Creating Diversity in the Outdoor Industry

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The topic of diversity and inclusion filters down to communities and businesses around the globe, and the adventure park industry is no exception. Of course, the conversation around diversity can be a bit touchy and uncomfortable, especially in the tempestuous times of late. Often people don’t know how to discuss an issue that is so sensitive to so many, so they avoid it altogether. We’re no different. Seeking shelter from the discomfort of a potentially confrontational conversation may be more common than meeting the challenge head on.

The good news is: Our industry, and our country as is evident by recent events, is hungry for a change. The bad news: We’ll need to get uncomfortable to get there. The better news: There is a road map to navigating the discomfort.

Now is a great time to choose a new conversation and create a higher level of awareness in our businesses, communities, industry, and nation. We as owners, operators, and community members can choose to meet the discomfort head on and create an industry that is inclusive, innovative, and connected.

A ROAD MAP THROUGH DISCOMFORT

When it comes to understanding, a few small shifts with a focus on learning can go a long way.

A learning culture.

So how are businesses successfully broaching the topic of diversity, having the conversations, and ultimately creating a more inclusive industry, community, and world? By shifting the context from one of fear and discomfort to one of learning and compassion. By creating a “learning culture,” many businesses—be them aerial trekking, zip line tours, experiential learning programs, or building and installation operations—are fostering conversations on diversity in a positive and impactful way.

What is a learning culture, exactly? It starts with the idea that it is perfectly OK to make mistakes, as they are all from a place of understanding, compassion, and discovery. This provides a context that says, “Even though we might step on some land mines, we’re all about learning and growing as a business, community, and industry.” A learning culture creates a safe space for people to step out and risk while talking about and exploring diversity and inclusion. If you introduce diversity as a “hard topic,” you can definitely add this into your meetings and quickly make the topic more approachable.

Creating a learning culture is easier than you might think. In fact, we do this in our business every day. At one point or another, we have all had a guest, participant, or new staff member who is nervous about the activity we are presenting. Over time, they gain confidence through taking the initial risk at ground school or in a training program, and then create forward momentum and excitement as the course, activity, or job goes on.

Creating a learning culture to foster diversity in your business and community is no different. Discomfort is a good thing. It tells us we’re going in the right direction.

How to create a learning culture.

Step 1: Start with a willingness to make mistakes. By setting the context of, “It’s OK to make mistakes,” we acknowledge and embrace the possible discomfort before it becomes an issue. It is important to acknowledge that only through lots of mistakes can innovation and understanding happen. Even some of the best players in any game make mistakes. It’s the willingness to start again that is the source for innovation. You can use an initiative like “Jump In, Jump Out” (or another group learning initiative) and highlight compassion around making mistakes when debriefing the activity to illustrate this point.

Step 2: Leave judgments of self and others at the door. We all have different life experiences, cultural come-froms, and values. That is what makes us unique as human beings. The challenge is to step out of our self-defined belief structure about ourselves and others, and only work with what is happening in the present moment, while also keeping a focus on what it is we are intending to create moving forward.

Step 3: Set some ground rules. Create a space for exploration by outlining how the group will relate to each other. As a facilitator of the discussion, it is helpful to start with some rules or concepts already present that the group can align with, and then allow for additional ideas that the group feels are appropriate. Some examples include: ensure confidentiality; wait to speak; no put downs/judgments; and avoid generalizations.

Alignment to and creation of the ground rules not only creates a safe space for open communication and discovery, but also empowers the folks in your group to contribute to the process. By asking the group as a whole for additional ground rules and ideas, you, as the facilitator, create an opportunity for people to feel valued and be heard.

Step 4: Brainstorm to uncover the blockers and enablers to diversity in your business and community. By exploring the blockers, your group can create a task list to address as a united front. With enablers, your group can expand on what is already working. You should also create a list of reasons WHY diversity is important. Every great undertaking needs a vision to go back to when the going gets tough, and your “why list” will serve as the inspiration.

A ROAD MAP TO CHANGE

Having started the conversation in your business and community, what’s next? 

Step 5: Identify and create change agents—people in your business and community who are hungry, passionate, and committed to fostering and creating diversity. Within your business, they can be guides, operators, builders, facilitators, reservations specialists, cooks, you name it. There are no rules, except that they should be excited about fostering diversity, and ready to explore and create new possibilities.

Look also to community leaders, local officials, and other business owners within your community to take on the role of change agent. These folks will be the main advocates for diversity and will move the initiative forward.

Step 6: Take Action! This is, undoubtedly, the most important part of this process. As seen through recent events in the world and the response throughout the industry, we have been experiencing a clarion call to action on many fronts. After you have identified your change agents and started the conversations, it’s time to act. Possible action steps to create diversity in your business and community can take many paths. Here are a few:

Start an outreach initiative within the community (i.e., welcoming and diversity coalition, town forum, etc.).

Develop creative staff recruiting solutions for your business, such as sourcing staff for your operation through exchange programs, guide housing, or in partnership with seasonal sponsor families. In addition, create development tracks for staff of varying backgrounds to excel in leadership roles within the business.

Offer diversity, inclusion, and equality workshops and meetings in your business and community. You can do this by scheduling monthly meetings of your change agents, community diversity teams, and coalitions in your community, or by inviting guest speakers.

Create collaborative expansion projects that allow entities to donate a portion of their proceeds to other organizations striving to foster diversity.

SHIFTING THE CONTEXT

Creating diversity in our industry and community doesn’t have to be touchy, confrontational, or hard. Now, more than ever, our industry can be on the leading edge of creating change, unity, and connection in our nation and on our planet, in a new way. When we create a context of discovery, understanding, connection, unity, and community contribution, we are all able to move beyond preconceived boundaries and judgments, and allow the conversation on diversity to become much simpler.

The time for hesitancy and inaction has passed. 2020 has been the year of The Great Reveal. Over the last several months we have seen many things in our businesses and systems that are working very well, and others that are ripe for change. We, as an industry, have been amazing at innovating new ways to meet the challenges and taking the necessary action to get it all done.

Creating diversity in our industry is now more important than ever. As a result of the innovations in approaching diversity within our industry, and because of the willingness of owners, operators, staff, and passionate change agents within our communities, we can take on diversity and inclusion in a powerful way. We can learn to shift the context of diversity into an approachable conversation from which we can all benefit.

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