First of all, her title is worthy of envy.
Rebecca Bear is Director of Experiences at REI, the outdoors outfitter. And her name is apropos as well for someone who spends a far amount of time hiking and perhaps encountering or avoiding bears.
Working at REI for a dozen years, Bear has spent a lifetime seizing the connection between the outdoors and the inner workings of individuals, dedicating years to seeing that young girls understand that leadership can begin outside.
“The outdoors really does not see your gender,” says Bear, who recently returned from a 21-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon wither her two daughters, ages 11 and 14. “The mountains and trees don’t care what your gender or body shape is,” she says.
In a 2017 study of more than 2,000 women, REI researchers found that 74 percent of the women surveyed said in the outdoors they feel free. More than 85 percent said they believe that the outdoors positively affect mental and physical health, overall well-being and happiness.In a 2017 @REI study of more than 2000 women, researchers found that 74% of women surveyed said in the #outdoors they feel free. #LeadershipOutdoors Click To Tweet
Seventy-two percent say they feel under pressure by different aspects of their lives to conform to social pressure. The majority said that being outdoors is a way to escape those pressure.
“Women can come together and realize they can do more than they thought they could,” Bear says.
And yet, according to the study, 63 percent of women said they could not think of an outdoor female role model. Six in 10 women say that men’s interests in outdoor activities are taken more seriously than women’s.
And Bear has a lifetime of experience proving this concept. Growing up she lived in Colorado, Illinois, Arizona and the Northwest, and in the 90s, began a career of linking outdoor experiences to lessons of leadership.
Bear founded Passages Northwest, now a part of GOLD, or Girls Outdoor Leadership. She also worked with Girls Rock, a leadership development program for girls in middle school, now part of YWCA programming. Both are recipients of REIs Force of Nature Grants, a $500,000 fund launched in 2017.@REI Director of Experiences @RebeccaKBear has dedicated years to seeing that young girls understand that #leadership can begin outside. Tell us your stories of #LeadershipOutdoors! Click To Tweet
In 2017, REI announced it would spend $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 supports organizations like Camber Outdoors, GirlTrek and the YMCA’s BOLD/GOLD initiative. Another round of grants will be awarded in 2018.
In related news, Camber Outdoors, formerly the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition, works with companies to accelerate and achieve equity for all in the outdoors, recently launched a partnership with “Deckers Brands companies — Hoka One One, Sanuk and Teva — in an effort to promote equity and women’s leadership in the workplace,” according to Footwear News.
Some states also offer programming specifically for women in the outdoors. Becoming an Outdoors Woman program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources next month offers a two-day skills workshop along the Superior Hiking Trail.
“One of my themes is learning to overcome fears of adventuring in the outdoors,” Jo Swanson, trail development director for the Superior Hiking Trail Association, tells Eden Prairie News. “We live in a culture of fear and people react strongly when women go on outdoors adventures, especially when they go alone. The truth is that with planning and preparation, the outdoors can be a very safe place.”
“When it comes to engagement and activity, the outdoors is a level playing field,” Bear says. “It is a place where women feel free and confident, liberated from the standards and expectation of society. The outdoors is a personal journey of strength building.”
With that in mind, REI launches its Outessa offerings of women’s retreats, the first in Lake Tahoe August 2.@REI is launching its #Outessa offerings of women's retreats, the first in Lake Tahoe, August 2nd! Click To Tweet
“We have to change the sense of what women should and shouldn’t be doing outdoors,” Bear says. “We have to crash through the imagery of the lone man on top of the mountain and crate an inclusive, multi-cultural friendly view of the outdoors.”
The recent Women in The Outdoors Week held in New York, showed there is more than a gender gap outdoors, there is also a race gap.
“The emphasis of the festival may have been to empower more women to connect with the wilderness, but as Mina Okapi, founder of Black People Who Love Outdoors And Adventure, reminded attendees, there is still much work to be done on increasing adventure participation among ethnic minorities, too,” according to RedBull News.
“We need to change our mindset and breakdown the limits that either society has or ourselves have imposed,” Okapi says.
“Bethany Lebewitz, founder of Brown Girls Climb, believes joining a community of like-minded women can ‘build confidence, ensure you have fun and help you break statistics and stereotypes together. We climb over generations of oppression, injustice, abuse, rape, and self-deprecation. We climb over doubts, fears, struggles, and insults on a daily basis,'” Lebewitz tells Red Bull.
Many outdoors brands are trying to engage more women and persons of color.
According to Outside, “Many gear companies have committed to hiring more women, and some are making strides toward diversity in their advertising and marketing. REI’s numerous diversity initiatives include the popular 2017 Force of Nature campaign, which featured stories of female adventurers, many of them women of color. And recent North Face ads have highlighted athletes from diverse backgrounds, including women of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and black and adaptive climbers. “
Encouraging multicultural engagement with the outdoors is a focus for REI, Bear says.
As an expert personally and professionally in the outdoors, Bear says what some women miss is that benefiting from being outdoors does not have to be some grand adventure to an exotic locale.
“It doesn’t have to be a big expedition in Nepal, it’s the everyday that connects you. You can find moments in nature to rejuvenate and regenerate yourself,” Bear says. “What we’re trying to do is connect women to each other to a daily routine of being outside because a life outdoors is a life of health and wellness.”
And in those moments, when women challenge themselves outdoors, Bear says, the benefits translate to lessons of leadership and self-awareness.
“Women realize, ‘I can do more than I thought I could.’ In a women’s only space, it allows the freedom then to go back to a gendered space where they will step forward more often. That experience will translate to other environments.”