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MEC Ambassador Emma Contaoe climbing with fall trees in the background

Women who inspire us all year long

March 2, 2022

Found in Community news

To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re highlighting three women who inspire us all year long. Meet Kieren Britton, Emma Contaoe and Anita Naidu – outdoor leaders who coach, educate and help create opportunities for adventure.

We’re honoured to have Kieren and Emma join us as speakers at The Empowerment Festival coming to MEC stores between March 8–18 to celebrate International Women’s Day and diversity outdoors. Everyone is welcome – we hope to see you there!

Kieren Britton

Pronouns: she/her. CEO of Unity Collective and Founder/Chair of The Lady Alliance. @kierenbritton

Kieren Britton with skis

The Empowerment Festival supports The Lady Alliance scholarship program – what’s this program about?

The Lady Alliance scholarship program is entering our first full year of delivery, and we are beyond excited. Through this program, our hope is to start breaking down barriers to help change the face of leadership in the outdoors.

The program features entry-level courses, including avalanche safety training, wilderness first aid and more. We want to grow to provide full-time career opportunities for those impacted by misogyny in the outdoor industry, and help showcase more diversity in leadership roles in the outdoors. To do so, we want to start eliminating some of the barriers to entry. Education in the outdoor industry is expensive, from the cost of the courses to the gear you need. Anyone – regardless of gender – is welcome to apply.

My outdoors motto: “low expectations, high excitement.” Low expectations mean disappointments are rare and if conditions aren’t right, it’s easier to make safe decisions. But excitement for adventure should always be high!

Kieren Britton with hiking backpack looking up at a huge tree

We’re looking for new chapter coordinators for The Lady Alliance in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick to grow our chapters across Canada. It's an incredible way to build outdoor communities – reach out if you’re interested!

The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. What’s your advice for allies to help #BreakTheBias outdoors?

After hosting and interacting with over 2,000 women+ in all walks of life through five years of our events, retreats, courses and adventures, I’ve consistently been reminded of one thing: Everyone is unique. And each approach to outdoor adventure is a unique journey.

Yes, anyone can step outside their home or apartment and be “outside.” But if you:

  • are able to purchase, rent or find secondhand gear
  • have the financial means to seek education, time-tested exposure or a guide
  • have the means to travel outside your city to a trailhead or resort
  • have the body capabilities to get active outdoors and chase adventure
  • can find gear that fits your body and can provide you with appropriate safety outdoors
  • are able to take time off work, or find care for a child or a dependent
  • live in a location where natural spaces are easily accessible

… then you are immensely blessed and lucky!

Not everyone has these. Background, culture, time, experience, finances, access, ability, education, mental state, support, home life – all of these elements (and more) play a massive role in someone's experience outdoors.

So my advice: Avoid assumptions and grouping statements. Some of us have these privileges listed above, and some people do not. Outdoor adventure is not an equalizer, and access to the outdoors creates polarity. The moment we start to group everyone together and assume their journey was like our own is the moment our ego exceeds our ability to listen, learn and create an inclusive adventure community.

Emma Contaoe

Pronouns: she/her. MEC Ambassador, FQME certified rock climbing instructor and founder of Climbing Escapes. @emmacontaoe

Emma Contaoe climbing

What does #BreakTheBias mean to you in the outdoors?

For me, breaking the bias means experiencing the outdoors in your own way, whether it be going on your first hike or pursuing your biggest dream of climbing a mountain. Breaking the bias means honouring each person’s journey in the outdoors no matter their background, their experience, or their goals. The outdoors is for everyone and every body, and we all deserve to experience it in our own way.

Breaking the bias to me means putting aside our “standards” or expectations in that pursuit. To normalize being a beginner at something, and to not put an importance on what an “outdoorsy person” should look like. By putting our judgements aside, being open to sharing our knowledge and journey (whether big or small), and celebrating others’ journeys (whether big or small), we can reduce the barriers to entry to the outdoors and allow outdoor enthusiasts to feel welcome in this space.

What’s a common theme you see from participants at your Climbing Escapes retreats?

The fact that many of us want to feel like we belong somewhere, to a community of people who see us, understand us. The fact of being present for the other, listening to their story and realizing that we can all learn something from someone else’s journey empowers us all to share our story and realize that what we have in common is that we are navigating a human experience.

MEC Ambassador Emma Contaoe teaching climbing on a rock face

If something sparks your curiosity, just go for it. Reach out to people who are already doing it and ask questions. I’ve met some incredible people by using social media as a tool to grow my community.

What’s an inspiring outdoor group you think is doing great work?

I recently discovered Hike MTL, a group that organizes outdoor events for BIPOC communities. I also appreciate Les Chèvres de Montagne, a female-led group that encourages girls to try different outdoor sports. As well, B.I.G. Initiative is a female-led organization that highlights stories of incredible humans in their communities through their films. They also run route-setting workshops for women.

Anita Naidu

Pronouns: she/her. MEC Ambassador, mountain bike coach, anti-racism educator and aspiring astronaut. @abrownpanther

MEC Ambassador Anita Naidu in a blue hike helmet

What are you most excited about for with your 2022 mountain bike clinics?

Their reach. The popularity of the clinics has just soared, with requests coming in from all over North Amercia, Europe, Africa, Asia and people willing to travel from far away to attend. I’m so excited to condense complex issues into offering a meaningful biking and learning experience combined for so many people. It’s going to be another richly rewarding summer of people reaching closer to their full potential as riders, activists and humans.

What’s a common theme in your mountain bike clinics that you think is useful for others to know?

The participants think they have to be better than they are just to start. I get so many nervous emails from people saying they have never jumped before, or they haven’t ridden a bike in years, or they’re wondering if they’re too slow for the clinic. Your starting point doesn’t matter – never apologize for being slow or for being a beginner. You are always faster than someone and slower than someone else, and every single person – from first-timers to world cup winners – is working on some aspect of their riding. Comparing just robs all the joy out of a great sport, so remember to just ride your own ride.

MEC Ambassador Anita Naidu with group of women in mountain biking clinic

Just getting started in a new sport? Demo and rent or borrow gear before buying. Try out different fits and products before investing so you can figure out your preferences because gear is so personal.

What does #BreakTheBias mean to you in the outdoors?

Breaking the bias in the outdoors means interrupting injustice without mirroring it. It means cultivating a tremendous amount of curiosity and patience, while questioning our own assumptions all the time and working towards progressive wins.

What are some ways outdoor communities can become more inclusive?

Take anti-racism and decolonization training! It’s a mistake to think equity follows naturally from diversity. Every time I do anti-racism training sessions with people, they finally come to understand that just “getting black and brown people into the outdoors” or including them in photoshoots or ads is not the solution. Anti-racism training teaches you that it’s about reallocating power and how to reallocate such power.

Upcoming programs

Along with The Lady Alliance scholarships, we want to spread the word about other great clinics and programs coming up. The Alpine Club of Canada has a big list of adventures, most of which are subsidized through MEC Outdoor Impact:

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