A Patagonia rep's advice for changing the gender ratio

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Patagonia representative Kathleen Gillett is often the only woman in the room (or on the mountain). She offers her tips for changing that ratio.

Kathleen Gillett is Patagonia’s only East Coast sales rep. There are 26 wholesale reps total, and 22 of those are men. Though women abound in marketing positions and lifestyle sectors, Gillett says, finding a woman representing a technical line is fairly rare.

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“As far as women’s sales reps in the industry, there aren’t a lot of them,” Gillett said. “I think that’s because a lot of people think of men as being the more technical users.”

Photo: Bill Klyn

Photo: Bill Klyn

After working for companies like Mountain Hardwear, Royal Robbins, Smith and Gramicci, and now Patagonia, Gillett knows the industry, and she has a few ideas about how women can succeed in the outdoor arena and how the industry can meet them halfway.

Get to the point, and don't let others' preconceptions get you down.
Gillett says her own honesty and directness has helped her succeed.

“I like to say what I mean. It allows me to accomplish more instead of the going back and forth,” she said. At the same time, her characteristic candor has drawn surprise or disapproval from colleagues who would receive the same frankness from a man without batting an eye.

“As a woman, being very direct and very upfront becomes a catch-22,” she said. “Some people still want you to be an emotional, feeling woman and are caught off guard when you’re direct and to the point.” Others, she said, disapprove when a straight-shooting businesswoman shows any sign of emotion. This is something women should be aware of but not discouraged by.

“We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way,” Gillett advises. “Focus on what can be changed and accomplished, embrace your strengths, and believe in yourself.”

Be a team player.
One of Gillett’s secrets to success is remaining present and engaged in the success of everyone around her, whether that’s her retail partners, peers or colleagues.

“I want every brand to be successful because I want retail to be successful,” she said. “For me, it’s not about competition; it’s about trying to do what’s right for everyone. Sometimes you’re on top and sometimes you’re not. It’s just the reality of life.”

What the outdoor industry needs to do to address diversity:
1. Be aware of the disparity. The outdoor industry, particularly on the technical side, is male-dominated, even where women’s-specific gear is concerned. Gillett says this has a domino effect that perpetuates the gender divide. When technical designers and producers are men, she said, many jobs in the field trickle down to men as well. A conscious effort to increase diversity could turn this pattern around.

2. Avoid categorizing. ���Some men are going to be stronger, faster, or have different endurance levels, but I don’t think that makes a male athlete better than a female athlete – it just makes them different,” Gillett said. She would like to see athletes as well as consumers treated as individuals and valued for their individual merits rather than being categorized by gender right off the bat.

3. Release men’s and women’s products together. Gillett said she’s often seen new or innovative products come out in a men’s version first and a women’s much later. That’s something she’d like to see change whenever possible.

“I think they should always be offered at the same time,” she said. However, Gillett does acknowledge gender differences that might provide exceptions to this ideal.

“Men and women shop differently,” Gillett said. Women often look at an expensive technical coat or other piece of gear as a long-term investment, whereas, in Gillett’s experience, men are more likely to see gear as a new gadget subject to regular updates — and subsequent purchases. Women also prefer different colors and patterns to men, and, of course, are much more likely to wear skirts.

However, there are plenty of women who are technical users, and Gillett says few companies have bridged the divide between looking technical and looking feminine.

“Women don’t want to look like guys,” she said. But they still want their gear to perform.

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