Comic by Big Sis, courtesy of Instagram.
Women around the world are celebrated and honoured every year on March 8, International Women’s Day. In our modern existence, filled with empty social media “follows” and superficial support, it’s important to ground human rights advocacy in the real world.
People in the west are taught what it means to be and to identify as a woman by society, its predecessors, and its culture. We contribute to scripts handed down through generations. So, why continue to write these scripts when we have the ability to abolish all gender guidelines and allow absolute freedom for women: freedom to unabashed equality, freedom to lead, freedom to speech, freedom to any desired demeanour, freedom to sexuality, freedom to respect, freedom to power and authority, and freedom to masculinity.
At Sitka, we work to honour women every day. Our business is run by a tight-knit group of diverse people and our company’s leadership roles are primarily female. We respect spectrums of gender identity and gender expression, and we proudly embrace femininity.
Niki Hatter is general manager of Sitka’s entire company. On top of organizing external and internal merchandise, she works with all departments and sales channels to support the company’s goals and initiatives. She was hired just three years ago as people coordinator (a manager role).
When she first started, Hatter says she felt the presence of gender segregation in the workplace at Sitka but that the feeling no longer manifests her current experience.
We’ve come a long way in terms of equality since Rene Gauthier and Andrew Paine opened the first surfboard-shaping store in 2002 in Victoria, BC.
Hilary Hope was hired four years ago as Sitka’s fit technician (design assistant). She’s now the women’s clothing designer, product developer, and production manager based in Victoria. She explains that when she joined Sitka, she “felt an aura of misogyny and gender discrimination in the company.” The company was once male dominated, but Sitka has progressed since then with increased equality in staffing. Hope says she still encounters some gender stereotyping within the team, but the “female voice is stronger and more empowered” at Sitka today.
Through a historical lens, surfing is a traditionally male-dominated sport—though Hannah Scott, sponsored Tofino surfer, once told Sitka that BC boasts some of the most gender equal crowds in the water.
“I don’t think the fact that Sitka was founded by a couple of surfer dudes or that it includes surfing in its branding impedes me in anyway to work hard, express my creativity, and do what I love,” says Dana Eriksen, Sitka’s Victoria retail manager, community coordinator, and pop-up store (temporary store) lead. She was hired over a year ago as a sales assistant.
Some female members of the Auckland, NZ store (Sitka’s only other permanent location) have reported a lingering gender stigma from customers in relation to surf culture. Erika Todi started working at Sitka Auckland six years ago as a retail assistant. Todi says she’s now “involved in every level of business” at Sitka. She explains that while there are no gender issues within Sitka, surf culture in general is another challenge. Todi says that sometimes customers wanting to buy a surfboard specifically ask to talk to a male surfer who has more assumed knowledge about equipment.
Poppy Dorey-Lark, Sitka Auckland’s store manager, was also hired as a sales assistant only one year ago. She adds that customers sometimes approach female staff with the preconceived idea that women don’t have the expertise to talk about surfboards, axes, or fishing gear. “Our gender should not be a factor in this,” she says.
Perhaps Victoria’s surf culture is less prominent in terms of customer interaction than Auckland’s. Victoria staff members chose to speak more about the current experience of equality when asked about the female experience at work.
“I may not be the best surfer out there but I love being part of a company that supports play and keeping our oceans clean for future generations to enjoy,” says Hatter. “That is enough for me to know that I am a great fit for Sitka.”
The ability for employees to feel supported by Sitka, even when times are tough, exemplifies how companies that choose to listen to their market and operate with transparent values can lead by example. Hatter explains how Sitka has become a brand that is more focused on gender equality by listening to the needs of customers.
“I'm noticing more and more, Sitka's social media and the products we offer [are] creating a more equal platform for everyone to exist,” says Dorey-Lark.
Poppy Dorey-Lark reclaiming the gaze. Photo provided.
“We are seeing more women applying for roles and wanting to build our brand with us,” says Hatter. “When I started, we had more men in senior leadership roles in the company and, over just a couple of years, that has really shifted to women leading the front.”
“It is inspiring and empowering to see (and be) a female leader,” adds Eriksen. “I am endlessly proud to be a strong female voice within the company and to see the women around me standing up for what they believe in.”
Todi adds that witnessing predominantly female leadership roles in the workplace “creates a feeling of empowerment and inspiration. . .[it] reinforces the fact that gender isn't a factor in our company when finding the most capable person of doing the job.”
All participants in this interview agreed that, when searching for a career, a company’s diversity, equality, and inclusivity are main factors in their decision-making processes.
Dana Eriksen looking noble. Photo by Kimm Blotto.
Eriksen says that Sitka’s business as a whole would suffer from any level of gender discrimination in the workplace: “As a small company with big goals and certain limitations, we have to be resourceful, creative, and engaged in learning in order to get by. [Effort] has to come from everybody involved—an equal playing field is our saving grace.”
Generally speaking, issues surrounding maternity and paternity leave in Canada have only recently begun to evolve. In the past, many careers forced women to choose between having a family and being a professional. Though careers today still reinforce that tension between the two worlds for all people, Sitka prides itself on its family dynamics in the workplace and in its employees’ personal lives.
“I feel fortunate that I work for a company that understands that life happens,” explains Hatter. “I am a mother, and sometimes that means things don't always go as planned. I feel supported here at Sitka. I can be great in my work and great in my life and nothing has to be sacrificed to maintain that balance.”
“I have led a few conference calls with a sick kid on my lap or taken off early to ensure I never miss a parent teacher interview. . . I have never felt like I am viewed as less than excellent in my contribution here at Sitka”
Eriksen agrees, “I never feel like I am put in a place of having to compromise what is most important to me.”
Sitka recognizes that all types of lifestyles matter: “I’m able to practice yoga everyday, and to take time off when needed,” says Eriksen. “I’ve been approved to go on a month long, cross-Canada road trip with another local business and come back to my position, for example.”
“That [flexibility] most likely would not happen at any other company. Sitka has also allowed me to follow a career path and a dream that I didn’t believe was possible in my previous work experience.”
Shopping for apparel and other goods seems like it’s all about the quality of the product, but when thinking about the type of business you want to support, a company’s morales can be just as important. Overall, Sitka is trying to promote a better way to do business. We aren’t only trying to succeed as a brand; we’re trying to pave the way for ecological and social progression.
We care about our employees as much as we care about our customers, and that’s why we call you and our staff part of the Sitka family.
Caitlin Kyle, another kick-ass female leader at Sitka. Photo by Kimm Blotto.