The Climbing Industry Tackles the #MeToo Movement

Next month a community initiative will present guidelines for companies on how to define, talk about, and respond to inappropriate behavior


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While Outdoor Retailer focuses on cool new gear, the convention is also a time for brand executives and nonprofit leaders to connect and discuss issues facing the industry. Today we sat in on a talk with Charlie Lieu, a data scientist, and Callie Rennison, a criminology professor at the University of Colorado Denver and veteran of the Department of Justice, who spearheaded a survey to explore sexual harassment in the climbing industry.

The survey marks the first step in what organizers hope will be a movement to educate brands, organizations, climbing gyms, and other companies on how to talk about and respond to harassment. It comes months after several high-profile incidents of bullying among professional climbers.

Roughly 5,000 people responded to the questionnaire, and Rennison says she was blown away by the level of care and detail in participants’ answers. “Generally, people don’t fill out open-ended questions,” she says. “But 20 percent of people responded to ours, speaking about their own experiences.” An equal number of men and women participated in the survey.

Though the data is private until August 27, Lieu says it’s roughly in line with recent population-wide research, which found that one of every two women and one in six men had experienced sexual harassment.

What’s the next step? On August 27, alongside survey data, the initiative will present guidelines for companies looking to improve workplace culture. A big part of that will revolve around the “need to create a baseline understanding of what harassment is and what behaviors we’re looking out for,” says Lieu, rattling off a list of scenarios, from inappropriate touching to lewd comments.

Ultimately, Lieu, Rennison and partner Katie Ives at the Alpinist, who is leading the press coalition that has formed around this initiative, hope to educate companies and everyday climbers alike, not only on how to respond to harassment but on the very definition of it. “Sexual harassment is harassment in the eyes of the person who is experiencing it,” Rennison says. “It’s not about intent. It’s about impact.”

Lieu says that the survey prompted other industries to reach out in an effort to address harassment in their own communities. “We have laws sure,” she says. “But as organizations we can do better. We can be bystanders who intervene.”