First and foremost, we would like to acknowledge that the writers and coordinators for this piece are white, middle class, straight, able-bodied cis women and acknowledge we are speaking from this experience. We are also passionate about environmental and social issues. Thank you to everyone who has engaged with us in this conversation and provided feedback. We hope this toolkit will be useful for all readers.
If you’re tuned into conversations happening in the outdoor industry, it’s likely you’ve heard the continued call for inclusion, equity and justice. As many of us working in the outdoor industry aim to engage meaningfully in the discussion of creating a unified outdoors, we’re seeing brands and content creators pass the mic as the situation demands. We’re seeing grassroots organizations setting the foundation we need to work toward an equitable future. And while it takes a coalition for organizational and structural changes, we can’t help but consider the individual’s impact on leveling the playing field in the outdoors. We see the challenge, but it can be hard to know how to play an effective role in the movement. In exploring the issues of inclusion and equity within the outdoor industry, we landed on one important concept: allyship.
Allyship is a long, steep climb to full understanding. It’s rooted in action, process, trust and accountability. When working towards being a better ally, we must consider how to support the dynamic people of our community. It requires us to take initiative, make mistakes and use our varying levels of privilege to amplify the work and voices of people who historically haven’t had a seat at the table.
Practicing allyship takes time, energy and the willingness to step out of your comfort zone. To help you get started, we’ve put together a quick list of resources and enlisted industry leaders and community members to weigh in on the issue.
Listen + Educate Yourself
The most important part of practicing allyship is to truly listen. Before saying anything, listen to those whose experiences you don’t share and take this education as the gift it is. Take the time and initiative to do your own research. Whether you’re a tactile learner or prefer research online, there is an abundance of resources to get educated and take action. Attend conferences to meet new people, get involved locally, read a book and diversify your news and social media feed.
Be thoughtful about where you spend—and not just your money, but your time and energy—when contributing to the movement. This is an important part of the story. Buy from POC, LGBTQ+ and women-owned companies, support POC-led organizations with your dollars, and focus your time and energy on learning about someone else’s experiences.
“Acknowledge the work publicly, not just in emails or secret meetings. Let it be known that this work is important. Invest in this work financially, add a budget line item that is specific to the work of diversity and inclusion, give us your time, your expertise, and put us in touch with your contacts who may be able to aid in this work as well. In other words, show us you have skin in the game.” – Teresa Baker, Founder at African American Nature and Parks Experience
Amplify Authentic Stories in Outdoor Media + Marketing
Allyship is about amplifying the voices that have been historically marginalized. Instead of speaking for people on the metaphorical stage, privilege may have been given to you, so pass the mic and let them speak for themselves. It isn’t about making a new space for other people, it’s about giving up a space you’ve previously taken up. In many cases, it means giving it back to its rightful owners.
“Marketing images signal to a community what they should be doing, what they are doing, and who is in their community. Retailers have a huge responsibility to represent true Americans, not just aspirational images of a person climbing Mount Denali. It’s not just that. People should be represented and celebrated for all the ways they enjoy the outdoors: family cookouts, hiking in a neighborhood park, gardening and so many other outdoor traditions.” – Ambreen Tariq, Founder at Brown People Camping
“It’s not only important for us, it’s important for the industry. Change doesn’t just require the focus of the group calling for it. It calls for a community pulling together toward a shared goal. The outdoor industry has some formidable headwinds as we talk about things like racial equality, gender equality and LGBTQ inclusion. We need allies in those conversations advocating for change.” – Sally Johnson, Brand & Activations Manager, REI Force of Nature and Outessa
Allyship in the Workplace
Companies and the industry as a whole will benefit from diverse perspectives. Whether you’re in a leadership position, administration or even working as an intern, you have an opportunity to advocate for equality in the workplace. Speak up and talk about these issues with your coworkers. Take the initiative to work with upper management and coordinate actionable steps to move toward an inclusive work environment.
“For someone who wants to promote equity in their own organization, a great first step could be to form a working group and talk about ways your organizational culture can evolve toward inclusion. Sierra Club wouldn’t have such a strong focus on equity and justice today without the efforts of staff and volunteers in our community who raised equity issues from within.” – Nellis Kennedy-Howard, Sierra Club Director of Equity, Inclusion and Justice
“My favorite allies are people who hear my concerns, ask for my solutions, and then take action to get those solutions implemented. Even better? People who keep me updated as the solutions are put into place. There is a coworker I have who embodies ‘ally’ for me. She heard my frustrations about the lack of gender neutral bathrooms on the REI campus, asked me what I would feel comfortable with (one gender neutral bathroom in every building), took it to leadership, and continues to give me updates as the process unfolds.” – Aer Parris, Copywriter, REI
“You must believe the candidate you’re looking for exists, and that it’s your responsibility to find them. Don’t wait for them to come to you, and don’t assume that they will necessarily want to be on your team. Remember, different groups of people interact with the outdoors differently. Listen to and learn from the people you’re attempting to engage, respect affinity spaces, and do the internal work of creating an inclusive culture at your organization.” – Sydney Clark, Diversity & Inclusion Manager, NOLS
There is no single, perfect way to be an ally. So let’s try, let’s fail, and above all else, let’s LISTEN. Make mistakes, be thankful for feedback, apply it and move forward. Challenge your friends, families and companies you work with to be better. This is something we constantly have to work at.
“The important thing is to have a willingness to learn, but also to be open to being judged by the consequences of your actions instead of demanding marginalized people be satisfied with your good intentions. It involves making mistakes. It also involves having a growth mindset that will enable you to shake old mental models and develop new ones. It’s important to be open to change and to new information.” – Danielle Williams at Melanin Base Camp
“Mistakes will happen, but they do not define you as a person. How folks respond to making the mistakes and the corrective action they take is a good measure of an effective ally.” – Len Necefer, Founder of Natives Outdoors
- Women’s Outdoor Summit For Empowerment
- LGBTQ Outdoor Summit
- PGM One Summit
- Color the Crag climbing festival
- Dispossessing the Wilderness by Mark David Spence
- Black Faces, White Spaces by Carolyn Finney
- The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors by James Edward Mills
Accounts to follow
Websites and Podcasts
- The Arvana Group
- Next 100 Coalition
- Nature for All
- Sierra Club Outdoors
- She Explores Podcast
- Code Switch NPR podcast
- The Beyond Diversity Report by Diverse Green, a roadmap for building an inclusive organization
- Rally + Rise for local social justice chapters in NYC
- NXT LVL PDX for local social justice chapters in PDX
Image by Daren Magee.
xx Lisa Dougherty + Erin Sullivan
This article was originally published in RANGE Magazine Issue Eight.