Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: 26 Ways (& More) to be an Ally in the Outdoor Industry

First, let me give you the disclaimer:

I’m in no way an expert on human behavior and psychology when it comes to the ideal manner of being an ally on the issue of diversity, equity and inclusion. The following comments are suggested approaches towards becoming an effective and authentic ally to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoor industry based on my twenty plus years of dealing with DEI in another industry (legal) that has been historically devoid of diversity, equity and inclusion.  The measures below emanate from my own personal experiences, observations and lessons learned from an industry that once experienced a drastic shift towards DEI.

Clearly, the outdoor industry is experiencing a similar shift that requires as many allies as possible to affect real change.  The Canadian outdoor company, MEC, issued a statement on the lack of diversity on their marketing campaigns.  Companies are signing onto the CEO Outdoor Pledge created by Teresa Baker.  Camber Outdoors has expanded its scope beyond addressing gender alone. It has acknowledged the need to address DEI on multi-levels.  REI has diversified the people in its catalogues and social media.  For sure, there are more changes to come.

If you work within the outdoor industry, you will come face to face with having to decide as to your position on DEI.  Whichever way you decide, it’s prudent to allow yourself to learn the ways to become an ally on such a complex issue.

1.       Be authentic.

If you wish to be an ally, then start with the question “why?”  Before you can even begin to decide on the actions that you must take, ask yourself first: “Why am I making such a decision to become a changemaker?”  Do you want to affect change because you believe there’s an inequality issue in the industry?  Do you wish to level the playing field?  Are you driven by your moral compass which warrants you to address this inequality as a social justice issue?  Or is money or profit driving you towards allyship?  Whatever the reason, be honest with yourself.  Your plan of action will reveal itself more easily when you have a full grasp of your own personal motive in the cause.

 2.       Acknowledge the problem. 

Your team of company CEOs or editors has consisted of merely white men and women for decades.  You never have hired a person of color as a store clerk or as part of your design team.  Perhaps, you’ve never used people of color as models for your Instagram account.  Acknowledge the lack of diversity or equity in your organization.  Put that acknowledgement in writing whether through a press release admitting the systemic problem in your organization or by issuing a new mission statement that incorporates DEI efforts. This is a critical, albeit hard, step to take.  Do it anyway.

3.       Admit you don’t have all the answers. 

There is humility behind admitting one’s ignorance on the issue at hand.  It’s also a stepping stone to finding real answers to the problem as opposed to assuming you know everything only to find out soon enough that you made mistaken assumptions.  If you don’t know at all how to go about becoming an ally, then accept that to be the case.  Don’t pretend you know how if you don’t; otherwise, you’ll end up making mistakes that are irrevocable.  By admitting you don’t have the answers, you then allow yourself to have conversations with others that can ultimately lead you to the answers, rather than making assumptions that may very well turn out to be invalid. 

4.       Conduct a thorough assessment of the problem. 

You manage to admit to yourself that you do not have the answers to your questions on DEI.  What follows then is the need to assess the problem.  Be a truth seeker. Be bold. Ask questions. Do a survey on the status of the DEI in your organization or industry.  This survey will provide you the facts that you need to create the measures that uniquely address your DEI situation.  This maybe time consuming and costly but it is better than wasting time and money on a problem that lacks all the pertinent information and data.

5.       Educate yourself on the issues. 

If a POC co-worker gets offended by a statement you made and you have no clue as to why, as an ally you should be curious enough to research the historical context of the statement you made.  Because you wish to understand the nuances of racism, you will be compelled to research and educate yourself when disagreements happen.  As an ally, you cannot afford the thought of continually offending someone.  Rather, you take it as your responsibility to be mindful of your words and actions.  You read history books and social commentaries written by people of color or stories on POC hikers who completed a thru hike.  To understand the experiences of people of color, you must deliberately place yourself in their shoes through reading and listening to their narratives. 

