Last night was the inaugural Bend Chamber of Commerce Women of the Year Awards ceremony where I delivered a pre-taped mini-keynote (as I won’t be back from Uganda until March 20). I wanted to share this here as well as it’s critical to highlight the importance of women’s awards and provide inspiration to others!
“Hello! I am Emilie Cortes and I run Call of the Wild Adventures, adventure travel for women, here locally in Bend. I would be with you all tonight but I am currently 9,000 miles away at the moment. On this day I will be attempting to climb, Mt Stanley, the highest peak in Uganda and the 3rd highest peak on the African continent at 16,743ft high. I hope that’s a good excuse!
I was ecstatic when I was asked to serve as a judge for the Bend Chamber of Commerce first ever Women of the Year awards. It’s so important to recognize when in our businesses and in our community who are standing out. But why is it important to hold an event that’s focused exclusively on women?
First, it’s important to recognize trail blazers! Trail blazers, you say? Are there really any trail blazers any more? Don’t we live in an truly egalitarian world now? Not so much. After all, it was only 50 years ago that every industry was male-dominated and a women’s place was in the home. There are many of us who experienced this directly or who saw our mothers’ struggle to make progress and fight for respect.
This is why one of the awards, the Woman of the Year focuses on male-dominated industries. Industries such as construction, finance and insurance, academia, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) are still heavily occupied by men. Women who are leaders in these fields are indeed trail blazers. By learning about what they are doing and how they have been succession, we continue to level the playing field by showing that women can master management in these fields. It’s not at all about putting men down, it’s about lifting women up!
The second is that we cannot be inspired by what we cannot see! In my own personal career, I worked in finance in San Francisco for 17 years before making a shift to move to Bend to run my own adventure travel company. When I looked around me, I saw many qualified, intelligent, dedicated women, but when I looked into the upper echelons of my industry and the companies for which I worked, I saw few or no women. I felt like I did not belong! It’s a natural feeling. If I had seem more women in higher management positions, I may have felt like that was a realistic career path for me.
Instead I chose to forge my own path and to focus my company exclusively on women. I’ll often be asked if I’m not being sexist or discriminating against men by running women’s only trips. To that I always answer – ‘The entire adventure travel industry is welcoming toward men. The other companies are owned by men, the guides are male, and majority of clients are male. The men are doing JUST FINE! It’s extremely rare to go on a trip in the wilderness with only women and with female guides, and the experience is in stark contrast.
Women are more comfortable to be themselves, be vulnerable, and work through doubt and fear. The impact of female guides is palpable. After being told our whole lives that the female sex is the weaker sex, it’s empowering to see women in charge, leading with confidence and making decisions without a man in sight. One of my Nepali partners, who I love to death, is always so incredulous when I tell him that there are no men around our trips in the US AT ALL. He always says, “But Didi, what HAPPENS if something goes wrong and there are no men around???” You can’t help but walk away from one of these trips with the realization, that yes, we can take care of ourselves and be successful, if in the wilderness then certainly also back in civilization.
It’s with every fiber of my being that I am excited about and dedicated to the lifting up of women around me. So I sincerely hope that this event has the desired impact on each and every one of you – to recognize the trail blazers in our community and to showcase who we could not see before, and be inspired by them!”