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Is Women’s Leadership in the Snow Sports Industry on the Rise? And Why Does it Matter? Some Top Industry Leaders Weigh In

June 6, 2016 | 0 Comments

According to a new study released recently by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and audit firm EY, out of the 22,000 publicly traded companies that the study reviewed, almost 60 percent had no female board members, more than 50 percent had no female executives, and just under 5 percent had a female chief executive.

The study also found that having women in the highest corporate offices is correlated with at least a 15% increase in profitability. So it seems like a no-brainer to get some women at the management table, right?

While there is no specific data for women’s leadership positions in snow sports companies, it’s no secret our industry is somewhat male dominated. But there were definite clues at the 2016 SIA Snow Show that a shift is underway.

At the 2016 Show, we spoke to women in industry leadership positions to hear their thoughts on whether gender diversity in the snow sports workforce seems to be increasing. In addition, Mark Satkiewicz, president of SmartWool, delivered a keynote address at the Show for the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition awards breakfast about SmartWool’s initiative in this area.

Satkiewicz made exactly the point that the Petersen/EY study showed – that gender diversity is good for business. “Being relevant today includes gender diversity at the core of how you operate,” he said. “It gives you a better framework for making decisions. It’s imperative to enable you to run a better business, and at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all here for.”

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Keynote presenter Mark Satkiewicz, president of SmartWool, at the 2016 OIWC Awards Breakfast

“Overall, there are many reasons for having a gender diverse workforce, but it boils down to three main points. Having a gender balanced management team improves financial performance, women offer a complimentary skillset to men, and women are our best consumers. Our sales data have shown that a gender diversified workforce is the best path to our company’s success,” Satkiewicz concluded.

Kim Walker, owner of Outdoor Divas Women’s Ski Shop in Vail said she was impressed by the turnout at the SmartWool presentation and by the message there, adding that she felt it was indicative of a growing trend in the industry.

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Kim Walker, owner, Outdoor Divas

“It shows that people are really paying attention to gender diversity, to see this many people come out and be engaged,” Walker said. “The fact that SmartWool, such a big company, is putting so many resources and efforts into gender diversity is inspiring. And then seeing what other companies are doing for it, like Vail Resorts’ current Women’s initiatives, it’s clear that it is just growing and growing. More women are getting involved, and it is not going to end, and that is really exciting.”

SIA research shows that 42% of snow sports consumers are women, and that 95% of household spending decisions are made by women. Add that to the 4% increase in women’s gear sold in the 2014/15 season, totaling over $1.6B, and it’s no wonder snow sports companies are realizing that women are a key factor in the health of the industry.

When we asked women who are leaders in the industry why they thought women’s leadership helps the overall wellbeing of snow sports, the answers always pointed back to equalizing the playing field, whether that was at the corporate meeting table or on the slopes.

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Icelantic Skis, CEO, Annelise Loevlie

Annelise Loevlie, CEO of Icelantic said, “I do think the fact that I am running the company influences women consumers. It’s a kind of validation for them, and the fact that I participate in the sport adds to that. It’s very important that all women are able to get the right equipment to help them enjoy their time on the mountain. Producing quality women’s gear is the first priority, but I also think it helps build confidence to see that we have a woman CEO.”

Rhonda Swenson, owner of Krimson Klover agreed that when women consumers know women have a direct influence on a company, it not only makes the company’s products more appealing but also gives women a positive view into a company that thrives with women’s leadership.

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Rhonda Swenson, founder, Krimson Klover

“When we’re successful in telling our story, that we’re women-owned and women-run, that we have women-owned factories, I think that’s a really strong appeal to a lot of our consumers,” she said. “Of course, they still have to like what they see to buy it, but I do think that’s compelling to a lot of our consumers, and we do try hard to tell that story.”

Jen Gurecki, owner and founder of Coalition Snow, the first-ever woman-owned ski company, said it inspires female consumers as well as women in the industry to see a woman start a company in a traditionally male field.

“The idea to start the company came about on a backcountry ski trip a few years ago, just talking about the state of the industry, and what was happening with women in particular, and I thought, now is the time,” Gurecki said.

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Jen Gurecki, founder, Coalition Snow

“I honestly believe it’s not just about women’s specific gear, it’s about women in leadership positions,” Gurecki added.  “If we really want to see things shift, we need to be at the table, and we need women who are calling more shots. More than 8 million women are participating in snow sports. Women are so important as consumers, and they value female-led companies. When you have a company like Coalition in the industry, that uplifts all women. It gives us a greater position in the industry. You don’t come to a party you’re not invited to, you know?”

Walker and fellow retail veteran Tracy Gibbons, owner of of Sturdevant’s in Bellvue, WA, both agree that as gender diversification grows in our industry, so will participation, and therefore, the overall health of the industry.

Gibbons said that she sees a growing array of women’s specific offering each season and is happy that the suppliers are getting more and more tuned in to a process that creates a quality women’s product.

“Ultimately the companies that we are working with that have been the most successful in their women’s programs are sure to include a female in every stage of it. To me that is the key,” she explained.

 “We’re seeing some nice new lightweight technology with a reasonable fit for the gal who skis greens and blues her whole life. She doesn’t have to be a beginner, but we can put a beginner in it. That’s definitely a market that companies are finally figuring out. This year we are actually going to have multiple choices in that category, which is great. Kudos to all of those companies that are getting on board with the gear for women just entering the sport, because that is a key factor in growing participation.”

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Tracy Gibbons, owner, Sturdevant’s

Walker agreed that the right women’s gear and correct fit is crucial, and is seeing a constantly busy shop at Outdoor Divas in Vail because of it. “I think it’s so important to have a place for women to come where they can feel comfortable and build confidence,” she said. “If we can make each customer more comfortable and more confident with the right gear, hopefully she is going to stick with the sport and then her family will stick with it as well.”

A gender diversified workforce is obviously a crucial factor for companies who want to be successful, and it’s also clear that it’s crucial for the overall health of our industry. As Satkiewicz concluded in his keynote presentation, “If you think this concept is risky, it’s not. The only risk is not diversifying. We’ve proven it in our data and sales performance. If we can get this done collectively and collaboratively in the greater industry, we can move on to the next challenge.”

Read more about the OIWC Awards breakfast, with information about the award winners, including SIA’s own Director of Research, Kelly Davis. For more information about the SIA Snow Show, visit SIAsnowshow.com.

 

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