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Lindsay Peoples Wagner Addresses Racial Inequity in the Workplace at Outdoor Retailer

A lack of racial diversity in the workforce has long plagued the outdoor industry. Today, for the start Outdoor Retailer Winter Online, event organizers recruited a powerful vocal proponent of equity to address the market’s shortcomings: Lindsay Peoples Wagner.

Outdoor Retailer kicked off the event with “Inclusivity at the Forefront: The Time Is Now for Brands to Change,” a discussion led by Peoples Wagner, who is the co-founder of Black in Fashion Council and the incoming editor-in-chief of The Cut. (Peoples Wagner currently helms Teen Vogue.) During the hour-plus presentation, she warned against performative allyship and offered advice on actionable steps market leaders could take to increase inclusivity and make employees of color feel seen and heard.

Below, read six key takeaways Peoples Wagner offered during today’s Outdoor Retailer presentation.

On having more than just a seat at the table:

“Too often, I’ve seen at companies that inclusivity really is only part of HR and that’s really where that sits or only comes up if there are issues. I think a lot of these conversations really just need to be normalized. And I think that when you talk about having a seat at the table and having all these opportunities, it’s more than just having that seat at the table — it’s being put in a position of success to be able to make all the changes.”

On the importance of representation:

“I’m from the Midwest, I’m from Wisconsin, and I think seeing myself and the idea of representation has always had such an effect on me because if you don’t see yourself in a role or on the cover of a publication or in an ad campaign or part of that brand’s DNA, you think [opportunities are] not possible. I genuinely remember so many times in my childhood thinking, ‘This is really cool, but I don’t know how I would myself up or doing this’ or ‘This is really amazing, but there’s no one that looks like me or that has the same background as me, so maybe that’s not a possibility for myself.’ When you talk about inclusivity, at the root is representation — to make people feel seen and heard and say, ‘They may not understand my whole entire life and everything that I’m going through, but they see me, they hear my problems, they understand who I am and what I’m looking for.’ That’s something that all brands can really pay attention and adhere to, because it really expands your audience and expands who is welcome and invited to your brand.”

On the importance of fighting bias:

“You have to commit to fighting explicit bias, you have to commit to making sure that there is a form of new company procedures and training constantly for everyone in the company — whether it’s executives of new people coming in. There needs to have actual training around addressing unacceptable behaviors, whether that’s discriminatory language, sexual harassment and having a no-tolerance policy. It definitely makes people understand that here’s the company culture that we’re creating and here’s how we’re making inclusivity part of our brand.”

On systematic changes:

“Systematic changes are the things that fundamentally [make you ask], ‘Would a person of color want to stay at this company or not?’ A lot of companies have seen this year that people are looking for jobs, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and you can find people to hire — but will they stay? Will they grow this company? Will they feel like they’re part of this community and family, this company, and really feel like there is actual succession and growth? And I don’t think systematic changes are changes that  need to be implemented all right now. [It’s about] changing the culture of this company and how can we make this a place that people actually feel is equitable, no matter your race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity — all of those things. It really comes down to if you have all of these policies put into place, how are people actually feeling about them? Can they show up [as their] full selves? Do people feel like they have to code switch to be around certain people in meetings or present themselves a certain way that they wouldn’t feel normally comfortable?”

On budgeting for diversity and inclusion initiatives:

“Anything that is important to a brand needs to be in the budget. And I understand, the pandemic has cost brand budgets to change, I understand that people have had to lay [other] people off — I understand all of these things. But I will say inherently, if anything is important to you it is part of your budget. Aligning your values as far as how you are spending your money is always a conversation. And I’m not saying it has to be a large number, but I do think that there needs to be budget behind things if you really care about them. … We have had the conversation with a lot of companies who they’ve had to downsize, they don’t have a ton of budget as of right now, they’re trying to figure it out for 2021. Even so, the conversations that we’ve had with them are how can you show for your people of color employees and make sure that even if you’re not doing some type of cool community event virtually, and even if you’re not able to really put money behind giving equitable pay or whatever it is right now, I think it is taking that time to actually interface with all of your people of color employees.”

On why companies struggle with diversity and inclusion:

“I think brands really struggle because it’s a lot to do, it’s a lot of work. But that’s also what it’s like being a black executive, I think that’s what it’s like being a person of color — you have to deal with a lot of things in the workplace that you don’t necessarily want to deal with. We have to be committed to this work and we have to be actively anti-racist and actively anti all of these things that are hindering the workplace from being hospitable for all different kinds of people. And a lot of times it can feel really overwhelming.”

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