities.
It’s called ‘Force of Nature’, and it was launched in direct response to research REI conducted. They surveyed over 2000 people earlier this year and found that 72% of women said they felt “liberated or free when they are outdoors” yet only 32% of women even considered themselves the outdoors type. Another interesting result of the study was that 43% of women said finding someone to go outdoors with is a barrier.
They plan to change this by holding more than 400 launch events around the country starting on May 6, and more than 1,000 events and classes through the year focused on education and getting women outdoors. The events include classes and outdoors retreats. As part of the initiative, REI is pledging over $1 million in the company’s community investments into a range of non-profits which are already geared toward encouraging women and girls to enjoy the outdoors.
So far they have allocated $500,000 to support organizations such as Camber Outdoors, GirlTrek, and the YMCA’s BOLD/GOLD initiative, and a further $500,000 will be given to organizations submitted through an open-call process.
It’s little wonder the brand is looking to engage its female customer base (and potential new customers) with this initiative. REI has been around since 1938 and was co-founded by a woman, Mary Anderson. Gearjunkie.com says it was her love of the outdoors which formed part of the foundation for the company. We’re not too sure why it took until 2017 for this to happen, but clearly the groundswell of conversations about how to better engage female consumers in a way that doesn’t objectify, talk down to, or simply ignore them, is working.
Behind the scenes, REI has taken strides to ensure gender equality is part of their company culture where it counts. Currently 45% of all REI employees and nearly half of corporate officers are women. One-third of REI’s board and 44% of corporate officers are women, including the CIO, CFO, and Board Chair.
The company has been focusing on developing women’s gear since 2000 but they are also making improvements in this area to better cater to female customers. Susan Viscon, the Senior VP of merchandising, said they would be working with partners like Arcteryx, Osprey, Outdoor Research, and others to create more products made by women, for women. She believes there is a performance gap between men’s and women’s outdoor gear, and this will work to close it.
CEO Jerry Stritzke says the brand wants to inspire and enable women to “make the outdoors a part of their life”.
“Through ‘Force of Nature,’ women will be front and center in our brand and storytelling spaces, but our commitment goes way beyond a ‘brand’ discussion,” he said.
The idea has been ruminating in the REI decision-making room for quite some time, he added.
“More than two years ago, a group of women at REI were thinking about gender equity in the outdoors because we’ve been in this space for decades. They asked a simple question: ‘Why are the stories we typically see in the outdoors so male dominated?’ From that seed came the idea for using the power of our brand and storytelling to help change that ‘face’ of the outdoors,” he explained.
Visuals can be extremely powerful, and it goes hand in hand with a common saying used by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media: if she can see it, she can be it. When more girls and women are seeing just as many images of women enjoying and conquering the outdoors along with male images, there is no doubt the far-reaching impact will be felt.
It’s also striking to think that making positive changes toward gender equality starts with something as simple as listening to the concerns of women.
“We started by listening to the women who are already making the outdoors the center of their life. They had some powerful things in common—namely greater confidence and fulfillment across their personal and professional lives. We conducted a national survey and heard the same things. That made our path very clear,” added the CEO.
On the ‘Force of Nature’ web page, consumers can find inspiring stories of real life women whose lives have been positively impacted by the outdoors. One of those women is Betty Reid Soskin, 93, the oldest active US National Park Ranger, who is stationed at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Park in Richmond, California. She is the descendant of Cajun-Creole ancestors and slaves, who grew up in Louisiana. After the Mississippi flood of of 1927, her family became displaced, along with hundreds of thousands of other African-Americans, and migrated to the West Coast with her mother.
Growing up, she was lucky to escape the limited options afforded to young black women (work in agriculture or be a domestic servant) due to the war. Many women were being asked to work in shipyards, including Betty. Sixty years after the war, the National Park Service was planning on building an historical site dedicated to the Rosie the Riveters who have become an iconic part of America’s history.
Betty was the only person of color invited to be part of the presentation, and says it was important for her to ensure the Civil Rights movement and history about segregation was not forgotten in the effort to preserve history. She made a great statement about why she would choose to go back to a site which held a lot of pain from the past.
“If we don’t know where we started, we have no way of knowing how far we’ve come. That’s the reason that at 85, I became a national park ranger. That history was so in danger of being totally forgotten,” she said. This kind of complex, intersectional relationship to our environment perfectly sums up why women’s voices, stories and presence in the outdoors is more than symbolic, and more than just about physical fitness.
“REI was founded by a both a man and a woman. It’s in our DNA. We believe that access to the outdoors is a right that should be available for all—men and women. Force of Nature aims to ensure that women are just as encouraged and equipped to embrace life outside as men. That’s about more than business or sales. That’s about impacting the quality of people’s lives, and as a co-op, that kind of impact is our greater measure of success,” said REI’s Jerry Stritzke.
The CEO emphasized that the initiative to engage women will go beyond the Force of Nature campaign, which will be running throughout 2017.
“We’ve made a ton of progress and plan to keep working,” he said.
As the Force of Nature web page states, “here’s to trailblazers, makers, and rule-breakers.”
You can watch the promo video for ‘Force of Nature’ below: