In the Winter issue of Adventure Park Insider, we explored some of the issues around diversity. We looked at and redesigned our limiting beliefs, and took on the challenge of shifting the familiar outdoor industry mindset to become more accepting. So what do we do now?
It takes work to put ideas into action. In my work as a consultant, I often get asked, “How do we find the people? How do we invite the people?” Yes, we want diverse representation among our staff, and yes, we want a more diverse client base. But how do we find them way out here in [insert rural area]? How do we create trust and have people know that it is safe for them to come here both physically and emotionally? How do we engage with the community?
Let’s look at some action steps you can take right away, both internally and outside of your operation, to start creating diversity and bridging the gap right now. The overall plan is to build your foundation from within, and then do outreach by gaining insight, knowledge, and guidance from professionals in the work of creating social justice in the outdoors.
STEP 1: SET THE TABLE
To host new populations, make sure your staff and your grounds are ready to receive them. You’ll want to “set the table” before you invite people over for dinner.
There is a process by which you, the operator, will ready the organizational culture first, before folks who are newly engaging in the outdoors even set foot in your parking lot. The goal is to create an environment for your guests and staff that is suited to them.
This could include engaging in online learning centered on DEI and culture building. There is a good amount of quality online content popping up in the outdoor industry to support this process as more organizations champion the work and become involved. You can also bring in a consultant to guide you through the process of becoming a space of inclusivity and give you the language and tools to relate to folks in new and innovative ways. Build the knowledge base and foundation and then take it to the streets.
STEP 2: HOST THE PARTY
Once the table is set, operators can host events that serve as a catalyst for community connection. Events have taken on many new shapes, sizes, and mediums through the innovations spurred by the pandemic, so think outside the box. Virtual gatherings, film festivals featuring athletes and influencers of all kinds, or sponsorship of diverse groups already at work in the outdoor industry are all great possibilities.
Hosting groups outside of the classic outdoor recreation profile can identify your organization as one that is making steps toward positive change. That can increase your industry and community reputations. Examples of these events can look as varied as the populations we are committed to serving. Pride day on the course, women’s climbing day, BIPOC retreat weekend, etc.
STEP 3: CREATE CHANGE AGENTS
When looking at the “how” of going out and engaging with your community, you want to start with the “who,” and create some change agents within your organization. Collaborating with and calling forth staff who have a passion and drive to foster diversity within the organization and community is paramount. These folx are essential to any lasting DEI initiative. Given the necessary tools, they will be able to engage with the community in a way that is powerful and forwarding.
It’s important to educate and build up your change agents so that they have the confidence and the knowledge base to go be with the community effectively. Having these point persons for your organization pays dividends in the long term. It is also a way to ensure that your efforts are more than a flash in the pan, and to gain greater buy-in among the staff. This will make your work around DEI an organization-wide endeavor, not just something pushed down from the top.
STEP 4: MAKE IT SO
How do we as operators create an environment that is accessible and say to groups authentically that “yes, there is a space for you here.” There is an answer, and one that challenges the organization to be more inclusive right out of the gate.
Take a page from universal design, and make the things you do best available to people. Universal design can be defined as the design and composition of an environment so that it may be accessed, understood, and used
• to the greatest possible extent,
• in the most independent and natural manner possible,
• in the widest possible range of situations, and
• without the need for adaptation, modification, assistive devices, or specialized solutions, by any persons of any age or size or having any particular physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual ability or disability.
Simply put, look at what you do well, and challenge yourself and your organization to take the first steps toward accessibility. Have your organization create user-friendly events and experiences that are targeted to people who are exploring the world of outdoor adventure at the most approachable level. Own a ski mountain? Have people come play in the snow. Own an aerial trekking park? Offer educational guided nature tours on your property.
As operators, it’s easy for us to get swept up in the paradigm of what we think is the baseline/starting point. That point might be too challenging for folks new to the industry and outdoor recreation, though.
A more approachable way is to meet people where they are at. Give people a whole range of challenges to choose from, rather than starting with events and activities out of their physical, emotional, or socioeconomic range. Think about what new exploratory options you can provide to emerging markets, and go from there.
STEP 5: GO NOW
Now that we have answered some of the “how” questions, it’s time for the most important step. Take action now! Put down this issue, walk away from the computer, and get into action! What can you do right now, today and everyday, moving forward? Small steps create big shifts, so get started.
Take the bold leap and get in touch with a consultant to guide you in the process of setting the table. Coaching works. Olympic athletes, good as they are, rely on coaching to help take their game to another level. We as outdoor professionals should do the same. Enroll your leadership team in the multitude of available resources related to DEI, and put them into practice within your operation.
What events can you host this season? What groups would you like to look at rolling out the welcome mat for? Not sure? Ask your staff, and while you are with them, connect with and invite them to become the torch bearers for DEI in your operation.
Educate your change agents. Who can they engage with in the community today? Schools, church groups, land access commissions, town boards, chambers of commerce? A more diverse community creates benefits for everyone.
Finally, what are the small changes you will put into play today to create big results? How will you become more accessible and available?
Creating change in our industry is a very doable thing. It just takes the first step, the preliminary action.
So many people get stuck here, on this step. Why? Because it requires a leap of faith, a step off the platform and into the unknown. Hesitation is the killer of innovation, doubt is the father of inaction. Without action, nothing in our industry will change.
Clarity reveals itself through momentum and effort. So, wherever you are, whatever part of the process you are in, whatever stage of the game you find yourself within your organization at this moment, you must simply and swiftly begin.