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Jen Gurecki | 08.01.2019

Over the years, I’ve gained a bit of a reputation for being outspoken, for saying what needs to be said, and for giving zero fucks about what people think. So it might come as a surprise that I’ve concurrently bit my tongue about the self-doubt that I’ve grappled with as a woman business owner in a male-dominated industry.

Why?

Because my intuition that gender bias was at play didn’t feel like a valid enough argument. I was afraid to share my story because I didn’t have the facts to back up my feelings. I didn’t want to be judged or considered weak and whiny. But the latest research out of Stanford University, published in the peer-reviewed article titled “Gender Inequality in Product Markets: When and How Status Beliefs Transfer to Products,” validated my concerns and explained so much of what I haven’t been able to put into words. Thank you Elise Tak, Shelley J. Correll, and Sarah A. Soule—I owe you a drink.

These researchers discovered in three different studies that women who create products in male-dominated industries are at a disadvantage because people believe they are less competent than men. They also found that the participants of the studies (both men and women) believed that products typically thought of as “male” products—think beer, lawnmowers, power tools, camping equipment—made by women are seen as lower quality. None of this surprises me.

For years I have faced frequent microaggressions at the helm of Coalition Snow. I’ve been asked if our skis are any good, to which I answer, no, they fucking suck. I’ve faced skepticism from others about whether we are a real ski company or have simply figured out how to market to women. Thank you for the compliment? I’ve been asked who really has been behind the designs the skis—because clearly we don’t fit the mold of a cis-gendered white heterosexual ski bro, so we must be incapable.

And while this all may seem insignificant, when you know that your male peers do not have to explain their existence, you realize that there is a toll for the emotional labor of being a woman in this industry. The more time and energy we allocate to simply explaining why we deserve a seat at the table are resources that we are not allocating toward running our businesses. It’s exhausting, time consuming, and limiting.

Beyond the emotional labor, there are real, tangible, financial implications for this study. If you don’t believe women make a high-quality product, you are less likely to buy it. That is less revenue for women-owned businesses. Personally, while my feelings may be able to rebound from peoples’ bias, will my bottom line? Profits matter. It’s what keeps the doors open, allowing us to employ people, purchase inventory, and compete with marketing and advertising dollars. It’s what allows us to invest in the social and environmental causes we believe in, to use business as a tool for change, and to continue to be role models and mentors to other entrepreneurs. You can’t be what you can’t see, so if we cease to exist, who’s left?

This isn’t the first study that isolates gender bias as a significant barrier to women’s advancement in the workplace. In fact, it adds to an expansive body of research that highlights the double standards that exist for men and women in the workplace. But this study helps to explain why we don’t see more women starting businesses that defy gender norms in the outdoor industry.

Perhaps the suffering isn’t worth it. Yes, it’s difficult for anyone to start a business, regardless of gender. Being an entrepreneur requires the ability to navigate the emotional roller coaster of soul-crushing lows and adrenaline-filled highs. There is so much uncertainty, and it often feels like your future failure or success is hinging on every single decision. But this is one more layer of bullshit that may steer women away from pursuing their calling and challenging limiting societal norms.

I’m not the right person to advise on how we overcome bias. Start with The Avarna Group, which works on this issue and other justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in the outdoors and beyond. Instead, on the regular, I’m taking a deep look inside to consider how I think women are “supposed” to show up. White women. Women of color. Trans women. What limitations am I putting on myself? What limitations am I placing on others? Bias doesn’t always reveal itself in overt sexism; it is nuanced and embedded in so much of what we take for granted. The more that I can understand my role in it and speak about it, the more I hope to encourage others to do the same so that these critical issues don’t remain silenced.

There have also been a million books written on business, and depending on your particular good or service, whether you want to scale or stay small, there are going to be varying considerations. My advice is to become a sponge—read as much as you can, listen to podcasts, create an advisory council, speak to your (potential) customers, talk with other entrepreneurs. One of my favorite business books is The Lean Start-Up, I read The Daily Carnage religiously, and I have at least two coffee/whiskey dates with fellow entrepreneurs per month to share ideas and resources and find ways to collaborate.

But here’s some advice, from one entrepreneur who’s still figuring her shit out to you: Whatever you do, just start. Perfect is the enemy of good. Rather than trying to create a product or service that is perfect, something that pleases everyone, recognize that some people will simply not like what you do or make for myriad reasons. Strive to design the best equipment and services that your industry has ever seen because you can. Understand your purpose—what problem are you trying to solve and how will you do that in a way that aligns with your values? Partner up to fill the holes that every single business will have. Try, fail, succeed, rinse, and repeat. And finally, don’t quit. It’s so tempting when you are overwhelmed or feel like an imposter or miss a major milestone. You have to stay in the race, even if you are bloody and bruised.

Ultimately, this study isn’t defeating. It’s another data point that details the obstacles women entrepreneurs face. Data is a tool, and the more tools we have to work with, the more informed decisions we can make for our businesses. Perhaps more importantly, it is a call to action to show the fuck up, take up space, and be the best entrepreneurs we can be. Clearly the world needs us, even if society hasn’t realized it yet.

Jen Gurecki is the co-founder and CEO of Coalition Snow, a woman-owned and operated ski and snowboard company. When they zig, we zag. #sisterhoodofshred. She also founded Zawadisha​​​​​, a social enterprise whose mission is to provide small loans to rural Kenyan women to finance their livelihoods. #investinwomen. In 2018, Jen cycled across the continent of Africa, where the idea for Sisu Magazine was born. She serves as the Editor for Sisu, a quarterly mag whose mission is to uncover the untold stories of the outdoors. #gritandguts.

Jen has a master’s degree from Prescott College and dropped out of her PhD program when she realized that being a CEO was more productive than being a grad student. She’s been featured in Forbes Magazine, Huck Magazine, and most recently Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the Top 50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs. She spends her evenings recording the podcast Juicy Bits and reminiscing about the time she turned down an offer from Bode Miller to buy Coalition Snow on the television show Adventure Capitalists. Follow her various ventures on Instagram @coalitionsnow, @zawadisha, and @sisumagazine.

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Women in the Wild 2019

Women in the Wild is a movement that recognizes the amazing women who enrich the outdoor community with their passions, inspirations, and accomplishments. Outdoor Project is proud to grow this campaign in 2019 with the help of guest editor and 2018 #womaninthewild Georgina Miranda, adventurer, entrepreneur, mountaineer, and founder and CEO of She Ventures. We're proud to open our platform once again for the incredible stories and photography of women throughout our community. From in-depth interviews with outdoor advocates, influencers, and athletes to female-focused content from the community, Women in the Wild 2019 aims to amplify the voice of women in celebration of female fortitude, strength, and camaraderie in the outdoors.

For a complete list of content published in correlation with Women in the Wild 2019, visit Women in the Wild 2019: Amplifying Women in the Outdoors.

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