Presented by ACA, Illinois and Women in Camping, the Women in Camp Summit is a three-day professional development event of networking, discussion, and learning designed specifically for female-identifying individuals who work in or in support of camp. This year’s Women in Camp Summit takes place November 4–6 in St. Charles, Illinois.
Camping Magazine asked several of the summit organizers to weigh in on the reasons behind the Women in Camp Summit and the opportunities the event represents:
- Beth Allison, Camp consultant and cofounder of CampHacker
- Ruby Compton, Ruby Outdoors
- Colette Marquardt, executive director, ACA, Illinois
- Kimberly Steiner, membership and program services director, ACA, Illinois
You are coming up on your second Women in Camp Summit now. What was the purpose for creating this event?
Allison: Our first Summit was created to provide a welcoming space for women to connect, ask questions, share stories, discuss concerns, and experience the support of other women. We designed a very intentional three-day summit complete with workshops, keynote addresses, open spaces, and opportunities to eat and play together. Our goal was to provide an environment that encouraged women to stand up and speak and sit down and listen.
What’s different about the format of this summit from other conferences?
Compton: The goal is to have space to discuss the challenges we face, the successes we’ve had, and provide training on how to make the summer camp industry the best workplace it can be. During the summit there are keynotes and development workshops with a focus on the topics that are often prevalent at women-in-leadership events as well as abundant opportunities for small group learning and discussion groups. But all summit attendees are also assigned to a small group, or village. This small group eats at least one meal together each day, so instead of having to sit down and share who you are and where you’re from for the umpteenth time, you can dive right in to meaningful discussion about what you’ve learned or go deeper on getting to know the folks in your village.
Why do you feel a summit that focuses on the role of women in camp is important?
Allison: Just like in any other industry, there are occasions when it is important for women to gather, to learn from one another, and to create networks of support. It gives us the opportunity to challenge what we know, to champion gender equality, and to celebrate our commonalities and differences. Having this time apart allows us to have open and candid discussion, to feel confident in sharing our struggles, and to inspire one another.
Marquardt: Women have always been active in the advancement of the camp industry. Yet, when we speak with women in our field, they aren’t always reporting that our profession is helping them advance or including them at the decision-making table. We are a field focused on youth development, community, and bettering lives, and we make powerful, life-changing experiences happen every day. It is, however, important that we acknowledge that we can be just as harmful to women in the workplace as any other professional field. We have to ask, “What are the experiences of women in camp workplace settings?” We need to listen intentionally to them, think critically about the way we work, and move toward the path of change. This is hard but necessary work. From our time at the summit, and with the help of our allies back home, we can collectively navigate making a positive change in camp.
Steiner: I have experienced the feeling of being uncomfortable in professional settings. Having a single-gender space where I am not conscious of gender dynamics and how my learning experience has been altered because of a comment made toward me or an unwelcome touch is freeing. This is my story, but I am finding that it’s so many women’s stories. The things you hear about in the news are happening all around us, and no industry is immune. I believe the summit is important because it removes the complex layers that can hinder female-identifying learners.
You built mentoring opportunities into the structure of the summit? What does that entail?
Marquardt: Mentoring and coaching is a critical part of a person’s professional development. It was considered a vital need at the summit from the very early stages of planning.
Compton: I am fortunate to live in an area where there are about 60 camps and no lack of women of all ages and in all stages of their careers who I can call up and ask for advice, which has been absolutely essential to my career, and I know that many camp professionals do not have such an immediately available network at their fingertips. During the summit, one of our volunteer roles is for women who are established in their careers in the industry to be mentors. Other attendees can sign up to meet with these mentors one-on-one and discuss whatever they want to. It’s a really beneficial way for attendees to have an opportunity to ask for advice not only about careers, but also about choices around raising families, being the boss, pursuing other interests, asking for a raise, or whatever may be on their minds.
You’re planning to cover considerable ground — negotiation, work-life balance, being young and in charge, etc. What’s one topic you’re particularly looking forward to addressing?
Steiner: For myself, I spend a lot of time volunteering in youth development settings, and I’m excited for some speakers addressing how we can support the young women in our lives (campers, family, friends, etc.). I would love nothing more than to better support them and empower them as they navigate their roles in the world.
Allison: “Are We Unintentionally Supporting Gender Roles?” promises to be a great discussion. I think it’s important for us to take some time for self-reflection during the summit. Could we ourselves be responsible for some of the things we hope to change in our culture and, if so, what do we need to do about it?
Compton: Delegation. I think people are rarely taught how to delegate real work. Women, in particular, have reported the sentiment of “Why should I ask someone to do this when I know they won’t do it how it needs to be done and then I’ll just have to go after them and do it myself?” This has to be reprogrammed. Delegation is absolutely a skill that can be taught, and it can be life-changing once it’s mastered.
Marquardt: Stories from the field. Over the last year, I’ve facilitated multiple conversations with groups of women camp professionals who have the passion and drive to stay in camp for their entire careers. Yet, when they share their stories, I become concerned we won’t keep these skilled professionals in the field because of their workplace (camp) experiences. I’ve heard women tell stories about needing to navigate parental leave over the summer and being made to feel ashamed for that; being asked to babysit their male supervisor’s kids when the same is not asked or expected of their male counterparts; not being paid fairly when their skills and experience match that of their male-identified coworkers — the list goes on. Women in camp need a space to not just share their stories and feel supported, but also to learn from each other about how to navigate and create positive change for themselves and others. Examining the experiences of women in our field is critical to understand how camp is or is not helping women advance. And this concept can be applied to all groups of marginalized people. We have to listen to their stories, understand their experiences the best we can, and then, alongside them, make changes that will create a better workplace environment for everyone.
One of the issues you plan to discuss you describe as "Safe Brave Spaces." Explain what that means and what you want to accomplish in discussing it.
Allison: For everyone in our industry to feel included and understood (a goal all camps strive for), we need to put great effort into creating intentional community where people feel empowered to be bold and authentic. Examining safe brave spaces, we hope to support both diversity and free expression and allow us all to explore ideas without feeling marginalized.
What’s something you hope participants take away from the Women in Camp Summit?
Marquardt: My deepest hope is that we continue to see an active change in our field. My goal is to not need a women-only space in camp. That is what we are working toward — creating a movement and encouraging our profession to include, embrace, and support women in the workplace. All genders will benefit when we break down barriers and make changes that elevate women.
Compton: A renewed sense of hope and the knowledge that there is an amazing community of professionals rooting for them. Working at camp can be a very isolating job. Add on top of that the drama of social media and the frenzy of current events or the state of the world, and it can be hard for people to get out of bed and face each day. When last year’s Women in Camp Summit ended, I knew we’d lit a spark that would lead to positive change for future generations, and I want nothing more than for the next generation of women to have a world that is better than the way we found it.
Steiner: We want attendees to leave with a new community of peers, to dive back into their working world with new tools, knowledge, and confidence to help negotiate that raise, balance their home life and their work life, or fix that maintenance issue themselves. I think at the end of the summit we want participants to leave with their cup filled — no, overflowing!
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