On Women's Equality Day and being the CEO of a start up during a pandemic
Hi All! I'm Katy Jackson, Lone Pine Gear Exchange’s CEO and co-founder. We started our business 8 weeks before COVID hit. Start ups are hard… global pandemics make them harder. Navigating these last few months has been like picking a line through constantly shifting terrain. Like so many other businesses, we closed our doors on March 12th because I believed it was the best thing for my staff, customers, my family, and the greater community. While we were closed I got busy rewriting everything I had based our business model on: projections, budgets, and forecasts. Because the shop is brand new, we can pivot quickly as we read the unfolding environment around us. We shifted to producing and donating face masks in our gear repair department, we redesigned store layouts, and created an outdoor shopping experience to make staff and customers comfortable and safe. We slowly reopened. We watched and observed a lot. As we look forward to our winter season, our goal is to stay meaningful and relevant to our community - independent of ski areas opening and staying open.
I feel a tremendous amount of pressure as the CEO of a startup business during these times. When COVID first struck, I was searching for someone who had answers, who had a comprehensive plan, someone who, frankly, knew to do. I quickly learned this person does not exist! So while I do not have the answers about what our winter is going to look like, I can stick to our core values. I can make hard decisions. That is what I signed up to do. I still feel a lot of pressure, but when I remind myself of these things, the path forward seems less daunting. Despite the pressure and weight of the decisions and position, I am honored. I am honored to lead a team of amazing and kind individuals. I am honored to work within a company that acts on its core values even when adapting to challenging times. I appreciate the opportunity more today because I know, not too long ago, this opportunity wouldn't have existed for me. Not because of my abilities, but because I am a woman.
Today is Women’s Equality Day. It not only serves as a time of celebration of the 19th amendment to our constitution, it is a call to action to look at ways to continue to improve. The Salt Lake Tribune published this article on 8/24/2020 that ranked Utah as the worst state in our country for Women’s Equality for the third year in a row. My first thought was, "Really?". Then I sobered up. I have worked in hostile environments in our outdoor industry. Places where not a single woman was promoted to a management position in the company’s 9 plus years existence and 70 plus employee pay roll. I watched management stand behind employees who wouldn’t acknowledge a simple good morning greeting by a female colleague or look up from their phones when a female spoke to them. I was treated differently than male coworkers when I raised tough questions and challenged ideas. I have been mom shamed for working with two young children. Today is a day we celebrate, but it is also a day we roll up our sleeves and continue working towards a more inclusive and representative outdoor industry.
Creating an inclusive and representative work environment was a motivating factor to open Lone Pine Gear Exchange. In the previous business I oversaw, 50% of our Ski Shop managers were women. These women were promoted from within our company because they crushed it. They were smart, respected, talented, and humble. We couldn't NOT promote them. We offer paid maternity leave, have a family first mentality. We partner with organizations like She Jumps because we believed introducing and encouraging young women to outdoor sports was key to furthering women’s representation in the industry. Our new business has only been open for a short time, but we are even more committed to changing the status quo, and continuing this work because we can’t continue to let Utah rank last every year for women’s equality.
At the end of the day, when I think about the impact I want to have as the Lone Pine's CEO, I of course want the company to hit our business goals. But even more importantly, I want to be proud of the decisions I made when the going got tough. I want my employees to be proud of the company they work for, and I want my daughters to be proud of the organization I worked hard to create. If we can accomplish those things, I believe Lone Pine will thrive.