THE BLOG
02/29/2016 03:48 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2017

Are Female 'Firsts' Irrelevant?

Today I'm speaking at a Women's Leadership Forum in Boston. An incredible event put on by The Ad Club, the event features renowned speakers from across the country with varying backgrounds and professions. I'm humbled to be included with the likes of Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani, and the Chief Marketing Officer of General Electric, Linda Boff, among others.

The Ad Club's Women's Leadership Forum was created to recognize and honor inspirational women for their leadership, accomplishments and for paving the way for the next wave of female leaders. The event is all about women. Successful females inspiring 1,000 other females with the hopes of one day truly closing the gender gap... In sports, that gender gap is viewed as an achievement gap.

I've dedicated my career, as a professional sport climber, to closing the achievement gap. I do this by seeking out ascents that have not been conquered by a female. Once complete, these accomplishments are tagged as a "First Female Ascent." It is my hope that this empowers and urges other women in our sport.

"Female" as a Qualifier

There has been an ongoing debate about whether or not the term "female" is important to include in recognizing an ascent. One side of the debate argues that the inclusion of "female" as a qualifier for why an ascent may be significant has negative implications on women in that it deems women as inferior to men. This side argues for "first female ascents" to be eradicated and for all ascents to be the same. The other side of the debate argues that men and women are biologically different and that there is no reason to eradicate gender in sports.

Female and Male climbers have the potential to achieve equally, but there is no reason to eliminate the celebration of female firsts in climbing in that women are historically the minority in climbing and reinforcement of progression is a powerful tool in encouraging female achievements. What is important to recognize is that as climbing fills a more macro level space, we consider the role that it can have on issues like gender politics and the need for women's empowerment still at hand today.

While I recognize with the fact that women and men are capable of climbing equal difficulty, it is important to still reiterate the first ascents done by women. In my opinion, the actual flagging of Female highlights this notion of empowerment. While yes, the name of a female achieving something could theoretically be a sign enough, the fact is that the world is not yet at that point to not need reinforcement of female achievement. 

I often receive letters from young girls thanking me for inspiring them. This fuels my motivation. I want to serve as an example that anyone, no matter what gender, size, or demographic you represent, can pursue his or her dreams. 

Recently I spoke with Lynn Hill, one of the leading competitive sport climbers in the world, about this topic. She stated:

"I agree that women should support women and that it's important to have female role models. Back in the early days, women were left out of books such as, "The Vertical World of Yosemite" by Galen Rowell. In his intro to the 90's, he didn't put a single photo of a woman climber in the book because he said that there were no significant first ascents done by a women during the formative years of climbing in Yosemite. I felt that it was important to show what women WERE doing rather than ignore them because of what they weren't doing!"

Not There Yet...

While it is a romantic idea to say we are at a point that "Female" does not need to be reinforced, the fact is, we are not. Women have been routinely underrepresented in sports, politics, and business throughout history. Despite our hyper modern world, we are still at a point that "female" achievements should be acknowledged and highlighted.

I am motivated to establish First Ascents. I have accomplished many First Female Ascents thus far in my career and I am proud of them and will continue to flag the "Female" in the ascent to encourage the women out there who would otherwise be timid in the shadows of the boys to go out and try things despite only men having succeeded on them before. 

My hero is Lynn Hill for setting the precedent for men and women. Her achievements and highlighting that she is a woman narrow the gender gap. I think that there is something to be said about women putting themselves out there and going after their dreams regardless of what history tells them.

Perhaps people who are not in favor of emphasizing "female firsts" find organizations like the Women's Sports Foundation and UN Women irrelevant as well. Perhaps they are also against Title IX, thinking that all women should just buck up and try out for the men's hockey team. Maybe cut Olympic competition in half by eliminating the women's medals. And while we're at it, scuttle the WNBA and women's soccer as well? I guess we shouldn't hold these incredibly inspiring female-centric conferences, like The Ad Club's Women's Leadership Forum, either. You won't see me defending these stances.

Reinforcement of female achievements are necessary to encourage progression - and progression is what we need.

I am inspired by female leaders in a multitude of fields and that range of success in on display today. 

It is important for women to recognize that the opinions of others are irrelevant to the task. Self-confidence and drive surpass any oppositional negativity.

I would love to see women join together in this effort to empower each other and to show the world that yes, She Can. 

This blog post is part of a series produced by Havas Media (@HavasMediaUSA), in conjunction with The Ad Club's Women's Leadership Forum. This women's leadership event attracts more than 800 female executives in marketing, media, and branding. For more information about the Women's Leadership Forum, read here.