Camber Outdoors is leading a diversity revolution in the outdoor industry.
By Carly Terwilliger
You hear about it constantly in the outdoor industry – there’s a diversity problem. Whether or not companies are rolling up their sleeves to address it, the conversation is flying from person to person, trade show to trade show, waiting for its moment.
Above all this chatter, Camber Outdoors is taking a hard line on a practical solution, holding to the organization’s focus on women and making its CEO Pledge an attractive proposition for a score of outdoor companies.
Founded in 1996 as the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition, Camber Outdoors started its pledge in partnership with eight companies by asking, “How do we create something companies and executives feel invested in?” The idea was to spark a change in culture, and Buck is encouraged by the pledge’s success so far.
Success Through Diversity
The key to the pledge is that it requires real action and real change. It’s relatively easy for a business to proclaim that it’s making gender equity a priority, but it’s more difficult to make that statement a reality. The former is “aspirational,” which is a good start, said Camber Outdoors Executive Director Deanne Buck. “It’s the first step toward having our companies feel like they’re in this together.” Once a company gets the ball rolling, she continued, it’s only a matter of time before team members start to see and feel the difference.
“We had one company that, a year and half later, was still working on it, because they really wanted to understand where to put their resources,” Buck explained. “Then with other companies, they get it right away and say, of course, this makes sense.” Buck understands that companies go about implementing the pledge in different ways, but regardless of method the message remains the same: “Diverse talent is the right business decision.”
The Great Untapped Opportunity
The lack of diversity built into companies’ infrastructure is a hurdle that deals with frequently. “It’s not so much that they didn’t want the best talent,” she said, but the framework in which to discover and hire that talent didn’t exist yet. To respond to this, “We did different research to find out what levers companies needed to be successful.”
Even more important than diversity-friendly infrastructure is getting 100 percent of the team on board. “Participation is critical,” stressed Buck. “It’s not about a single person.”
Business success through women’s leadership may not hinge on one person, but a CEO signing Camber Outdoors pledge can have a real effect on the rest of the company. “When KEEN started their Women of KEEN program, their success was to put a system in place,” explained Buck. “And Arc’teryx started their commitment by looking at a deep dive for themselves.” She continued, “After Outdoor Research signed the pledge, they relayed that there has been a positive difference in their culture.”
To make a seasonal comparison, it’s a snowball effect. And at Camber itself, the movement is also gathering steam. The organization’s Jobs Board started out as the centerpiece, but Camber was soon asking, “How do we get bigger than that?” They wanted to show that companies that take the pledge are the best places to work in the industry, bar none.
Women On The Rise
The challenge for Camber Outdoors is to harness the passion of those in the industry for things like sustainability and climate change and channel it toward gender equity. “Passion is an opportunity we have that other industries don’t,” said Buck. “Outdoor companies and their consumers are passionate about things.” It just hasn’t quite occurred to everyone to be passionate about this. “The message resonates, but it’s taken a while.”
Our conversation ended on a positive note, with Buck commenting, “What’s really fascinating is, it’s moving. The industry is evolving.” She sees that evolution leading to growth and grassroots change, but what she’s even more confident in is that Camber Outdoors can’t do it alone. “It’s important for us, but it’s bigger than us,” she concluded.
To learn more about the Camber Outdoors CEO Pledge, visit camberoutdoors.org/ceo-pledge.
Photos courtesy Camber Outdoors