Outside Business Journal

What You Get When You Hire a DEI Consultant

For more than a decade, Miho Aida has been an outspoken advocate for equity, inclusion, and diversity in the outdoors

Kiran Herbert

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Miho Aida is a walking lesson in intersectionality. Born and raised in Tokyo, Aida has spent her adult life in the United States working in the outdoor industry. A former NOLS backpacking and climbing instructor, Aida is also an adventure cyclist, environmental educator, and scientist. Above all, she’s an activist. The founder of If She Can Do It, You Can Too, Aida is passionate about giving voice to Black, Indigenous, and fellow women of color developing social, environmental, and human rights movements around nature. Aida’s films—including the award-winning “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins: Gwich’in Women Speak”—are an extension of that work.

Aida works as an Equity and Inclusion Manager at nonprofit NatureBridge, and for more than a decade, the 48-year-old has advanced equity, inclusion, and diversity in the outdoors. A member of the In Solidarity Community Directory, Aida approaches her work with an attention to self-care, compassion, and awareness, all of which she believes are fundamental for transformation toward a more just society.

“What’s unique about my approach to equity, inclusion, and diversity work is in line with my immigrant identity,” she told OBJ. “My approach merges my lived experiences and practices from the East and West. I’m influenced by mindfulness and spiritual practice from the East; the Western influence is really being able to see how whiteness manifests within ourselves and within our organizational culture.”

We spoke with Aida at length about the logistics of hiring a DEI consultant, what the outdoor industry is doing well in terms of social justice, and how we could be doing better.

You’ve been engaged in equity, inclusion, and diversity work for a while—what do you recommend as the first steps for companies wanting to increase their efforts?

There has to be some sort of commitment from the top, from senior leadership to the board to shareholders, as well as from folks on the ground. And not just saying you’re committed and using your great vocabulary, but being committed when no one is watching you. The core of equity, inclusion, and diversity work, from my perspective, comes from this place of personal commitment to transformation.

A company might try to implement a strategic plan, recruit and hire people, or change advertising, and all these things are great. But without personal commitment—without buy-in on an individual, personal level—it’s really difficult to create a culture of change because culture is something people create.

Are you willing to give up your power? Are you going to use your privilege in a way to bring in the people who haven’t traditionally had access to your position? Or even, are you talking about anti-racist work with your family? Are you actually educating yourself and how does that come out in your words, actions, and thinking? That’s the level of work I’m talking about—what are you doing to shift your way of being?

I’m sure it varies person to person, but could you walk me through what it looks like to hire a DEI consultant?

I’ve been invited to do a lot of different things. Sometimes the companies already have a plan, so they’ll ask me to come in and do a microaggression training for an hour and half. Some universities and other educational institutions might ask, “Can you come and talk about the intersection of advocacy work and environmental education?” Sure, I can do that, because I’m an environmental educator and inclusion manager.

It’s important to have an open conversation with the person that you’re reaching out to hire because everyone who works as a consultant has different life experiences and different identities. You can present it by saying, “This is what we’re looking for from a consultant. We’re reaching out to see if this is something you can provide—and for what rate.” I think that’s a good approach. It’s very important at the very beginning to be very transparent.

What has your work entailed these last three months?

Some people charge per hour and some by the project. It’s safe to say people charge between $150 and $250 an hour when they come in and do the work. I’m very flexible—some places have a lot of money and I charge more; nonprofits don’t, so I usually negotiate to make sure I’m not breaking their rate. If someone asks me to come in as a keynote speaker, I make my rate higher. That space is different compared to consulting.

These days, a lot of people want me to talk about self-care. Particularly during this time, self-care, self-love, and self-awareness is necessary to minimize harm to ourselves. That has to be done first in order to minimize our harm in the world.

With my white colleagues and friends, I’ve seen a lot of social media posts and protest participation. It’s great. For some of them, it’s their first time being this active and there are a lot of ways to participate in anti-racism work. From this group of white folks working hard to become allies, I get inquiries like, “Will you be my mentor? Will you look at this letter I’m writing to our CEO or board? Do you have resources we can share with our community?”

It’s constant, and it’s almost always without any acknowledgement that this is what I do professionally. It comes across as a demand. I challenge people to see how they’re continuing to perpetuate this culture of exploiting the resources, knowledge, and time of people of color. That’s not anti-racism work, from my perspective. That’s perpetuating the status quo.

What is the industry doing well right now in terms of social justice?

There’s something about George Floyd’s death that really woke people up. Particularly among white communities, there’s a sense of personal responsibility. There’s an earthquake happening at the individual level and society has to respond to that demand. As a result, a lot of companies have no choice but to move forward with a statement. They have to integrate this diversity work in strategic plans and rebuild company culture.

There are so many conversations happening, podcasts being listened to, and books by Black authors being read. Integrating that into whatever gathering you have as an organization is powerful. There’s finally momentum now to create affinity groups at your organization.

What could the industry do better?

We have to continue to use this momentum to really drive the difficult conversations that people have avoided in the past. For example, you need to be courageous to dig deep and stay in the historical wound to see what you inherited from your people. From that place, you begin to humanize yourself. Then you can see that in others. I strongly believe that’s the first step toward healing from white supremacist culture. I’m not only talking about white people. I’m talking about whiteness that is killing everyone including white people.

It’s really important for us to acknowledge the past, too. When I think of social-emotional learning, we all have to heal from the historical trauma that we collectively belong to. It’s really important for us to learn what made who we are and how we still play a huge role in perpetuating history in today’s context.

We also have to apologize. That’s a really important part. Acknowledge the harm that you’ve caused as an organization. Write down everything, and based on that, make a public apology. Then we can think about how we want to be different from the history we all belong to and the future where we want to reach for.

Why do you think, even now as the BLM movement revitalizes this work in the outdoor industry, the Indigenous continue to get left out?

Why? I think it’s because we forget that we’re on the stolen land. It’s just not in our consciousness usually. Even when I think about this equity, inclusion, and diversity movement in the outdoor space, I must admit that the first year of the PGM ONE conference—the People of the Global Majority in the Outdoors, Nature, and Environment—there was a moment of recognition that we left out Indigenous folks. And many of us don’t have contemporary connections to Indigenous peoples, so unless you make an effort, you can live your life without knowing one single Indigenous person in the United States. You have to make an effort.

What’s the first thing companies can do going forward?

Make yourself see where you came from, how you became who you are, and dig deep into how you uphold systemic racism and white supremacy. From that place of self-awareness, commit to changing your way of being and thinking, your words and actions. For that to happen, though, you have to take a pause. It’s hard to do that when you keep moving.

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