Let's All #ClimbForEquality
By KEEN Ambassador Caroline Gleich
One year ago, I fell and tore my ACL, seven weeks before leaving to climb Mount Everest/Chomolungma. This wasn't the story I wanted to tell, about overcoming an injury a few weeks before one of the most important expeditions of my life.
Even with a torn ACL, I stood on the summit of Chomolungma Sagamartha, Mt. Everest, and became one of nearly 600 women to have ever made it to the top of the world. I became part of the 11% of Everest summiteers who identify as a woman, while my partner Rob joined the ranks of the remaining 89%, or 6,000 other men who’ve summited what literally translates to “Mother Goddess of the Universe,” in Tibetan, and “Goddess of the Sky,” in Nepalese.
I was fortunate, on my expedition, to be surrounded and supported by other women working toward the summit. At basecamp, we called ourselves the “Himaladies” to celebrate the fact that our Western team was over 50% women, on the mountain and climbing to the summit together.
Typically this isn’t the case. On many of my expeditions, I have been the only woman or only one of a few. Rarely am I in the majority — in fact, I’m so often skiing, climbing, and running with other men, that I’ve been accused of hiring support on lines I completed fully self-supported.
Women account for 50.8% of the U.S. population, and yet, only 11% of those who stand on the Mount Everest summit are women. This disproportionate representation of women goes beyond peaks to CEO positions (5%), Congress (20.5%), and Venture Capital (6%). Most disturbingly, girls’ self-confidence peaks at age 9.
Because of my experience as a minority in the mountains, I knew I wanted to use my elevated platform during our Everest expedition to encourage conversations around gender inequality. I’ve experienced gender discrimination and sexual harassment firsthand on too many occasions while traveling with sponsors, working at trade shows, and when I’m sharing my story on social media.
Beyond my lived experience of gender discrimination and bias, there’s implicit bias in the manufacturing of lightweight and advanced mountaineering gear for both smaller and larger sizes. It’s nearly impossible to find mountaineering gear in my size. It’s no surprise, then, that more women aren’t reaching the summit of 8,000m peaks, given the lack of appropriate gear, continued sexism and harassment, and then to make matters worse, the huge wage gap between men and women athletes that pushes women athletes to pick up part-time work, further reducing their ability to take off on a five- or six-week expedition.
This is how the #ClimbForEquality campaign was born.
Memorable Posts From a Year of #ClimbForEquality
"Young women and girls in our society spend so much of their lives hearing about looks first. We become conditioned to equate our value with our beauty. As a society, we need to stop leading conversations about women with critiques of their personal appearances."
"I believe how we treat people is how we treat the planet and that we are part of nature and the broader ecosystem. By elevating the status of women, girls, and mothers in society, we are doing our part to make the world a better place."
"On May 24, at 7:05 am, @rob.lea and I reached the summit of Everest/Chomolungma at 29,029’/8848m via the northeast ridge route from Tibet. It was a magical and intense experience."
"We need to decolonize the way we talk about mountains, women and nature. “Conquer, bag…” those terms are all based in a colonial mentality. We don’t conquer mountains. I believe that words matter. How we conceptualize and vocalize our experiences in nature and the outdoors sets a precedent for other aspects of our life...I want to thank @ruemapp from @outdoorafro for pointing this out to me, teaching me how our colonialist language can make the outdoors less inclusive. Becoming more aware of our language is an important first step we can take to make the outdoors a welcoming place for everyone."
"Everyday, I’m so glad he said yes. To all the ladies who are thinking about popping the question this engagement season, do it! There is nothing wrong with proposing to your man, for speaking up and asking for what you want. Only the insecure person is emasculated by a woman who speaks up and asks for what she wants. I can’t wait to celebrate our first Christmas as a married couple. Love you always @rob.lea. Photo: @erinorthcutt, Wedding shoes: KEEN Elsa sneakers
Join the #ClimbForEquality Movement
I never wanted to be the “gender-equality girl,” but after seeing, first-hand, the obstacles most women face to get ahead in the mountains and in business, I knew I had to do something. At its most basic, our #ClimbForEquality campaign is a conversation starter and a platform to discuss how to make the mountains more inclusive. And when stretched farther, it’s a way to talk about climate change and how we can no longer treat women, or the planet, in the extractive, objective way we have in the past.
If we all put in the work, I know we can and will make the outdoors a more inclusive environment for all genders. You can help out by:
1. Understanding and interrupting implicit bias toward one gender. This worksheet is a great place to identify how you might be furthering implicit bias against one group of people and how to redirect that thinking. You can also check out the non-profit, He For She, a global movement to promote gender solidarity that gives men the tools they need to support the women in their lives as we all work toward gender equality.
2. Sharing your story on social media using the #ClimbForEquality hashtag. Share how you support the women in your life, share how you’ve experienced gender discrimination in the mountains, share pieces of inspiration and hope for the future.
The mountains are for everyone, and when we #ClimbForEquality, we have a better chance at an inclusive future.