Force of Nature: Let’s Level the Playing Field

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At REI Co-op, we believe 2017 is going to be a landmark year for gender equity in the outdoors.

I’m writing to you today because we believe the outdoors is—and should always be—the world’s largest level playing field.

But when we take an honest look at the outdoor stories we tell and the heroes we typically herald, we see that as an industry, we are not championing women and men equally. A casual look at any portrayal of the outdoors—movie, magazine, catalog, store, bookshelf—shows male imagery, heroes and stories. This doesn’t honor or accurately depict the important role that women play in the outdoors. As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

This year we commissioned a national study and the results showed something we’ve long believed: More than 85% of all women surveyed believe the outdoors positively affects mental health, physical health, happiness and overall well-being, and 70% reported that being outdoors is liberating.

But there are striking obstacles in the learnings as well:

• 63% of women said they could not think of an outdoor female role model
• 6 in 10 women say that men’s interests in outdoor activities are taken more seriously than women’s

We believe we can do better and that the time is now.

Today we proudly launch a public effort called Force of Nature. It is a disruption of the status quo. It claims the outdoors as a place to opt out of cultural pressures to conform—the “supposed-tos” and “shoulds” that underpin outdated stereotypes—especially for women. To create real change right now we are putting women—of all ages, races, sizes, gender expressions—front and center in all we do.

I know that I stand in a privileged place. Because of that, I believe I have a platform and a responsibility to speak out. I believe it’s important for every leader, regardless of gender, to raise a voice on this topic because together we set the tone to create positive change.

Together, the women and men of REI Co-op are putting our voice, our energy and our passion into this effort. Force of Nature builds on decades of work we have been doing within the co-op to advance gender equity.

So here’s the REI plan:

1. Changing the Narrative

We’re putting women first for the rest of the year. We’re starting with the stories we tell. In May, we’re partnering with Outside magazine on their first-ever all-women’s issue, and in the fall, we’re hosting a film festival focused on women in the outdoors. Look for stories about women adventurers, makers and rule breakers in our marketing, social media content and here on the Co-op Journal.

2. Creating Community

You’re looking for a crew. On May 6, we’re kicking off more than 1,000 events designed to get women outside. We’re also offering hundreds of REI Outdoor School classes, 19 new REI Adventures trips and three REI Outessa retreats—immersive, three-day outdoor adventures that connect the outdoor community—all designed for women and girls.

3. Closing the Gear Gaps

We hear you. Through the years, gear designed for women has improved, but there is still a gap between the quality of men’s and women’s gear. We are partnering with brands to increase focus on building world-class gear designed for women. We’re also working hard inside our own co-op brands and with vendors to offer expanded extended sizing options.

4. Investing in Communities

We can’t do it alone. That’s why we’re committing $1 million to support community organizations that are already doing great work to create opportunities for women and girls in the outdoors. Roughly $500,000 will support organizations like Camber Outdoors, GirlTrek and the YMCA’s BOLD/GOLD initiative. In May, we’ll be  launching a new $500,000 “Force of Nature” fund, available through an open-call submission process, for organizations that join us in our commitment to make outdoors the world’s largest level playing field.

Today is a milestone in our decades-long journey creating access to life outdoors for all.

– Jerry Stritzke, REI President and CEO

Editor’s note: Today we learned that this week, REI co-founder Mary Anderson died at the age of 107. Our deepest condolences go to her family. She means a lot to us here at the co-op and we are grateful for her legacy.

2017 National Study on Women and the Outdoors

Infographic text:

Women finding freedom outside. More than 85% of women see the outdoors as a key to better physical and mental health and overall well-being. Then why does recent survey data suggest that most women don’t see themselves in this picture?

Role models are rare: Sixty-three percent of women said they could not think of a female outdoor role model.

Barrage of barriers: More than seven in ten women say they would like to spend more time outside than they currently do, but are held back by practical barriers like weather, time and not having someone to go with.

The pressure is on: Seven out of ten women believe that women are under more pressure to conform than men: 73% “be sexy,” 72% “lose weight,” 69% smile more.”

Outside is an oasis: 74% see the outdoors as a place where they’re free from the pressures of everyday life and 72% say they feel liberated or free when they are outdoors.

Encouragement is key: Women who were encouraged to go outside as young girls are more likely to see the value of spending time outside. The top people who encourage you to spend time outdoors: 49% are friends, 40% are mothers, and 30% are fathers. Women who were more encouraged as young girls to spend time outside are more likely to remain active today.

An hour away, once a day: Seventy-three percent of women say they would like to spend more time outdoors. Women who spend at least an hour a day outside on average are more likely to feel equal to men in academia, the outdoors, at work, in the boardroom, politics and on the sports field.

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