28 Jan The Pledge ~ A promise of DE&I in the Outdoor Industry
On Friday the Trump administration signed legislation to reopen the federal government. For many of us, an end to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history couldn’t have come soon enough. The announcement arrived just in time for the 2019 Outdoor Retailer Snow Show that’s starting this week in Denver Colorado. Tens of thousands of federal employees in service of environmental protection can now get back to doing their very important work. And those of us in the business of outdoor recreation can continue our efforts to make our public lands more accessible to a broader cross section of the American public.
That kind of reminded me of a story I produced over the summer that explores an ongoing initiative to bring more people of color into the outdoor industry. So with OR coming up this week I thought we might take a look back at “the Pledge”.
For people in business of adventure sports the Outdoor Retailer Show is a really big deal. There you’ll find aisle after aisle of high-tech backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, hiking boots, GPS devices, tasty trail snacks and headlamps. To the outdoor professional it’s pretty much kids…meet candy store! But if you take a look around you’ll also see a lot rugged men with Nordic features, full beards and plaid shirts. These guys kind of embody what you imagine when you think “outdoorsman”.Through most of it existence, the outdoor industry has been…well…pretty white. Not many companies at OR that deal in outdoor gear have many employees who are Black, Latino, Asian or Native American. Only a few can claim a senior executive, owner or board member who is a person of color. But at the 2018 Summer Market Mario Stanley, a rock climbing instructor from Dallas, Texas said this year he noticed something different.
Ah…the beautiful wave of brown walking around. I think that’s probably the one thing I notice the most. And then I’ve also noticed that more people are engaging.
Not only were there more people of color at OR this year, Stanley, who’s Black, said there is more conversation around issues of race and what the industry can do to improve its diversity.
The dialect has changed and they are allowing us to talk or asking us what are we doing for the greater POC community as a whole. And I think the biggest thing that I noticed this year was people are actually asking, “What are we doing?”
Research conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association, a trade group, indicates that people of color or POCs participate in outdoor recreation at rates lower than their white counterparts. In order to grow the market as well as the number of people overall who will help to protect the natural environment there is a concerted effort to bring more black and brown folks into the outdoor industry. Teresa Baker, an advocate for environmental justice, was at OR to promote an initiative she calls The Pledge
The pledge is a commitment that we are asking the owners of outdoor brands and retailers to commit to the work of diversity, racial diversity in the outdoors.
Through the Pledge, kind of a contract, Baker wants company executives to not only hire more people of color, but to create marketing and outreach strategies that appeal to a broader cross section of the American public. She’s not just interested in helping companies sell more products, but rather she hopes to encourage more people to care about the outdoors.
For me it really is about the environment and we need more people of color right now fighting for the environment. There are so many attacks on the land right now and the people that are missing from the conversation and the work are people of color.
As the current administration continues to roll back several of the environmental protections enacted over the last century, many in the outdoor industry are concerned for the long term success of their business. Joe Flannery, general manager of the outdoor equipment and apparel brand Marmot was the first to sign the Pledge.
And at the end of the day our industry will decline if we don’t get more people to participate in getting outside…period.
But there’s more to diversity than signing on to a non-binding agreement.
People will sign up because it looks good to be like “yeah I like diversity I’m going to sign this thing” and people are signing it without an actual understanding of what it entails to engage in diversity equity and inclusion.
Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin is a diversity consultant with a specialty in environmental conservation
My concern is that companies will sign it without really knowing, without being ready. That readiness won’t be there and the actual buy-in to what it entails might not be there.
Outside the halls of the Denver Convention Center this is good news to aspiring mountaineer and environmental activist Leandra Taylor.
I’m seeing a lot more brands putting more action behind the words, you know the inspirational words that everyone is getting behind. So it’s really cool to see people moving in that direction. And however slow the progress it’s really cool to see progress. Makes me want to come back over and over again to see more progress.
As a member of the first all African-American climbing team to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania last summer, Taylor is full of hope for the future.
I have so much confidence because I know the people that are next to me are also fighting to change things. And I know that we’re so capable of it and we’re creating a community and surrounding ourselves with people that have that same vision in mind. So I know it’s going to happen.Mi
When the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show opens in Denver on Wednesday we may indeed see more people of color walking the aisle than ever before. With a concerted effort to create opportunities in the business of outdoor recreation for more folks across all backgrounds to be successful we may be able look forward to a more diverse, equitable and inclusive outdoor industry in the future. You can learn more about this initiative online at diversifyoutdoors.com/pledge.
Music in production was provided by Artlist.
The Joy Trip Project is made possible thanks to the support of the Next 100 Coalition a diverse group of environmental activists working toward equity and inclusion in the management of public land through the next century and beyond. Learn about its members and current initiatives at Next100Coalition.org.
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