Leadership Conference 2016: Recap from Women's Experience in the Outdoors

We hosted a discussion about women's experience in the outdoors at our Leadership Conference on December 3. Read about our conversation and get updates on The Mountaineers' equity and inclusion efforts.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
December 23, 2016
Co-written by Tess Wendel and Leone Kraus, Mountaineers staff members and discuss facilitators

As part of the Leadership Conference, we hosted our first-ever session focused on the women’s experience in the outdoors. This session offered an opportunity for our leaders to connect and share insights surrounding the women’s experience in the outdoors and learn about the unique challenges women experience in the outdoors. 

The session included a silent discussion where participants wrote responses to specific questions. One question was only for women to answer, one question was for only men to answer, and one was for both men and women to answer. We've outlined the questions and main discussion points below. The asterix* next to specific comments denote the number of highlights (or thumbs up) certain comments received during the discussion. Minor edits have been made to comments for clarity but no major overhauls have been executed.

Questions we asked

What's one thing you’d like to know from women about their experience in the outdoors? (Men only answer)

  • How do we not be creepy?
  • What’s fair game to discuss as it relates to female products and issues on the trail?
  • Do you have feedback on how my leadership was for you?
  • How do male leaders interact differently with women?
  • What is the best way to communicate to a group that is inclusive, not intimidating?
  • What are the barriers?
  • What is the most common “blind spot” men who lead trips make regarding women team members?
  • What makes the experience fun for women?
  • How can I best welcome my technically skilled female partner outside?
  • What can men do to increase women’s experiences?
  • What is the one thing trip leaders can do to make for an enjoyable experience?
  • What’s an easy/acceptable way to be “inclusive” without being explicit; or is being explicit okay?
  • Regarding the “prove themselves” comment on the other sheet: I want to know more and work toward a solution. What specifically makes anyone feel they have to prove anything? Are there any action items you would suggest?
  • When you go adventuring with your male partner, what are the most important things he does to maximize the experience for you?

What’s the one thing you’d like men to know about the women’s experience in the outdoors? (Women only)

  • How much women feel they have to “prove themselves” to men to be accepted and valued in the outdoors, especially around technical skills. ***
  • I’m strong, competent, and can climb harder than you so don’t assume I won’t swap leads or climb the crux or be able to teach technical skills the same as you. **
  • Don’t give me a difficult time about taking too long to use the “facili-trees”. I just had to remove my gear from the waist down and disrobe. And squat. Why don’t you try it?
  • I don’t feel separate or different unless someone goes out of their way to point it out. Just treat me like a member of the team, I’ll pull my weight. **
  • It’s actually not a compliment to say “you’re strong for a girl!” I’m not strong for a girl, I’m just strong. ***
  • I’m not here to find a husband!!!!!**
  • Sometimes we are put in situations where we are pitted against one another in order to prove our worth.
  • Nope, I don’t want to sleep with or date you people - get that!
  • We will usually ask for help when we need it. Don’t need to be “rescued.”
  • I am slow but steady and sturdy and I don’t need you to carry my pack!*
  • Talk to me as an equal and peer. Not condescending when giving me advice, pointers, tips. (Whatever.)
  • How do you feel?
  • Do you feel safe hiking alone?
  • Safety is not really about nurture, it is often about who you may encounter hiking outside.
  • We approach challenges differently.
  • We access challenges differently.
  • Think before engaging maybe because physical strength is not our dominant skill.
  • We all have DNA and are human.
  • When I’m leading a trip, talk to me and not my husband!
  • Our intuition isn’t always right.
  • When we’re hiking or climbing solo, you may be friendly or helpful but we may be sizing you up as a predator or a friend.
  • We are competent.
  • How to not be seen as a piece of meat in classes or male-dominated outing.*
  • Many of us are here for ourselves and not our significant other.

