The aims of the Women in Adventure project are; to find out what inspires women in adventure so that we can share more of it; to identify anything that makes it more difficult for women to get involved in outdoors adventure so that we can work on ways to address it; and to create a network to share inspiration, information, and ideas.
Our first step was to carry out initial research by conducting a survey on our website. The survey was intended to gather the views of a representative sample of women that participate in outdoors adventure. This page provides a more detailed look at the responses received and the main themes of our findings.
Opening on International Women’s Day (8 March 2016), the survey was completed by over 100 women in the first week. Within six weeks over 400 women from 24 different countries responded, representing more than 35 different adventure sports and outdoors activities.
68% were from the UK and 18% from the USA. 85% of the women that responded joined our network and want to stay involved in our work.
Most women participated in several adventure sports and outdoor activities. The most popular was hiking, enjoyed by 41% of respondents. After that, the most popular sports were mountain and road biking, trail and road running, and climbing of all types including bouldering, sport, and trad.
Snow and ice sports such as snowboarding and skiing, and water sports such as kayaking and open water swimming were also well represented. Beyond this a wide range of other adventure sports were represented in smaller numbers, including skydiving, adventure racing, slacklining, skateboarding, orienteering, canyoning, ultra running and cycle touring.
When asked ‘who are the women that inspire you?’ the message was repeated time and again that women are most inspired by the people they know. Many mentioned their friends, club members, sisters, grandmothers, and mothers. In general they were inspired by people they could relate to, that they felt ‘could be me.’ Naturally, for women that means other women, although a number of responses wanted to be clear that they are not specifically inspired by women, they are also inspired by men, and some by nature too.
When asked about the characteristics that they find inspiring in others, the responses most often mentioned passion, determination, perseverance, strength, resilience, and positivity. The ability to overcome obstacles was a particularly inspiring characteristic, as was being true to yourself.
Women also said that they were inspired by individuals who are supportive and encouraging to others regardless of their ability, as well as showing openness, humility, and kindness. Specifically in relation to adventure, they were inspired by those with an adventurous spirit, a love of the outdoors, and a clear sense of enjoyment and enthusiasm, approaching their adventures with a sense of humour!
The following women were frequently named as being super inspiring! (In no particular order) Rachel Atherton, Emelie Forsberg, Megan Hine, Jessica Ennins-Hill, Paula Radcliffe, Laura Trott, Chrissie Wellington, Steph Davies, Catherine Destivelle, Lynn Hill, Sarah Outen, Shauna Coxey, Lizzy Hawker, Nicky Spinks, Anna Frost, and Lizzie Armitstead.
A wordcloud showing the most commonly used words when answering questions about inspiration:
Goals most commonly focused on specific objectives; to complete a trip or event like a race, to learn something new, to do something new eg wildcamp, to improve eg a climbing grade or a skill, to gain qualifications.
However, many also included goals to increase confidence, to increase fitness or strength, to recover from an injury, build a career in the outdoors or gain sponsorship, or simply to have fun and enjoy the outdoors!
When asked what prevented them from participating as much as they would like to, the barriers that were mentioned overwhelmingly, by more than a third of respondents, were work, time, and money.
After that, the main barriers were injury/health and family commitments, being mentioned by 1 in 10 respondents. This was closely followed by restrictions imposed by location or weather conditions, lack of confidence or lack of partners to go with.
Three in every hundred women said that lack of skills was an issue, however, an equal number of women said that they had no barriers, and nothing prevents them from having outdoor adventures!
A wordcloud showing the most commonly used words when answering questions about barriers:
When asked what issues were important to them, women described the support that they would benefit from. Speaking from a wide range of experience, the support they described was different for those at beginner and entry level, intermediate, and advanced to elite level.
Regardless of experience or ability, there were common themes around role models and representation, and frustration about the limited range and functionality of female-specific gear.
Beginners: At entry level, women wanted to see more friendly and inclusive events for all abilities, in particular events that take the focus off competition and on to achievement. They wanted an environment where it’s ok for beginners not to be very good! Although it was not the majority view, some women were clear that, for them, all-female groups created that safe environment to learn.
Intermediate: At intermediate level, women talked about progression. There was a feeling that some women may be slow to gain confidence in the skills and ability they have developed. Therefore they may not progress or to move into leadership roles as quickly as they might like. Women said that they would benefit from the example of more female instructors and coaches.
Advanced: Experienced adventurers often commented that it can be hard to find other women at the same standard to train and adventure with regularly. This means that it is common for women to consider adventuring alone, and there was an appetite to know more about solo expeditions.
Role models and representation: At all abilities and levels of experience women were happy to see elite role models, but really want to see more ‘ordinary women doing extraordinary things.’ They wanted to see a wider range of women that ‘could be me’ in looks, age, and background. Stories should bridge the gap between aspirational or elite level athletes, which may be unachievable for most, and show how women can progress and succeed at any level.
Gear: At all abilities and levels of experience there was frustration about the limited range, functionality, and style of women’s gear. The most frequent complaint was that clothing is too often restricted to pink and purple, reinforcing a perceived stereotype which is therefore unpopular. Other issues included restricted sizes, and much smaller ranges of women’s gear. At advanced levels some women said that they can’t always find the high performance kit that they require.
In general, women were keen to make it clear that they see things moving in the right direction, or that they have never experienced discrimination or felt restricted because they are female.
Women were clear that the positive change they would like to see includes equal treatment of women and men. For example, coverage of women should be integrated, not through ‘women’s pages,’ and should focus on an individual’s achievements, not on their gender.
In some cases, particularly as beginners, some women said that an all-female environment is a helpful and safe way to learn, although that message was not repeated as a rule. In the majority of cases the comments received recognised the important role that men have to play, and how much women enjoyed adventuring with their male friends and partners as well as other women.
Although our survey was completed by women, this is not a ‘women’s project for women.’ The aim is an inclusive community with equal representation.
As well as answering our questions, many women wanted to tell us what outdoor adventures mean to them. Their passion came across in the exciting, inspiring, and touching stories they submitted.
We would love to tell some of those stories through written word, photography or film, to represent that wider range and variety that women want to see.
Anything submitted via the survey will remain anonymous unless we have express permission from the respondent.
This project is evolving! It doesn’t exist without input from women and men who share our aims. We want to keep our network updated with results and progress, and involve you when we can. If you haven’t already, you can join our network. We would like to reiterate that we will only use your information to contact you about subjects relevant to this project, and that we will never pass your details to third parties.
We are developing a plan of action based on the key findings and detailed information submitted. Some of the actions are quite small, some may be really ambitious! We hope that our findings can be used to inform actions that deliver real change. They are aimed at delivering postive actions, based on the findings of the survey. Particularly in the key areas relating to representation and role models; participation, skills and progression; and gear.
We recognise that we have limited resources and can’t deliver everything on our own. Please get in touch if you would like to work with us to deliver our aims. We would welcome contact from potential partners interested in collaborating on specific projects.
There is potential for further analysis and interpretation of our data. If our knowledge and expertise could be useful to you or your business, please feel free to get in touch about working with us on further research or consultation.
For more information please contact [email protected]
ANNA PAXTON & HETTY KEY
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