We have a remarkable culture at Chilcotin Holidays, and that’s not achieved in any one way, it’s a combination of personal growth, positivity, teamwork, self-confidence, initiative and familial bonds between people who have only known each other for a few weeks or months. We are all equal and that is rare in a work environment.
Mountain guiding has traditionally been the pursuit of males, but here at the ranch we have more female guides than male. So why is that? What do we do differently here? You could say we are inspired by Gerry Bracewell, who became the first female licensed hunt guide in BC in 1945. And yes, we might all be inspired by her, but we didn’t know her before we came here. You could argue that times are changing, that now it’s more accepted for females to take on this job, that societal pressures are different now, but that’s only a small part of the story.
I’ve realized it’s a combination of two factors, more than any other which create our female empowerment culture. It’s the people we attract to work here. Our female community partners are empowered by the opportunity to do anything. Whether that’s welding, cooking, caring for a sick horse, leading a pack trip through the mountains, running a chainsaw to make firewood or standing up for yourself, nothing is off limits. But our male community partners, who have all those same opportunities, are just as much to thank for our culture. It’s a two-way street, you could have the most open-minded, self-confident, capable females in the world here, but if the male community partners weren’t comfortable with that, our culture wouldn’t be able to sustain itself. Our male community partners have to be willing to share decision-making, management, leadership and, ultimately, control with our female community partners. Several times, I’ve heard Kevan ask men here how they feel about working with women in such an equal role. Initially, I didn’t really understand why, wasn’t it just provoking sexism? But now I see that any man who can’t or won’t have that working relationship with women simply wouldn’t survive here and they would risk this positive culture we all work so hard to maintain. And what surprised me? How many men are open and accepting, happy to work on an equal footing with women. Kevan once asked me how I felt about working at a ranch where sexism just doesn’t exist. I answered that it was a relief. Well, it’s so much deeper than that. It’s like the first breath of fresh air when you’ve been underwater too long.
So, what is it like to work in our environment? Here, we are judged on our character, our attitude and our responsibilities taken. And this makes our abilities the least important factor, if we are willing to learn and develop. There are no preconceived notions about us, because you can’t judge someone you know nothing about. If you choose not to judge them on their looks or their sex, their age or where they come from. Here, we come as blank slates, our words and our actions are what shape how our community partners view us as we embark on our transformational journeys. If the dishes need cleaning, do we step up and do them, or leave them for someone else to do? If something is difficult, do we keep working on a solution, or do we quit and let someone else fix it? If a job needs doing, do we finish it no matter what, making sure it’s done right, or do we give up because we’re tired and don’t want to do it? If something goes wrong, do we work out how to fix it, or do we moan at the unfairness of the situation? If we make a mistake, do we hold ourselves accountable, see it as a learning experience and move on, or do we blame other people?
If there’s one person who would unequivocally give the first answer to each of those questions, it’s Manon, nineteen, female, German. And why is she so successful, capable and inspirational to me? Because she embraces our philosophy and lives by it every minute of the day. If you ask Manon to do something, you know it will get done, and done well. If she has a job to do, you know it will be finished, never given up on. And, perhaps most importantly to me, she will do everything with a smile and a positive attitude, maybe even while singing a song. She exemplifies all of us, someone we can all look up to and learn from, yet still absolutely our equal.
If we are willing to step out of our comfort zone, try something new, learn from others and work as a team, we will thrive here. And if that’s true, it doesn’t matter what you look like, where you come from or how long you’ve been at the ranch. I had two guests who I guided on a pack trip. Half way through the trip, the father turned to the son and asked him how he felt about having two European female guides, both in their early twenties. The son said he thought it was cool. And it was. Here, we are trusted with that responsibility, because we are motivated enough and courageous enough to take it.
We are our own boss and how many other companies would give their staff such freedom? Well, the answer could lie in the fact that we aren’t motivated by money. We’re community partners and work here for the experience and because we love what we do. We’re free to leave at any time – no contract, no money worries to tie us down – and so we work harder because we want to give our guests the best experience. We work harder to make sure our horses are well cared for. We work harder because the more we put in, the more we get out. Give that ‘be your own boss’ concept to someone who is only motivated by money, paid no matter what they do, has no love for their job, isn’t invested in themselves or their work and has no consequences for not working. Their hour lunch break will become two. If they had five tasks to accomplish, they might do one, and not to the best of their abilities. If one of their colleagues had a request which wasn’t strictly part of their job, would they work on it? If a customer asked them for help, would they give it positively and enthusiastically? If they saw someone treating another person badly, would they step up and say something?
Here, we invest ourselves in everything with responsibility and a positive attitude. We are free and openly encouraged to ask questions, put forward our ideas, gain confidence and develop ourselves. We are a family here, all motivating and supporting each other. At Chilcotin Holidays, we call each other by our first names, there’s no sir or ma’am, none of those passive-aggressive sexist endearments, no sweetheart or darling here. Everything is about female empowerment. That’s an amazing concept, we are free to be ourselves, knowing we are supported 100% on our transformational journeys of personal growth, because we are all on that journey.
Here, we have the strength to support each other. We have the strength to put aside society’s preconceived notions, expectations and pressures. We have the strength to stand as equals.
‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ – Abraham Lincoln.
Author: Charlie, UK
Photocredit: Kristin Noack