Why are diverse teams the exception, not the rule, in adventures?

With the preparations ramping up for the Northwest Passage Rowing Expedition in 2022 and in light of this year’s #choosetochallenge themed International Women’s Day, I thought this would be a good opportunity to put some thoughts together on why I remain determined to ensure that women are represented in this adventure.
It is so exciting and fantastic that there is increasing recognition of the strength and ability of women to perform and excel in so many fields, both physically and mentally, and in some areas traditionally dominated by men. Barriers are being broken down and I am constantly inspired and in awe of the many amazing achievements I read about by women from all walks of life. We are seeing increasing events and forums championing women and all female teams in both the workplace and outdoors.

This is brilliant; however, it still highlights a gender gap by keeping the sexes separate. Women continue to be judged within the bounds of their gender much of the time. Surely for true gender equality we should also be shining a light on the benefits of gender diversity within a single team? In my experience, mixed gender teams have a good wide skillset which can lead to really resilient and successful teams both in the workplace and the outdoors environment. The strength and diversity of skills which females can bring to a mixed gender team needs to be recognised and appreciated on a level playing field, not simply a political box ticking exercise.

The attention that my presence as the sole female in a crew of four for our record breaking mixed gender row across the Atlantic Ocean in 2018/19 was a real wake-up call as to how unusual people considered this to be. The dynamic of our crew was brilliant, a lot of humour but also respect for the skills each individual brought to the team. I felt an equal, just another crew member. But I feel that the female perspective I brought to the team really helped maintain relationships and morale at some lower points. I think my crew mates would recognise that and agree – I hope so, three of us are reuniting for the NWP row! I’m excited to see small increases in the number of other mixed gender crews now starting to take part in events such as the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge and hope that this continues to grow.

I was asked in an interview a few months ago who my role models were when I was growing up, who inspired me to get into the outdoors. It really made me realise how few well publicised women there were out there as role models for adventure and endurance when I was growing up. But it also made me realise how lucky I was that actually my father was my inspiration, the person who encouraged me to have a go at things, push my boundaries. He never differentiated me for being female and in fact used to let me join him on his weekends away, and sometimes longer ventures further afield, with his friends. I was the only daughter and female on those trips and no special allowances were made for me but I never really noticed! David Hughes, an early advocate for gender equality without perhaps even consciously recognising it! I have continued to thrive in a mixed gender environment, although don’t get me wrong, I do also enjoy a bit of ‘girl power’ as well as that brings its own and different type of enjoyment.

So for my part, I’m not superwoman. I’m not a full time athlete. I’m the wrong side of 40 with a dodgy back, an overenthusiasm for cake, chocolate and real ale as well as holding down a busy full time job as a project manager. But what I do have is mental strength, determination, drive to keep going when things get tough and a truly terrible sense of humour which does a cracking job at finding something to chuckle at in most situations. I continue to challenge my own boundaries and the past year in particular has been quite an epiphany in terms of what I can achieve (within the bounds of my cake addiction)! I kept myself motivated through setting myself challenges, finding new ways to appreciate my local surroundings and get fit. And I surprised myself. I am proud of what I have achieved through 2020 both physically and mentally. I am reaching spring 2021 with a great fitness base to continue to build on and, in shock news, a good 11kg lighter! With more exciting endurance challenges planned throughout the year to help me in my build-up to the NWP expedition, I am confident that I will be a strong and resilient asset to my team, and that my female perspective will add value. I can’t wait to ‘get pulling on those sticks’!

Through this expedition and my wider activities, I am keen to continue to champion the cause for mixed gender teams as well as encouraging all women to continue to #choosetochallenge for gender equality but also themselves. Step outside their comfort zones and challenge their own perceived boundaries. Find their own challenges no matter how big or small.

If you would like to talk more about anything I touch on above or more widely about experiences, adventure, the great outdoors and the lessons it has taught me or about sponsorship for the Northwest Passage Expedition then please do get in touch via claire@nwpexpedition.com or through my Facebook page: Ordinary Girl Adventure .