Understanding women in the outdoors

232.jpgWomen are likely to make up a relatively high percentage of your program participants. Participation by women in both hunting and fishing has increased in recent years, and interest in these activities remains very high.

However, women also tend to have different motivations for participation, different learning styles and different concerns than their male counterparts. These differences may include:

  • Women are generally more interested in the social aspects of these activities, i.e., going out with family, spouses, and friends than male hunters and anglers.
  • They are more interested in obtaining high quality food than male hunters and anglers.
  • Women tend to prefer learning environments that promote cooperation rather than competition, and prefer explicit directions and guidelines. However, they also want opportunities to ask questions. Providing opportunities for participants to learn and experiment on their own will likely pay dividends.
  • Women are more likely to seek or get some advice on their own terms and apply what they learn through trial and error. However, while they may not mind going through a trial and error process in groups of other women they may be reluctant to do so in mixed-gender groups.
  • Female participants will especially appreciate a clearly established safe physical environment as well as a safe learning environment. Having these components specifically identified and articulated in class will create an environment that will help build confidence and encourage classroom participation.

In addition, a significant barrier to female participation in outdoor activities is having the right-sized equipment. Having firearms, packs, clothing and other gear sized for women, rather than using re-purposed men’s equipment, will likely make a difference in their overall enjoyment of the experience. 

Also, women prefer to fish with their families. Inviting families to participate in the fishing event is an important program decision. On one hand, this reinforces an important motivation for women; on the other hand, it may reduce the time an instructor has to instruct the class participant and dilute the focus of the event. A potential compromise is to hold two fishing events. The first would be a learning event for class participants, and the second a social event for families. The second event should be focused on assisting the class participants in becoming instructors for their respective families.

Instructors should be aware of, sensitive to, and embrace these differences.  Selecting instructors who are innovative, and who encourage cooperative activities and group learning is highly recommended.

We also recommend that women (and other members of your target population) be selected as instructors and included as part of your program planning team. A diverse instructor and planning team will strengthen your program and provide opportunities to discuss various program options.