Opinion: The Outdoor Industry’s Inclusion Problem

Money is the root of the industry, money is the root of the issue.

I never anticipated ever attending the Outdoor Retailer trade show. And yet, before doing so, many issues surrounding the topic of inclusion have come to the surface after decades and decades of suppression of the voices that have been wanting to emerge as a force in the industry. Among such voices are those of women and racial minorities. So, I was forewarned of the lack of diversity in the outdoors via a slew of written articles, comments via outdoor groups and even books written on the topic. I was armed with the knowledge that women in the outdoors have gained visibility and leadership recently as a direct result of the movement initiated by the women themselves to pave a better future for women in the outdoor industry. As to other minorities, the progress is in its infancy stages as many panels, talks, and discussions occur in a vacuum devoid of the major stakeholders in the outdoor industry.

However, my awareness of these inclusion issues ahead of time didn’t prepare me for the actual experience as a first timer at Outdoor Retailer. I was told by some veteran attendees that being overwhelmed, lost and confused at OR is a normal phase of the experience. I don’t disagree. But to witness first-hand the imbalance of power and distribution of wealth in the industry is not something that I as a person of color, a female and an immigrant can set aside. In fact, this pivotal moment sheds light on what the future looks like for me as an entrepreneur in the outdoor industry with my aforementioned demographics – the fight to be included in this huge multibillion dollar industry is a daunting uphill battle.

It isn’t the first time that I witnessed and experienced such a phenomenon. