Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Climbing Mount Everest: Women, Career and Family in Outdoor Education

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Climbing Mount Everest: Women, Career and Family in Outdoor Education

Article excerpt


For women outdoor educators, combining an outdoor career with family relationships appears contradictory. Long and/or irregular hours, residentials, and increasing work commitments are, for example, congruent with traditional notions of a career in the outdoors yet they clash with social constructions of women's primary identities as partners, wives and/or mothers. In this paper, I explore how 21 women outdoor educators constructed connections and disconnections between career and family. In doing so, I uncover how they negotiated their career identities and show how contradictions between work and home were exacerbated due to the centrality of the body to their outdoor education careers.


The aim of this paper is to explore women's stories of combining career and family in outdoor education in the UK. The focus on women in this paper is based on my own position as a woman who has worked in outdoor education and my desire to understand more about women's career experiences. For women, decisions regarding career and family involve managing seemingly contradictory roles. Hargreaves (1994) explains how Victorian familism positioned women in terms of there roles at home and their family relationships, as wives, mothers or housekeepers. In contrast, Mavin (2001) reviews how models of careers were based on the working lives of men, with traditional career processes rewarding with promotion those who can devote time and energy to their work. While a greater number of professional women than ever before are following careers and continuing their careers after motherhood, UK statistics also show that mothers continue to do a disproportionate share of parenting and the majority of domestic chores (UK 2000 Time Use Survey, 2003). Hence, combining career and family after motherhood remains particularly problematic. The ways women have actively managed work and home have been identified in traditional career areas, including management (Marshall, 1995), science and engineering (Evetts, 1994a, 1996) and higher education (Ledwith & Manfedi, 2000). However, there is a more limited understanding of how women combine career and family whilst working in the less traditional occupational area of the outdoors.

Women who work in outdoor education face a number of potential issues that impact on their career decisions. Firstly, the outdoor industry is an occupational area where many jobs involve long, irregular hours and/or residential work, taking time away from the family. Despite their increased involvement in outdoor recreation, women remain under-represented in the higher levels of outdoor management and leadership (Humberstone, 1994; Sharpe, 1996). Difficulties for women in combining an outdoor career with family are likely to contribute to this. Several authors, in the UK and abroad, have further noted that the outdoor industry is a malegendered space, based on its association with physical and technical competence (Allin, 2000; Humberstone, 1994; Loeffler, 1995; Lugg, 2003). This is particularly so in the UK context, where outdoor pursuits such as climbing, canoeing or hill-walking dominate in outdoor programmes. Those who work in outdoor education can also face ongoing pressure to maintain, develop or update their activity leadership qualifications. This need for outdoor organisations to ensure instructors have up-to-date qualifications is particularly acute in the UK where the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA) acts as a regulating body and where there is a heightened emphasis on health and safety. Combining outdoor career and family in this context therefore often involves women negotiating not only work and home life, but also their engagement with outdoor pursuit activities. This can include logging up activity hours or coaching update courses as prerequisites for qualifications, as well as involvement in outdoor activities for personal recreation.

In this paper, I attempt to grasp some understanding of women outdoor educators' careers and how they have managed the issue of career and family. …

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