6.       Keep your implicit biases in check.

Everyone has biases towards one group or another. Are you aware of all those biases that you hold? Maybe your social understanding of Asians, Latinos, Native Americans or African Americans is derived mainly from the movies you watch.  That isn’t necessarily the best medium to learn about people’s experiences in America.  Ask yourself what your views are of Asians or Latinos.  What comes to mind?  Are your assumptions based on reality or are they based on a distortion of the truth?  Start getting to know your biases and prejudices because you will need to intentionally challenge them and cast aside those that are untrue. It’s an ongoing process with no end in sight.

7.       Accept the feeling of discomfort as the norm. 

There is nothing comforting about racism. So, why should you expect to feel any comfort with expending the efforts to change an industry that remains filled with implicit biases?  As a person of color, I can tell you that experiencing racism and discrimination is never comfortable.  And, that discomfort is sadly something that people of color have learned to get used to most of their lives.  This means a conversation on racism is simply an extension of the instances of racism that we endure; hence, the “discomfort” has become a forced, and always an unwelcome, norm in our world.  Should we engage in a conversation with you about racism, as an ally, be ready to face the hard truths about the issue. Don’t dilute the conversation with neutral and safe terms. Call racism as it is because doing so paints a clear picture of the problem that we are jointly addressing which then leads us to find an effective solution.  Defining the problem in an ambiguous fashion doesn’t usually lead to an honest solution. You can try to skirt around it but in no way will you get to the intended outcome without defining the problem clearly first.

8.       Initiate and invite. 

DEI is a problem for all, both the culprits behind the problem and those that are impacted.  Therefore, as an ally, there’s no valid reason for you to wait on people of color to initiate and invite. As an ally who wants change, you can initiate the conversation. You can invite us to the table. You can take all sorts of measures should you choose to truly create a momentum towards change.  Waiting is only for those who are half-hearted in their commitment to inclusion. 

9.       Be mindful of who you choose to lead the DEI efforts. 

You may have decided to run a DEI workshop to educate or train your employees.  But your workshop leaders do not represent any of the individuals that you are intending to include.  You wish to include people of color as part of your management or pool of employees and yet your DEI workshop leaders are all white.  Motivating your company employees to partake in DEI would not be as effective if the DEI workshop leaders you hire do not even resemble the notion that you are trying to advocate for.  Someone is likely to question the authenticity and credibility behind your efforts, and rightfully so.  Hire DEI experts who look like the people you wish to include because doing so aligns with the change you’re promoting.  Also, logically speaking, POCs as DEI workshop leaders hold personal experiences that will make their presentation more meaningful and authentic compared to that of their white counterparts. 

 10.   Gather knowledge from those individuals you wish to include. 

You know a few POC DEI leaders in the industry.  Hire them to speak to your employees.  Consult with them on measures you can take.  Do not blindly address the DEI issues within your organization especially when you know of POCs in the industry who can provide you invaluable expertise on the subject. If you stay humble and solicit help when it’s needed from POC leaders on the DEI topic, then you’re more likely to get things right in terms of how to approach the DEI problem.  Such move is not only wise, but also efficient and effective.

 11.   Trade political correctness with candidness. 

Are you afraid of speaking up for fear of using the wrong words?  If you choose to remain silent, then you only become part of the problem.  How can you and a group of changemakers solve this DEI problem if you do not intend to express wholeheartedly your ideas?  Tackling DEI issues requires courage.  It’s better to say the wrong thing and learn from the situation the proper way to say it versus not speaking at all.  Accepting mistakes is part of the ordeal.  In turn, when a fellow ally speaks disrespectfully, kindly guide him on the right path without judging.

 12.   Understand that DEI involves healing and bridging the gap. 

As an ally, you know the effects of historical racism of this country on people of color.  You know that there are emotions involved in the POCs’ experience with racism. You accept and honor that. You learn ways to validate their pain and experiences.  Discussing changes in your company or the stories that POCs wish to tell are approached humanely; rather than in a technical manner.  This is important because the underlying theme behind DEI is “healing” and “bridging the gap.”  When working with POCs, the healing part on their end is a silent process.  Whether you become privy to that is up to them.  At the very least, know that healing is part of the process; hence, it’s prudent for you always to speak and act kindly.  Logic and problem-solving abilities are highly valuable but bridging gaps and building trust in your relationships with others are highly fundamental, as well.

