New women's programs floating around the industry

Orvis and others launch new efforts focused at getting more women on the water
Lonnie Allen, Three Rivers Ranch owner
Lonnie Allen, Three Rivers Ranch owner and outfitter, leads the morning meeting with her male-dominated, fly-fishing guide staff (photo: Kris Millgate).

I remember well the day I fished with Lonnie Allen, Three Rivers Ranch owner and outfitter. It's the first time I had a woman correct my cast. That's usually a chore men take on because I rarely fish with ladies. Allen can relate. She jumped in the river long before my legs were strong enough to keep me upright.

"The name outfitter was mainly for men," Allen says. "It wasn't something that women did so I kind of feel like I entered a whole new world."

I entered the same male-dominated world when I changed my reporting career from general assignment to outdoors 11 years ago. I know more about fishing than fashion so it's a niche I relish without festering over my minority status.

When I work, or fish, gender is irrelevant, but that isn't true for all women. They're more aware than I am that they're outnumbered outside.

"Women told us, 'I can see myself shopping at an Orvis store for my husband or my dog, but you don't have anything to offer me,'" says Christine Atkins, Orvis Web Merchant Analyst. "We've been trying to bring those women back and show them we've changed."

Many other companies and organizations are changing too and the gender gap in the outdoor industry is shrinking. Case in point, Outdoor Writers Association of America. My term on its board ended in June. When I started three years ago, there were less than a handful of women on the board. Now, it's split evenly by gender for the first time in the organization's 90-year history.

This is the year the pendulum swings toward ladies who need a push to the river's edge and the new Orvis 50/50 program is part of that swing.

"Women are the fastest growing segment when it comes to fly fishing and that's a business opportunity," Atkins says. "We decided to explore what it would look like if we have an equal number of women on the water next to men."

Orvis launched 50/50 in 2016. Its 'tribe' consists of outdoor women encouraging and educating other women to join them outside.

Orvis started rebranding its categories with women in mind five years ago leading to the formation of 50/50 last year. This year, other brands like Costa, YETI and Simms partnered with Orvis for 50/50.

"What would our industry look like if we all focused on this?" Atkins says. " Not just Orvis, but all brands? In this case, this is a rock we can all push up the hill together, which is pretty cool."

The ladies behind Artemis agree. That's the National Wildlife Federation's new sportswomen program. It launched in June and aims to help women develop their voice for local, state and national issues like protecting clean water and preserving public land.

"It's important for women to have a voice, especially in the sporting tradition," says Kara Armano, Artemis co-founder. "It's male dominated, which isn't a bad thing, but women need the opportunity to speak their mind. There are significant issues and now is the time to have a voice."

Allen and I didn't have 50/50 or Artemis when we started out. Given the low lady presence in the outdoor world when we entered it, I'm sure lack of support kept a lot of women away.

It's encouraging to see this shift take shape. Even more so when it happens with dignity, credibility and self respect. We don't need to burn bras to be recognized. We just need a rock to stand on when we're swinging flies for fish that don't recognize us as male or female anyway. We're all just humans in the wild and that's enough of a separation from beast.