Two Women, Three Men on a Raft

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Two Women, Three Men on a Raft
by Robert Schrank

What really happened to Raft No. 4 on an Outward Bound trip down the Rogue River?

This article was originally published in May–June 1977. Harvard Business School Press has just published it as part anthology of HBR articles on women and work, entitled Reach for the Top: Women the Changing Facts of Work life, edited by Nancy A. Nichols. For its republication as an HBR Classic, Robert Schrank and three professional women have written retrospective commentaries. One of the commentators accompanied Schrank on the original raft trip. One afternoon in June, I left cloistered halls of the Ford Foundation and within 36 hours found myself standing on the banks of the Rogue River in Oregon with three other uncertain souls who had embarked on a week of “survival training” sponsored by Outward Bound. It was a cloudy, cold day, and as we pumped up our rubber raft and contemplated the Rogue, we also wondered about one another. Before embarking on a Greyhound for the raft launching site, we had gathered the night before at the Medford Holiday Inn. That night, the Outward Bound staff had distributed individual camping gear and waterproof sleeping/storage bags to the 20 of us, almost all novices, and had given us a short briefing on the perils of going down the Rogue River on a raft. As they explained the nature of the trip, the Outward Bound staffers reminded me of seasoned military men or safari leaders about to take a group of know-nothings into a world of lurking danger. Their talk was a kind of machismo jargon about swells, rattlers, safety lines, portages, and pitons. Because they had known and conquered the dangers, it seemed they could talk of such things with assurance. This kind of “man talk” called to a primitive ear in us novices, and we began to perceive the grave dangers out there as evils to be overcome. In our minds, we were planning to meet “Big Foot” the very next day, and we were secretly thrilled at the prospect. If the Outward Bound staff briefing was designed to put us at ease, its effect, if anything, was the opposite. Hearing the detailed outline of what would be expected of us increased our anxiety. “You will work in teams as assigned to your raft,” said Bill Boyd, the Northwest Outward Bound director, “and you will be responsible for running your raft, setting up camp each night, cooking every fourth meal for the whole gang, and taking care of all your own personal needs.” The staff divided the 20 of us into four groups, each of which would remain together for the week on the raft. How we were grouped was never explained to us, but of the five rafts on the river, our raft, No. 4, was the only one that ended up with two women and three men. One of the men was a member of the Outward Bound staff, a counselor and guide who was considerably younger than his four charges. The four of us on Raft No. 4 were all in our middle fifties. Each of us had experienced some modicum of success in his or her life, and Outward Bound had invited each of us in the hope that after a week of living on the Rogue River we would go back from the trip as Outward Bound supporters and promoters.

On the River
Like most of the other 19 people on the trip, at the outset I had little or no idea of what to expect. I had participated in a few human growth encounter workshops, so I was prepared for, although again surprised at, how willingly people seem to accept the authority of a completely unknown group leader. Most people seem able to participate in all kinds of strange and, in many instances, new behaviors with no knowledge regarding the possible outcomes. This group was no exception. All of us had some notion of Outward Bound, but we knew nothing about each other, or our raft leader John, or the Rogue River. Even though their preembarkation talk was filled with the machismo jargon I mentioned, the staff did not describe what...
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