Outside Business Journal

A New Beginning for DEI in Outdoors

In what many hope is a new chapter for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoor industry, four leading organizations unite with a public statement and commitment to do better

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Camber Outdoors, the Outdoor Industry Association and Snowsports Industries America have made a collective commitment to encourage diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the outdoor recreation and snow sports industries. With the support and cooperation of DEI leaders Teresa Baker, creator of the Outdoor Industry CEO Diversity Pledge, and José González, founder emeritus of Latino Outdoors, this agreement formally declares that each organization will work to create a professional environment in the business of outdoor recreation where all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation, can be successful.

The statement reads as follows:

“We at SIA, OIA, Camber Outdoors and Outdoor Retailer celebrate the many conversations that have evolved within our industry and community. Together we are committed to working alongside diversity, equity and inclusion leaders who work to gather the voices that we need and welcome into our industry. Each of our organizations are committed to using our resources and connections to create structures that facilitate the snow sports and outdoor industries to become more inclusive, equitable and diverse workplaces, outdoor spaces and organizations in general. We encourage every outdoor enthusiast, company and organization who shares in a love for the outdoors to start and/or further engage in this work as well.”

seven people standing arm in arm
DEI leaders from across the country gathered with Camber Outdoors on day 0 of Outdoor Retailer Snow Show to discuss the path path forward. (Left to right: Tinelle Louis, Kenji Haroutunian, Dr. Carolyn Finney, Teresa Baker, Irene Vilar, Emily Newman, and Dr. Gerilyn Davis) (Photo: James Edward Mills)

Though non-binding and short on specifics, this declaration is something the outdoor industry has desperately needed to move the work of DEI forward. Few would object to the concept of workplace equity, but only a handful of companies including REI, The North Face, and Canada’s Mountain Equipment Co-Op or MEC have issued similar statements of commitment and have taken proactive steps toward making their desired outcome a reality. This declaration from the senior executives of the top trade groups acknowledges the importance of DEI in the long term success of the outdoor industry and creates the basic groundwork from which to create policies and a system of best practices that others may follow to ensure that everyone in the outdoors is welcome.

“I am thankful that SIA, OIA, and Camber have taken the time to hear from me and other DEI advocates and respond to our conversations with such a positive step forward,” said Baker. “May we continue to move forward with sincere efforts, as we welcome others to join us in this work of creating a more inclusive outdoor arena.”

woman with long blonde hair wearing glasses and white t-shirt with flannel shirt stands in front of a podium giving a speech.
Emily Newman addressed the outdoor industry for the first time at the Camber breakfast on day three of Outdoor Retailer Snow Show. (Photo: James Edward Mills)

On the final day of the 2020 Outdoor Retailer + SIA Snow Show in Denver, Emily Newman, the new executive director of Camber Outdoors, announced that the opening session of next year’s OIA breakfast meeting will focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. In her first public address to the outdoor recreation community at the Camber Outdoors Keynote Breakfast, Newman reaffirmed her organization’s continuing efforts toward DEI.

“Building equitable and inclusive workplaces and industry as a whole is a journey that requires participation from everyone. Our mission of advancing workplace inclusion, equity and diversity is but one element of this important work,” she said in a written statement. “We are energized by these new partnerships as we stand shoulder to shoulder to create an outdoors for everyone by lifting voices, and implementing practices and tools that drive measurable progress.”

After the controversial failed launch of its CEO Equity Pledge a year ago at the 2019 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, Camber has tried to win back its credibility as a leader in DEI. As the organization in the outdoor industry charged with the mission of encouraging workplaces that are diverse equitable and inclusive, Newman’s organization is building relationships across the industry to share in this culturally sensitive and important work.

“SIA is committed to building authentic relationships with the many voices throughout the winter sports community to better address diversity, equity and inclusion,” said board chairwoman Wendy Carey. “This is invigorating for the future of our sports, and we know we have to lead on this. The time is now, and by having these conversations with all of the key stakeholders, we can act swiftly and take meaningful steps forward.”

Five people--three white women, one black woman, and a latino man-- sitting around a table in a meeting
To craft its joint statement on diversity, equity, and inclusion, leaders from Camber Outdoors, Outdoor Industry Association, and Snowsports Industries America consulted with activists Teresa Baker and José González. (Photo: James Edward Mills)

Through the combined efforts of each organization Camber aims to avoid the mistakes of the past with a top-down approach. The intention is to encourage other senior executives to take an active role in the DEI efforts of their organizations.

“We believe that collaboration is the key to movement and action. We have begun the work of making the outdoors more accessible and inclusive to diverse communities through the Outdoor Foundation’s Thrive Outside Communities initiative,” said OIA board chairwoman Nora Stowell. “This is a complex and deeply rooted issue that no single organization alone can solve.”

This combined declaration of commitment is an excellent first step toward the establishment of a community culture that truly embraces diversity. Within hours of its creation Outdoor Retailer show director Marisa Nicholson added her statement of commitment in support of DEI.

“Outdoor Retailer is proud to support our partners and everyone working on these critical initiatives,” she said. “We are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in our own team and beyond, so that we can continue to provide an international forum to elevate these important conversations.”

Now that everyone seems to be on the DEI bandwagon, it’s important to understand that a declaration of commitment is only as valuable as a person or institution is prepared and willing to see it through. It’s a fine thing to say that diversity, equity and inclusion matter, but it’s something else entirely to incorporate their principles into the very fabric of a company’s business model. In his address at the Camber Outdoors Breakfast Keynote Blair Taylor, a partner in Workforce of the Future at Price Waterhouse Coopers, impressed upon his audience the reality that there is nothing less at stake than the survival of the outdoor industry itself.

“It’s time for business and community leaders to challenge ourselves, leave our comfort zones and take risks,” Taylor said. “The era we live in today is critical—it will define our future—and companies must rethink the way we do business.”

Taylor agrees that securing senior leadership support is the best first place to start. When it comes to DEI he suggests clearly defining both the business case and the necessity for an approach that is authentic. He warns that lasting change requires a profound shift of an organization’s culture and daily behaviors. They must measure where they begin and how they progress. And perhaps most importantly he prescribes to never go it alone.

It’s now up to each organization to go back to their respective employees, human resource managers, boards of directors and constituents to rethink the way they do business. Having declared their commitment to do better on DEI these four industry leaders have also set themselves up to be held accountable for their measurable improvement. Will things have changed by next year’s show? The industry is now watching. We’ll just have to wait and see.