Camber Outdoors exists to offer tools to help its partners achieve greater workplace equity, inclusion and diversity. Given the continuous tragedies of the past year-plus, these conversations have never been louder or more important.
Like the rest of the country, Emily Newman — who assumed the Camber Outdoors executive director role in September 2019 — was forced to lead the nonprofit organization and its partners through these tough but necessary discussions at a distance, as COVID-19 forced people to work from home.
“2020 shifted the cultural conversation around race and racism in America for the better. Now, it’s up to all of us who have the ability and the privilege to act and speak out in support of a more just society to do so,” Newman said. “I see a greater sense of urgency to make progress, to build a more inclusive industry — and I don’t want to lose that.”
At the same time, a revolution of sorts was happening in the C-suite. According to a recent report from merchandising software company Nextail, 2020 saw more than 100 CEO turnovers in fashion and retail, and in 40.2% of those cases, a woman stepped into the top role. While still not quite on par with their male counterparts, that share is up from 31.8% in 2019.
Here, Newman opens up about the lessons learned during COVID-19 and how the cultural conversations around race and racism in America shifted over the past year.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned during the pandemic?
“Biggest lesson learned is how much we can achieve when we collaborate and how damaging failure can be. We are all inextricably connected at a level I am not sure we fully realized — whether our health, our standard of living, access to education, our sense of justice, belonging and value. And I see it in my work. Our shared commitment and action to build workplaces of inclusion, equity and diversity, the ability to hold ourselves accountable, to affect change, to measure our results, to come together to make a better, stronger industry for the good of us all. All around us are the examples of successful collaboration as well as the need for us to come together in ways we have not previously. A lesson that won’t be soon forgotten.”
What is the one habit/professional practice from pre-pandemic world that you will never return to?
“We know that building a representative workforce across our industry will be a long battle but, as leaders who have made careers as risk taking, individualistic innovators in our field, we are ready to take it on. Today, we recognize that the things that helped us create an industry seven million strong, are also the hallmarks of equity and inclusion in the workplace. I am seeing Camber tools and resources sought after and used in ways that reflect the urgency so many of us feel. Today, I would describe us as both steady and swift, and I don’t see that changing. We’ve built a community of industry leaders and employees at all levels who are ready to move beyond initial promises and make actual progress to making our industry as diverse as the growing community of consumers who enjoy our products every day.”
What is the one question you always ask in an interview?
“I am an advocate for skills-based hiring practices, and skills can be built through a variety of experiences. In that context, my question is: ‘Describe an experience where you directly contributed to building an inclusive culture on a team or in your office. What did you do? What were the results? What did you learn?’ There is no one answer to the question, but I always find it illuminating to see how comfortable a candidate is in this space, how much thought they have given to this, the depth of their response and sometimes the conversation that ensues. My goal is to create a workplace of thoughtful, curious people who are open to learning, willing to sometimes be uncomfortable and committed to a future where everyone is valued.”
A recent LinkedIn post about using “peppy phrases” like Girl Boss and pronouns like “female” founder recently stirred up much conversation. Should we be using women or female to identify executives in 2021. Why or why not?
“First, I am so grateful that these kinds of conversations are happening. They build awareness. It’s important to shed light on the many facets of identity, which they did with this conversation that raised both issues of gender identity and intersectional identities. How you identify is different from how I do — there isn’t a universality to that. The second part of this conversation, which is equally if not more important, is shedding light on identities that are underrepresented in leadership and considering the systems that have led to that inequity. It is only through systems-change across companies that we will see a long-term advancement of all of those who are underrepresented in the workplace. So, in my opinion, we have to be open to implementing systems that specifically target supports (such as funding Black-led, women-led start-ups, implementing programs to build supplier diversity, etc.) to build equity in those leadership and ownership positions. A big part of this is helping companies to understand and measure those inequitable gaps, and to set goals and work towards meaningful progress, which is why we built our partnership with the Claremont Evaluation Center and now annually distribute the Camber Survey System across all partners — corporate and nonprofit alike. We cannot solve the problems linked to inequity and implicit bias alone and we have a massive opportunity ahead to achieve meaningful impact in the industry. We’re proud that every organization in the Camber community is dedicated to addressing the lack of diversity in our industry, the historic biases and systems that kept Black, Indigenous and people of color, as well as other underrepresented people out, and the solutions that will make our community and our companies strong and truly representative of today’s outdoor enthusiasts.”