 13.   Be explicit and 100% with your commitment. 

Once you are solid on your commitment to DEI, the next logical step is to announce your commitment to the rest of the industry.  Write a mission statement pertaining to DEI.  Send out a press release on your DEI commitment.  Incorporate DEI in your office manual and protocols.  Demonstrate your commitment via your marketing campaign.  As a publication, write about it.  In other words, translate the thoughts in your head into words on paper.  Make a full disclosure of your intention to the entire industry; rather than merely making a comment in passing about it with a colleague.

 14.   Realize that people of color are multi-faceted. 

You have been publishing opinions and stories related to DEI from your POC contributors.  But have you published articles by POCs that tackle issues or topics other than DEI?  Unless you have done so, your effort to publish articles written by POCs will only appear as a form of tokenism.  POC contributors are more than just about DEI.  They have stories that can connect on a human level, setting aside the aspect of race or gender or whatever else that seems to divide us these days.  As an ally, you should see POCs as more than just quota fillers for your company or publication. Their stories will create the bridge to alleviate the disconnect.  Take advantage of that.

 15.   Get used to making inconvenient changes. 

To align with an authentic approach to DEI, you may wish to consider hiring a DEI liaison who is a person of color.  And, if by chance, you already have a DEI liaison who happens to be white, you will have to face the tough question of whether retaining this person is prudent or not in your efforts towards DEI within your own organization.  DEI work requires making changes even if they happen to be inconvenient.

 16.   Make room and effort. 

You’re highly regarded in the industry. Perhaps you’re a CEO or an editor.  Or maybe, you’re an athlete or an influencer.  If you happen to be a gatekeeper or a stakeholder of some type and wish to create a more inclusive industry, then allow other voices to have the space.  If you’re a CEO of a company, then start implementing protocols that will pave the way towards the hiring and promotion of people of color, women etc.  If you’re an editor, then pay attention to stories that deviate from the usual narratives.  If you’re an influencer, feature diverse people and their work or stories.  Step aside for a moment and give the new voices the space and exposure.  If you do not have such diverse voices around you, then cast a wider net.  Be creative in your approach to find diverse voices or potential hires.  You conduct the search until you find them.  If it is a challenge for you to retain diverse individuals or obtain involvement of diverse voices, ask yourself this:  Is my platform or company welcoming to people of color?  If not, then start making changes from within to ensure that your brand or company is welcoming to diverse individuals to begin with.

 17.   Support and collaborate.

You found the people and voices you’re looking for to include in your company or platform.  Now, what?  The work continues as you must ensure that you support them adequately within your company or platform.  If they’re new to the industry, give them the support that they need.  Provide a mentor.  Provide guidance and helpful critiques.  Connect them with the right people to ensure their success in the industry.  Inspire them by being a role model in your industry.  And always keep your door open for collaborations, be it a POC event that you can support via sponsorship or by showing up, or by collaborating on an article together.

 18.   Be an advocate. 

Did a fellow co-worker utter racist comments during lunch? Speak up and educate him or her.  Part of being an ally is having the commitment to ensure the office culture caters to all individuals.  Does the editor in your magazine routinely publish stories from the same decade long writers who are all white?  At the next meeting, suggest to your editor the idea of entertaining and publishing stories from a different angle.  After all, hiking the John Muir Trail as a Caucasian man entails a different outdoor experience than someone who is a person of color.  Don’t wait for someone to speak up about changes.  Be the advocate yourself. 

 19.   Apply diversity in your personal life. 

It goes without saying that a true ally not only applies the notion of diversity in his or her professional life but also in his or her personal life.  Not only does this relate to being authentic but also a true ally understands that DEI doesn’t end once you clock out of work.  DEI change must be a permanent overarching aspect of your life regardless of the scenario.

 20.   As a gatekeeper, avoid placing people of color in uncompromising situations. 

As a person who holds authority in your organization, you’re mindful of the decisions you make in telling the narratives of diverse voices. As an editor of a magazine, you welcome fully the narratives and opinions of people of color even if the topic at hand is somewhat controversial and offensive to some of your readers.  You’re careful enough to avoid imposing on the contributor the manner in which you think the story or opinion should be presented without silencing the contributor’s version of truth in his or her story or opinion.  You value the importance of validating the contributor’s unique voice by way of allowing him or her to share the story or opinion with the least amount of editing involved. You strive not to place the contributor in an uncompromising situation by way of diluting his or her message for the sake of pleasing your audience or protecting your cohorts.  If you truly believe that DEI change should happen, then allow your POC contributor to fully express his or her voice on the issue even if it leads to discomfort for some people.

