Dear outdoor industry. Dear influencers of outdoor activities, climbing, cycling, hiking, skiing, any activity that simply involves being outdoors. You need to realize that you have the incredible capability of influencing lovers of nature when it comes to what we buy, what not to buy, when to buy it and most importantly, how much we spend. This industry has the ability to alter other industries—hospitality and tourism, being atop that list. The outdoor industry influences public land debates, how we as a nation decide how to use our most precious resources. This industry has such amazing power, yet it is mostly silent when it comes to expanding that power into matters of racial diversity and inclusion.
What the outdoor industry needs to come to grips with is this: In 15 to 20 years, people of color will be the number one demographic in this country, thus your new customer base, affecting your bottom line. If you are not currently working to create space and growth for communities of color, you’re running behind. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia states it best,“If your customer has to tell you what to do, you’re already too late.” Yet this news does not feel urgent by the lack of action I see by this industry. Time is not on your side. When I hear, over and over from CEO’s, marketing directors and social media managers, “We don’t know what to do,” or “We don’t want to do the wrong thing” or (my favorite), “We don’t want to appear inauthentic,” it makes me wonder how important this issue really is to the industry as a whole.
People of color are in these outdoor spaces and many are excelling at outdoor sports, but you would never know it by our absence in outdoor companies. We are missing from your boards. We are missing in upper management positions. We are missing in your social media feeds and marketing campaigns. Do we not fit your image of greatness in the outdoors? I’m at a loss to explain why lack of representation from communities of color, isn’t a priority for you. Sure, there are some brands and retailers who have recognized this shortcoming and are working diligently to address it. REI is making amazing strides on so many levels. The North Face, Patagonia, Marmot, are all picking up the pace. There is movement, but progress feels so slow. There are so many decisions to make and it can feel overwhelming at times, I get it—but over the years this industry has been so powerful in addressing environmental issues, that taking a stance on social justice issues seems on course. The work of diversity and inclusion is just that, social justice.
Look, we can all do better. The industry and the many grassroots organizations formed over the years to address diversity and inclusiveness can work together. We can dedicate ourselves to working our tails off, working through our frustrations and hesitations, so that one day we can pick up an outdoor publication and flip through the pages and see all of the amazing faces that make up this outdoor world. So that one day, we can look at the social media feeds of outdoor organizations, brands and retailers and see all of our faces represented—this needs to be commonplace, not just some special issue or promotion. We must be intentional in our actions. We must move beyond not being comfortable and ask the hard questions of ourselves. We need to know that unconscious biases may be at play and that’s all okay, if we are willing to work at changing it.
The outdoors has been my playground for most of my life. It is because I care so deeply about how we protect these spaces, that I fight as hard as I do on matters of diversity and inclusion. The more faces we recognize as vital pieces in these spaces, the more hands on deck we have to protect them. And aren’t they worth protecting, aren’t they worth the small price of being uncomfortable when it comes to doing work around diversity and inclusion? I think so. I hope you do, too. Time for “Naturepreneurs” to step up.
Teresa Baker is founder of the African American Nature and Parks Experience, which provides communities across the country with opportunities to participate in events that speak to culture, heritage, and lifestyle. She, along with Chris Perkins, another advocate for diversity and inclusion in the outdoors, has worked together on a diversity pledge inclusive of POC. Baker and Perkins are in the process of forming a steering committee to help with the commitments they are asking for from outdoor retailers. The pledge will launch at the end of June and it will be introduced at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver. It will be housed on the Diversify Outdoors webpage (diversifyoutdoors.com) for CEOs to sign and for public view. You can contact Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org.