To the leaders of outdoor brands and companies:
You have the power to assume the role of a changemaker when it comes to creating a more equitable outdoor industry. But it’s not just about hiring a person of color as CEO or placing more images of people of color on your social media accounts. It’s about a shift in work culture, which relies on the changing mindset of those in leadership positions. It requires an understanding of the nuances of race relations and other power dynamics that are a part of any industry.
As a person of color and a CEO myself, I ask that you take time to reflect on what it means to implement diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in your professional lives. It’s probably going to be harder—and more rewarding—than you think.
People of color have been routinely rendered invisible in this industry, in all kinds of ways that can be unsuspecting but are harmful. There are the explicit claims that we don’t consume enough in the outdoor industry or don’t recreate outdoors in significant numbers. Then there are the times companies look right through us—making promises to empower women in the workforce without properly considering POC, or writing about DEI but never addressing race-related issues head-on. In the industry as a whole, people of color speaking up about diversity issues are judged as making baseless contentions—as was recently the case in response to an article about inclusion that I wrote for Adventure Journal. (Some comments: “Please, I’m begging you; can we stop the whining?” “This person is griping and playing the race and gender cards.”)
To truly create a more inclusive workforce, you’re going to have to acknowledge that the industry has been pretty clueless—and sometimes outright hostile—toward people of color thus far. Then you’re going to have to try a lot harder.
Implementing DEI efforts focused on race in the workforce can be more challenging than similar efforts focused on women. We all have women in our lives, but it’s easy to be insulated from associating with people of color, on a professional and personal level. If you never or hardly associate yourself with people of color on a personal level, let alone a professional level, then you have a tremendous challenge ahead of you. You have to make a conscious effort to change your own mindset and reflect on your own perceptions on diversity—don’t assume that you understand everything already.
Prioritizing DEI means that perhaps for the first time in your company’s history, you will be working side by side with people of color in leadership positions. You’ll need to communicate with them on a regular basis. They will make decisions that are critical to the success of your business pursuits. It will change the power dynamics within your company, and you’ll probably have to deal with critics of this change in your workforce. It can get uncomfortable rather quickly. You will have to ask yourself if that’s something you can handle as a potential long-term battle within your organization. Are you a strong enough leader to inspire your cohorts to adapt to this new change for the benefit of everyone?
Because people of color will also help innovate ways to cater to a wider market that can ultimately bring you more profits—after all, the general population is increasingly nonwhite, and so is the population of people who love the outdoors. Implementing a genuine DEI framework just so happens to be aligned with your bottom line.
But there’s more. You need to keep pushing to make the idea a part of your company’s philosophy and mindset. This translates into being mindful of the DEI concept in social settings, gatherings, picnics, and every social aspect of your company. It means a complete overhaul of your company culture and policies that will normalize racial differences as simply an ingrained part of your company’s brand and identity.
In short, DEI is a long-term commitment requiring a mandatory change in thinking and practice. Whether you’re driven by money, altruism, or philosophy, take a stance and declare your stance to the world explicitly. You can only do that if you’re willing to undergo a complete philosophical and organizational change.
As if that’s not challenging enough, somewhere along the way, you may find yourself asking the most personal and value-laden question of all: Do diversity, equity, and inclusion matter to you?
The journey to inclusion is never easy. There will be tons of questions, discussions, dead ends, uphill battles, doubts, second-guessing, conflicts, fear, and frustrations. There will be forced changes in your office culture to move your company toward DEI whether your employees support them or not. There will be hurt feelings and opinions of disapproval, both expressed and unexpressed. There will be those among your staff who will question whether your efforts toward DEI are a covert form of reverse discrimination. And then there will be those who will see the long-term vision behind your efforts and find themselves aligned with your intentions. You must be equipped to address all of this candidly and honestly to gain the trust of your team and promote the inclusion of all.
Understandably, you have probably struggled to make speedy efforts toward a more inclusive industry. DEI is a lifetime commitment—a huge task that requires acknowledgement of the issue, introspection, and a well-thought-out execution. As a person of color, a product of affirmative action, and both a proponent and critic of affirmative action, I can understand your unsettling predicament. It matters to me that you’re thoughtful and cautious about this. Consider your first step as the first of many chances you’ll have to embrace DEI the right way and champion progress in your industry—which has shown itself to be quite outdated but still capable of enduring a major change to continue its fulfillment of the bottom line in a for-profit industry.
Marinel de Jesus and Krista Karlson, of Peak Explorations, have created an anonymous survey to better understand successes, barriers, and questions about incorporating DEI practices into companies of all sizes and missions. They’ll be accepting responses until July 8.