Geneviève de la Plante has been working in the climbing industry for 16 years. She started working at Allez-Up, the Montreal climbing gym once owned and run by her parents. She took on various roles in management, marketing and communications and eventually she and her two brothers took the reins of the family business. She is now co-owner of Allez-Up and Seven Bays Climbing Gym in Halifax.

De la Plante credits her mother and other female role-models for helping her shape and define her career. Of particular importance was the guidance and support they provided as women in a predominantly male industry: “Having models of leadership from individuals who face similar struggles is fundamental,” remarks de la Plante, “it helps prepare and inspire the leaders of tomorrow.” But these mentors are lacking, or lack visibility.

Over the years, de la Plante became more and more aware of the shortage of women in leadership roles in the climbing industry. From her experience, it was rarely because women didn’t want to be involved but due to a host of different obstacles, explicit or otherwise. Rather than be discouraged, de la Plante wanted to bring about change: “I got tired of talking about it, I wanted to actually do something.” That ‘something’ turned out to be The B.I.G Initiative.

The B.I.G Initiative

The B.I.G “Bring In the Girls” Initiative is a not-for-profit organisation with a mission “to give women a bigger presence within the climbing industry,” “to challenge the status quo and encourage gyms to hire more women in central roles, [and] to create a community where female-led projects can gain momentum and have a meaningful impact on our sport and its culture.”

To fulfill its objectives, the B.I.G Initiative is organised into three branches:

  • Career development: to provide training so that women are desirable candidates for the jobs they seek.
  • Project development: to support female-led or women-focused climbing projects, from film-makers and writers to climbers.
  • Community development: to provide a forum wherein female narratives and voices are front and centre.
  • “The long-term goal of The B.I.G Initiative is to mobilize female climbers across the country and create a movement within the climbing industry. We want to break down geographical barriers, gym or team loyalties and create a space for women to connect with one another in order to educate and inspire each other.”

    To be sure, these are big goals. But there’s a lot of talent and drive to back them up. De la Plante founded The B.I.G Initiative with three other women who share her vision and desire for action: Léa Chin, Sophie Claivaz-Loranger, and Alexa Fay. Geneviève’s brother, Jean-Marc, is a consultant.

    L to R: Léa Chin, Sophie Claivaz-Loranger, Alexa Fay, Genevieve de la Plante, Jean-Marc de la Plante

    Women’s Routesetting Workshops

    The first career-focused plan of action consists of six routesetting workshops for women nationwide – four introductory courses and two for experienced setters. The workshops will all be run by Flannery Shay-Nemirow, whose résumé touts Head Setter and Assistant-Head Setter positions at numerous high profile competitions in the US. This is “the single biggest initiative of its kind in North America,” explains de la Plante.

    There are many ways to make a living in the climbing industry and de la Plante envisions a future with training and job placement for women in all kinds of positions, from coaching to upper management and more. But routesetting is an obvious place to start. It’s a visible, viable career path and there’s still an obvious lack of female setters relative to the percentage of women in the climbing community. The B.I.G Initiative’s aim with this workshop series is to help women who are keen to become qualified, hireable setters.

    The hope is also that someone will try the course who had never considered routesetting before. The mere offering of a women’s routesetting clinic says to female climbers that setting is a legitimate career path for them.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as more female routesetters fill the gyms and set at competitions, the more normalized and conceivable setting for women will become.

    For de la Plante and The B.I.G. Initiative, the key is increasing visibility of women in all aspects of the climbing industry, especially in high profile roles. Because “visibility plants the seeds of possibility.”

    “Visibility plants the seeds of possibility” – Geneviève de la Plante

    De la Plante told us that the response so far has been overwhelmingly supportive. When Gripped first published news of a women’s routesetting clinic at Allez-Up, one of the six in the series, de la Plante received an outpouring of emails from interested participants and climbing gyms across the country. Likewise, in the wake of The B.I.G. Initiative’s social media teaser a few weeks ago, there was an incredible amount of enthusiasm and interest to collaborate from individuals, gym owners and industry brand names.

    At the same time, de la Plante expects there will be detractors. Women’s only events/courses/projects can be vulnerable to a certain kind of scrutiny. While she’s “very much in favour of discussion where it’s possible,” she hopes that people will see the Initiative for its effort to make positive waves only. The B.I.G espouses positivity, collaboration, and inclusivity. Speaking with de la Plante makes it clear that the intention is not to divide but to grow and diversify the community by opening up the range of possibilities for women in climbing-related work.

    Indeed, it may a big undertaking but this Montreal collective is psyched and ready to Bring In the Girls.

    Find out more at www.thebiginitiative.ca.

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