 21.   Financial or material support is a step, not the end goal. 

You have an outdoor company. You selected people of color as part of your ambassador program. You provide them with gear.  Better yet, you provide funding for various POC-led outdoor groups to support the work that they do.  Your financial or material support is certainly a positive measure towards change but such plan of action without much else is never long-lasting in its impact, and it is not the end goal. This measure can only go on for as long as you’re funding or providing the items, which can end at any time.  If you wish to leave a real impact on the industry as an ally, you must do more than just fund or provide in-kind support. Engaging in long-term changes such as hiring POCs for management positions that will change the entire power dynamics within the company is one prime example of a much more impactful change.

22.   Focus on systemic changes. 

Whereas financial support is not the ultimate goal, a lasting change on the power dynamics within the industry, on the other hand, is.  Real DEI change does not happen on one level alone. To sustain DEI change long term, the shift must occur on all levels within the organization, especially in the management arena.  You cannot have people of color working on the floor of your store while retaining a team of exclusively white managers.  DEI is sustainable only if those in leadership embody a diverse group of individuals.  The change must happen at all levels of the organization; otherwise, inequity remains an issue.

23.   Follow through with your commitments to DEI. 

You made a promise to implement DEI efforts in your company.  You created a mission statement. You agreed to publish an opinion or story written by a POC.  You agreed to collaborate on assembling a panel to talk about tough issues pertaining to the lack of diverse leadership in the industry. Then, as a true ally, you must deliver what you promised to do.  DEI work involves building trust between the POC community and the so-called allies.  Such a relationship is delicate in every way and any deviation that you do from what you promised as an ally will call into question your commitment to DEI.  Always remember that.

24.   Disseminate your DEI ideas and lessons learned with those who need them.  

As an ally, you believe it is important to share resources with your industry colleagues to affect long-lasting change.  You have become a pioneer on DEI. If so, you should be willing to share ideas with your cohorts for the betterment of the entire industry.  You will not allow the nuances of competition in this market to dissuade you from sharing ideas because the ultimate outcome you are aiming for is a much more important goal to attain.

25.   Don’t do it unless you believe in it.  

If you do DEI half-heartedly, then it will lead to incomplete outcomes.  If you do not truly believe in DEI, it will be felt by those around you.  If you are only partaking in this change for profits alone, then expect everyone to see your true motive.  Those who are authentic with their mission to create change will outlive and outdo those who are here for superficial reasons.

26.   Take responsibility for your mistakes. 

Mistakes are inevitable along the way.  You’ll offend someone eventually or improperly implement DEI in your company.  If that happens, take ownership of the mistakes, apologize to those affected, and move on.  Equally important here is the “moving on” part because you cannot dwell in the error that was made. Doing so will slow down your efforts towards DEI.

DEI is a lifelong commitment, and if done correctly, it should leave you changed on a personal and professional level.  Results ultimately come, albeit slowly, when you as an individual within such a powerful industry take concrete and well thought out steps towards DEI.  It requires patience and continuous assessment of your own personal growth because DEI is first and foremost about you and how you choose to interact and co-exist with people that differ from you.  DEI isn’t a political question; nor is it a marketing strategy.  The DEI problem in the industry calls for everyone’s sense of humanity including yours.    In fact, this leads to one more question for you to answer:

Will you show up for it or not?   

Anything to add to the list? Please do and let’s continue the conversation.

For a background on the DEI problem in the outdoor industry, read When Money is the Bottom Line: The Inclusion Problem in the Outdoor Industry.

Also read, Will OIA Take a Stance? The Inclusion Problem in the Outdoor Industry, Part II.

If you’re a CEO or an employee of an outdoor company, then you may wish to read Outdoor Companies: Get Smart About Hiring.

Marinel DeJesusComment