How Do YOU Make The Outdoors More Inclusive?

How Do YOU Make The Outdoors More Inclusive?

Over the weekend I had the wonderful privilege to visit for the first time Cuyahoga Valley National Park. But a canceled flight made for a harrowing day of air travel as my journey to Cleveland, Ohio from Madison, Wisconsin was rerouted through Denver, Colorado. I typically don’t like to fly on the same day that I give a presentation to avoid circumstances exactly like this. Though I had planned to arrive with plenty of time to visit the area and explore a bit, I managed to get to the venue for my talk with only minutes to spare.

As the final presenter in the Lyceum Distinguished Speakers Series I gave a lecture on my book the Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors. Even though it was written five years ago, the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in outdoor recreation is still relevant to the interests of those most eager to protect and preserve our natural resources, particularly in our national parks. With more than a few dozen people in attendance it’s nice to know that there are many who really want to make the outdoors more accessible to a broader cross section of the American public. It is my hope to move this conversation forward in order to discover how we might do exactly that.

Late last year The Atlantic Magazine published a very informative reporting package sponsored by outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI). Created in cooperation with several different experts on the topic from around the country including Carolyn Finney, José Gonzalez, Len Necefer, Angelou Ezeilo, Brooklyn Bell and others, the comprehensive piece titled “Five Ways to Make the Outdoor More Inclusive” provided an excellent guide toward achieving this extremely ambitious goal. To put into context this growing movement to improve DEI I want to better understand some of the obstacles that are impeding our progress forward and perhaps highlight those efforts that are gaining ground. In particular I’m curious to know what businesses and environmental non-profit organizations are doing to achieve lasting change.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Over more than 50 years, with periodic amendments and additions of protected classes, both private and public institutions have been prohibited from discrimination in the workplace on the basis race, gender, age, sexual orientation, military service or disability. Throughout the lifetimes of most working adults today, just about every job or profession has enjoyed the legal protection of “An Equal Opportunity Employer”.

But a generation after this landmark initiative was signed into law there are still wide disparities in the makeup of the U.S. workforce. In many professional environments across the broad spectrum of careers in fields that include banking, engineering, architecture and computer science there remain a dearth of people of color, women, the disabled and those who identify as LGBTQ as rank-in-file employees, middle managers or senior executives. Though many sectors of our economy are making positive strides toward improving the diversity of job candidates, interns, trainees and permanent staff members, at least one major employer lags woefully behind.

The Outdoor Recreation Industry still has a lot of ground to make up in its ability to engage, recruit and retain a workforce that reflects the demographic reality of the American public. Though now nationally recognized as an annual contributor to the Gross Domestic Product or GDP in excess of 2 percent (, the Outdoor Industry remains reliant upon both customers and employees that skew toward a constituency that this mostly male, white, college-educated, socially mobile and middle to upper class. As their target demographic has begun to shrink, these companies and organizations dedicated to providing goods and services to those who play outside are failing to connect with an emerging population that is increasingly more brown, gender neutral or non-confirming, time-constrained, lower-income and urban.

If the Outdoor Industry is going to survive this cultural shift of the American economy, most institutions will have to change their way of doing business. Though few if any have deliberately discriminated against under represented members of the communities they serve the time has come to actively reach out to and embrace these minorities groups. Because in the foreseeable future they will soon become the majority.

Many in the Outdoor Industry are now aware that they have a diversity problem. Retailers, manufacturers, outfitters, environmental non-profits and land management agencies across the country have an interest in finding solutions that are substantive and sustainable. Most however are struggling to find best practices that are authentic and genuinely reflect their sincere desire to be equitable and inclusive of all people. Though some are doing a better job than others there should at least be a few abiding principles upon which everyone can agree to begin and continue this very important work.

For the purposes of a detailed story that I am currently working on I have posed a series of questions to individuals and executives across the outdoor industry. I want to know what is actually happening beyond the desire to change the face of the outdoors. How do you make the outdoors more inclusive? Perhaps you were inspired by the article in The Atlantic. What are we doing to make DEI in the outdoors a reality? I’m interested in hearing your stories. Share with me your struggles and challenges, your failures. What your hopes and ambitions and how are you achieving them? What your best practices? What does your success look like? Take a look at the questions below. Drop me a note in the comments section with your answers or send me an email I don’t need you to respond to each one, just share your thoughts on any area that especially resonates with you. Feel free to brag. Cries for help are welcome and encouraged. I hope this can be a framework for broader discussion from which we can create real solutions. Let’s just have a conversation.


A declaration of intent
* Why is DEI important to the long-term success of your business or organization?
* What are your goals and aspirations? Not vague notions of an equitable work environment, but what are your real quantifiable objectives?
* How will you monitor and affirm your progress?

* How do you connect with the general public? Where do you advertise? Who are your ambassadors?
* Does your outward appearance reflect your intentions as an institution that values DEI?
* Are you sensitive to the interests and values of all the people you aim to reach?

Recruitment/Workplace Development
* Where are you looking for new customers and new employees?
* Are you presenting your organization with language and culturally relevant messaging that your target audience can not only understand but embrace?
* Does your culture internally reflect your intention to creation a professional environment where everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate?

* What are you doing to keep the new customers and employees you have engaged?
* Is your internal culture supportive of an individual’s ability to thrive and grow?
* Do your customers and employees imagine  a future with your organization? How are you helping them to secure that future?

* How does your organization encourage its community members to grow?
* Do you encourage mentoring?
* Is there a clear path of matriculation from one rung of the career ladder to the next?

Anything I missed? Something you’d like to add? Please feel free to share.