How the Outdoors Inspires Women to Be Better Leaders

May 8th 2017


When it comes to getting girls outside, America's not doing a great job.

Most kids these days don't spend enough time outside, but girls have it even worse, according to a 2014 study. It revealed that young girls typically spend less time outside than their male counterparts.

American parents are 16 percent less likely to let young girls play outside than they are boys. And that means girls play outside less at school, participate in fewer outdoor sports, and even hang out outdoors less than boys.

If we keep young women from having a relationship with the outdoors, the consequences may be serious.

When girls spend time outdoors, the benefits are huge.

Much has been written about the benefits to children who go outside regularly. Children who spend time outdoors see their mental, physical, and emotional health improve. So it's no surprise that the outdoors can benefit young girls by helping them become more creative, better problem solvers, and generally healthier.

Girls get a special, unexpected benefit from their time in nature, according to a recent study by the Girl Scout Research Institute: Girls who spend time outdoors see a boost in their confidence and leadership skills.

And if there's one thing this world needs, it's more female leadership.

Women are grossly underrepresented in American leadership roles.

Women make up only 5.8 percent of the CEOs of S&P 500 companies. That's one in 20. Indeed, there are fewer female CEOs than male CEOs named either John, William, Robert, or James.

The U.S. House of Representatives does a bit better, but not by much: Only one in five representatives is a women.

The reasons are complicated: societal mistrust of female leadership, discrimination, mommy-tracking, and other factors. But one important factor is confidence.

A recent study by REI determined that most women — 70 percent — reported feeling societal pressure to be sexier, to be less dramatic, to be skinnier, and to be happier.

Such pressure isn't much of a confidence-booster, meaning most women won't even apply for a job unless they feel 100 percent qualified.

But time spent in nature can help women ignore the pressure to conform to sexist beauty and behavior standards, the study found.

Time spent in nature won't cure the world of sexism, but it doesn't hurt if it provides women with extra confidence to reach a higher level of power and leadership.

Women found an escape from those pressures right in their backyard — literally, REI found.

As little as one hour spent outdoors helped boost a woman's happiness and made her feel more adventurous, confident, and fulfilled, REI discovered. Unsurprisingly, women who spent time outdoors also reported being in excellent mental, physical, and spiritual health.

The study also confirmed that time spent outdoors can boost confidence: Women who ventured into nature performed more confidently in stressful environments at home, at school, and even in sports and politics.

OK, I'm sold. So how do we get girls outside?

In order to get the most out of nature, kids have to start early. Establishing good habits as a child is key.

Mothers are twice as likely as fathers to encourage their daughters to spend time outdoors, the REI study found. And such girls are more likely to continue spending time outdoors once they become adults.

And that's passed down through generations: Girls who spend time in the outdoors are more likely to encourage their children to do the same.

Encouraging young women to spend more time outside is an easy way to set the stage for their success.

We have a long way to go to achieve true gender equality. But the outdoors holds the possibility to inspire confidence and build leadership among girls and young women.

Why is that important? Because when women succeed, humanity gets one step fairer, stronger, and better.

To learn more about how REI is encouraging women to become leaders, click here.