In light that it’s 2016—nearly a century following women’s suffrage, the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment, and 80 years since the country’s first ski resort opened in Sun Valley, Idaho—the slice of women that are in leadership positions in the industry is shockingly delayed.
“We’re the only company in world that exists like this—there is no other woman-founded company with all of the executive seats held by women in the industry,” said Coalition Snow CEO Jen Gurecki, who founded the company in 2014 to fill a void of women-run companies the market.
While other snow sports companies may employ women, seek their product feedback, or sponsor them as athletes, all of those positions are not equivalent to holding a managerial chair.
“There’s a difference between having a voice in a company and having high-level decision-making abilities in executive and leadership positions. Having a voice is the bare minimum. Plenty of companies in and out of sports include women’s voices,” said Gurecki—but women and men each have their own gender lens. “When women are in high leadership positions, companies perform better, and this isn’t just specific to ski industry. This is in the business sector."
When women occupy C-level positions, the bottom line goes up, according to a 2016 study released last month by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which found that a 30 percent increase in women-held positions in top management boosts profit by 15 percent. A sea of variables affects productivity and innovation, including the engagement of a workplace and supportive leadership. Gender diversity is one factor that can lead to a larger pool of ideas, viewpoints and market insights, according to Gallup market research. And the incongruity triggers a higher level of problem solving.
In the outdoor industry, women only hold 4 percent of all C-suite titles, said Amy Luther, Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition program director, in a January 2016 announcement covering the OIWC’s professional mentoring program for women.
Marketing can also influence the status of women—or any group of people—and groups’ representations can alter the bottom line through inclusion, said Gurecki. The industry took a step back last December when Burton debuted snowboards featuring Playboy bunnies.
“Men and women both work hard to elevate the status of women in the industry. When a company as powerful as Burton makes an active decision to represent women in that way, the work is eroded,” she said. “The industry as a whole did not challenge it.”
When professional halfpipe skier Rosalind Groenewoud, a.k.a. Roz G—Coalition’s new and first sponsored athlete—discovered the brand, she reached out immediately to ask if they would manufacture a personalized ski design for her.
Sponsored previously by two well-established companies (Rossignol and Scott Sports, three and four years respectively), Groenewoud thought that Coalition—a growing company without a park or pipe ski model—would be receptive to the request, as it could expand the brand’s product line.
As a small-batch company, Groenewoud works closely with Coalition Snow's manufacturers throughout the design process. Larger companies typically have a longer communication line from the management company to the manufacturers and owners, which takes more time.
“In all other ski brands, the CEO is not directly talking to the manufacturers about the ski designs. Gurecki connects me to them,” said Groenewoud. “It’s great to work with a women’s company and not feel that my needs and wants are always second to the men on the team. It’s not true of all companies, but in a general, as a female skier, the companies you work with make you feel second fiddle to all of the male athletes.”
Gurecki also battles the financial barrier of snow sports through Coalition’s loan program. Inspired by Zawadishi—a nonprofit that she founded, which supports rural Kenyan women through micro-loans and business training—the program hinges on references rather than credit or collateral. Regardless of credit score or cash, a woman can purchase her ride of choice.
Coalition solicits product feedback from a core group of more than 20 female ambassadors, and meets with peer advisors—men and women—for business guidance. Across the board, snow sports companies follow the same general formula from conception to sale, Gurecki said: data-driven designs inform a prototype that is tested, tweaked and perfected.
“It’s not rocket science or a process that any other hardgoods or softgoods company doesn’t go through,” Gurecki said. “The fundamental difference is that women are the deciders from step one to the last step. I would love to get to a point where women aren’t an exception [as business leaders]—they are a rule.”