Burty's theme. Interview with Donna Carpenter

In order for women to keep riding
Message for Girls – Interview with Donna Carpenter
snowstyle mag / Japan
Marriage, childbearing,…a woman’s life is full of changes.
It is more difficult for women to keep riding than men. How can we convince them to ride? What kind of atmosphere is needed to bring one-time riders back on the mountain?
Donna Carpenter, the wife of Jake Burton, a mother of three and the leader of Burton’s International Business, talks their snowboarder strategy. Let’s find out the tips for girls to keep on riding!
“Improve office environment and have more women in the company to increase the share of female riders.”
(snowstyle:ss)I want to hear your idea on what we can do for women so that they can keep riding for long term without much stress. First, can you tell us the future of women’s snowboarding from Burton’s point of view?
Donna:   Burton is very serious about women’s snowboarding. We were the first one who developed snowboards for women and we have supported many global female riders. The US Open prize amount is same for men and women. Women’s snowboarding is our strength and we really want to communicate that.
That’s why I started an initiative called “Women’s Leadership” 7 or 8 years ago because we noticed that there were only 3 women out of our 20 senior management meeting members. We believed that in order for Burton to maintain its innovative position and have new ideas from people with various backgrounds, we needed more women. The first thing we introduced to make sure that our women could step up their career in Burton was the mentor program. This is a program where everyone will have her own mentor whom she can seek professional advice from. Then we introduced childcare allowance and flex time system. Actually these systems are applied to both men and women. At first some said we didn’t need to introduce such systems because we already had products for women. But it was certainly true that the people around the table determined women’s products and women’s marketing initiatives so the female decision-makers were necessary. At the same time, we also focused on hiring female engineers. The absolute number of female engineers is small but we leveraged our internship system and promoted them to full-timers so that more women would have chance to touch the gear. We also wanted women to do marketing for women because we do not necessarily respond to the same thing as men do. Originally, this Women’s Leadership was only for internal but soon it was introduced to external things, too.
I have always been interested in women’s share. At Burton, female employee share is around 30–35%, and the women’s gear share in overall sales is 30–35%, and the overall female rider share is also 30–35%. Those numbers are all related with each other so if we have more female employees then more female products will be sold and there will be more female riders in the market.
(ss) So the women’s snowboarding scene will be more vibrant by increasing the number of female employees at Burton. What is the ultimate goal of the Women’s Leadership?
Make 51% of our employees to women, 51% of gear share to women’s and 51% of riders to women! Well, the biggest goal is to make our employees feel that Burton is a great place to work and Burton is a great brand.
(ss) Quality improvement, right?
We want to show that it is not a male-dominated brand that makes women’s gear. We are significantly committed to women. We want people to know that our company is not where women ‘can’ work but it is a company that really ‘needs’ women.
(ss) Turning 51% of overall sales share into women’s gear is certainly an aggressive target.
Yes and it is definitely achievable. In fact global sales share between men and women is very close. Girls like to shop and we need to see more female riders as a first step. I want to tie up with the resorts to teach them how to snowboard. In fact I decided that I wanted surf several years ago and Jake took me to the ocean and he was like, “You can do it!” without teaching me anything. I got bruise and I was scared of waves but men are like, “You have to try first to learn.” So I participated in a women’s surf camp on my own and thought this was much better and I could learn a lot. There were many women beside me and they kept cheering me. They gave me step by step lesson and I became to like surfing. So that’s why I want to do a program that teaches women that snowboarding is not tough or hard. I want to involve those who had done in the past but not anymore. In the US and Europe, there is already LTR (Learn to Ride) program for women. Learn snowboarding by using products developed for women through a programme developed for women. In the past ROXY did a great promotion that communicated accessibility to surf and we want to do something similar.
“Women who want to ride should be connected. I want to prepare a community for them.”
(ss) Women’s riding trend in Japan seems to be polarized. You either want to compete or just want to enjoy it as leisure.
I think we should further evolve LTR so that we can push up the platform of women’s riding level. Also we need to communicate people that the team riders are closer to them than they think. By doing so I think there will be more riders in the layer between competition and leisure. Competitions are necessary to evolve the technology of snowboard and the riders like Kelly Clark are amazing. But not all the snowboarders want to become like Kelly. I want to show more variations in women’s snowboarding scenes.
(ss) Once you reached the certain level, you need to create your own motivation to keep riding. Maybe women cannot find the next goal?
When we started LTR for women, I realized that the number of women who want to start snowboarding was around the same as men. But very few of them continue after that. I thought they quit because they fell over and it’s cold things like that but actually we lose female riders after they acquired the skill of consecutive turns because they lose their friends to go and ride with. You started riding with your boyfriend but he improves quicker than you so you have to ride alone, or your friend quits snowboarding or becomes a mother. I think we need something to connect women who want to ride with other women. I want to connect those who share the same goal by creating some type of social media. I think it is good if they find what the most important thing for them is and what the coolest thing for them is in those communities. Instead of just following the man’s path, we want to provide women a platform so that they can start thinking by themselves.
(ss) Female riders are in the process of maturity. For example, Burton’s rider Terje Haakonsen has influenced a large number of riders not only because of his skill but also his history and the mindset. It is pretty difficult to find such rider in women’s category. What do you think about this?
I have three sons and they know what Terje eats for breakfast though they haven’t met him. It is true that there has not been any female rider whose lifestyle is as famous as Terje and we want to communicate such part more and more. For example, Hannah Teter has a great personality and unique lifestyle. I think she is the only vegetarian among Olympic gold medalists. It had been hard to tell the story of female riders but I think it is easier now with the help of developed digital media and social media. It is just the matter of communication.
(ss) How do you want your team riders to be?
Having the world’s top female riders plays a huge role from product aspect because they ride 200 days a year and come back to us with a variety of different feedback. I want to help them express themselves. When Shannon Dunn developed “Feelgood”, our hard gear division said no to the name because it was too sexual. So I backed her up and now Feelgood has become the best selling board in women’s division. Women maybe not so good at being logical and the team should work together to execute great ideas generated by them. We want to grow more riders who are close to and empathized by users.
(ss) Is Shannon Dunn still riding?
She is a mother now. Her husband works at Burton so they enjoy riding together. She is a very iconic rider.
(ss) She is the rider that we want to know the lifestyle.
That’s great! I will tell her to visit Japan.

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