What is unique about the women’s experience in the outdoors? (Both women and men)

  • We often feel like the exception.
  • Passionate ability.
  • Sometimes hazards in the wilderness are less intimidating for us than hazards we face in “front-country.” *
  • Some may be raised with a message that it’s dangerous outside as opposed to primarily beautiful or empowering.
  • Some people expect us to be worse climbers without even knowing us.
  • My lack of experience is seen as a weakness due to my gender, not because I’m new to something.
  • Attitude toward risk-taking and honest self-assessment of own skills/abilities.
  • Often we are alone amongst a sea of gray beards!**
  • Family and friends worry more about us which tells us they are not competent.
  • We harbor feminine power and are intuitive.
  • We often can’t get outdoors with friends. We are a minority on trips.
  • Judged or evaluated on my skills and fitness just off my size.
  • Let me speak.
  • We can shine!
  • Judged on how you look rather than skills.
  • Uniquely allow us to be equal contributors to a team.
  • Glaring equals decrease in self-confidence.
  • Different viewpoints and teaching.
  • We love the journey, not just the destination.
  • When climbing we are usually outnumbered by men. ****
  • It is our nature to nurture. Success is not always a summit -- it is also about creating a comforting space.



We have a rich legacy of getting women outside. The Mountaineers were founded in 1906 with 151 members - 77 of whom were women. But the roles of males and females were hardly equal - a gap we continue to focus on closing.

In 2013, our Seattle Climbing Committee’s Stef Schiller made efforts to mentor more climb leaders and to create spaces for women in climbing courses was highlighted in our magazine and on our blog. Stef credits one female climb leader mentor for her inspiration to push on in a male dominated sport, which is why she continues to advocate for more female climb leaders and mentors at The Mountaineers.

In 2015, we posted a blog titled Sexism in the Outdoors, which still continues to be an issue in our courses and activities and is one of our most popular blogs to date. In 2016, our Director of Education, Becca Polglase posted a blog titled Start with Silence: Improving Equity in the Outdoors. The blog highlights the Progressive Stack approach, which explores how generations of conditioning and culture play in one’s ability to have their voice heard -- particularly for women and minorities. We encourage you to read the blog and to consider the steps Becca outlines to ensure people feel heard and included in outings. 


We're continuing to explore how "women's experience in the outdoors" and "women-focused activities" should be a priority as part of our inclusion and equity efforts moving forward. While we understand that one session at the Leadership Conference will not fix all of the challenges  women have experienced in our courses and activities, it's important to continue this open-dialogue.

Since the session, efforts to integrate more content and resources around harassment and discrimination are being added to our Leader Resources Seminar. We are also working to better highlight how our members can submit a complaint for harassment or discrimination. Further, we are looking into producing more sessions that address the unique experiences women face in a male-dominated setting for next year’s Leadership Conference. It's imperative that everyone feels safe and included in The Mountaineers.

We also hope that some of the experiences highlighted in the silent discussion allow you to think - whether you’re male or female - about how you engage with others in our community. It can be helpful to stop and think about your communication and how it impacts others. If you're unsure about how to phrase a compliment or critical feedback for a particular person, it never hurts to ask how they'd like that information. 

As a leader it can be helpful to start your activity with a simple introductory statement that welcomes feedback on your language... "Hi, I'm Tess and I'm here to ensure each of you learns how to tie your knots today. I'll be offering tips and tricks, positive encouragement and some critical feedback. As I'm providing feedback please don't hesitate to let me know if you would like what I'm saying to you presented differently." By simply asking how you come off to others, you are enabling equity and inclusion to occur.

We hope you found the above session recap helpful and look forward to keeping you updated on our progress to create a more inclusive and safe space for all of our members.


In the session, findings from outdoor researchers Mary McClintock and Karen Warren were shared. Attendees were given a copy of Mary McClintock’s and Karen Warren’s “Why Women’s Outings?” article published in the 1995 Women’s Voices in Experiential Education journal. The article was recently republished in 2016 on the Wild Women’s Expedition blog, which you can read here for free.

To protect the privacy of our members, we have not included images from the session or the names of individuals who participated in the session in our blog recap. If you have thoughts or comments that you would like to add, please make them in the comment section below. If you would like to leave feedback but wish to remain anonymous, you may email info@mountaineers.org or mail your response to The Mountaineers, 7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle WA 98115 and our team will be happy to post them for you anonymously. Your comments and thoughts are valued and encouraged.

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Margaret Hunt
Margaret Hunt says:
Thu, Jan 5, 2017 10:20 AM

I was at this session, and thank you very much to the organizers!
There is another topic: ageing hikers, maybe women in particular. We are not fast, but this is not any comment on our competency. We need ways to test out where our limits are now, as opposed to back in the day when we climbed Rainier. That and other issues that I am sure some older women have--and men, too, if they would admit it.