The outdoor industry isn’t racially diverse and only recently has made strides with women. But leaders in the marketplace today at Outdoor Retailer in Denver pledged to make their companies more inclusive and encouraged others in the industry to do the same.
During the “Outdoor Retailer Thought Leader Keynote: Everyone’s Outdoor” presentation to start Day Three of the event, four brand and industry leaders vowed to carry out Camber Outdoors’ mission: “Equity in the outdoors, from boardroom to backcountry.” Speakers included Wendy Yang (president of Hoka One One, Teva and Sanuk), Brooks CEO Jim Weber, Scarpa North America CEO Kim Miller and Outdoor Industry Association executive director Amy Roberts.
The event was moderated by Harvey Floyd II, lead executive coach at the Wharton Executive Development Program, who led the discussion with an observation of the outdoor industry.
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“You live and practice what you preach, your organizations are an expression of your most deeply held values. I think whatever gaps we might need to close in the industry toward becoming more inclusive. I don’t think it’s going to be as hard here as it is in other places,” he said.
While Floyd has faith the industry will right the ship, Roberts is fearful that it may have alienated a generation of potential outdoor enthusiasts, and action to promote diversity must be taken immediately.
“One of the things that I think is disturbing about the participation trend is that it’s been flat. We know that only half of Americans go outside, self-reported, once a year to do something active. That’s been the trend over the last 10 years,” she said. “The reason we think it’s critical now is perhaps we have lost a generation that didn’t go outside and didn’t have that mentorship to the outdoors that a lot of us did. We don’t want to lose the next generation.”
For change to come, according to Yang, action needs to start from the top leadership of a company.
“Leadership is personal, not positional. There’s ownership and obligation that comes with it,” she said. “As leaders, we have the opportunity and the obligation to really drive something.”
And if the attendance at the event is an indication of what’s to come, the movement toward workplace diversity may have legs. Outdoor industry insiders filled two halls at the Colorado Convention Center wall-to-wall to hear the four execs speak.
“This is an opportunity, and we need to act right now because I don’t know if we’ve seen this before, a whole industry standing together shoulder-to-shoulder, holding hands on the same discussion,” Miller said. “That takes this to a cultural movement.”
And execs believe the movement will only make companies stronger.
“If you can find a way to bring the absolute necessity of having a diverse and inclusive culture to be successful in the next 20 years, to bring that into your mission, to bring that into your purpose, to bring it in as an attribute or a foundational pillar of tour culture, there’s going to be a critical success factor for your organization,” Weber said.
At the end of the presentation, Camber Outdoors executive director Deanne Buck announced that the organization’s CEO Outdoor Equity Pledge currently has 61 signatures from major players in the industry. (Weber and Miller told FN after the discussion that they were early adopters, signing it three years ago when the pledge was geared toward gender equity.)
“I think [the number of signatures] is going to exponentially increase after this morning. This is how we pull people in. I think this is the next step,” Miller told FN after the panel discussion. “Look at this room; it was packed. I haven’t seen or felt energy like I’ve felt in this room today. I know that most people want to do this, they think it’s the right thing, and they’re looking for a way to get involved.”
For Weber, when he returns to the office Monday, he will use the momentum from the presentation to further lead Brooks in its diversity initiatives initiated at the beginning of 2018.
“We have a diversity and inclusion group of employees that have been working on ideas related to our employees, our culture and how we create more diversity and inclusion at every level of our company,” he said. “We’re also thinking about the running community and engaging in areas where we were’t reaching. People are running everywhere, but we’re so focused on local specialty retail because they’re the center of the running community wherever they are, but most of them are in suburban areas. We’re now working with influencers to try and extend our reach and engagement and get into more communities where we haven’t been before.”
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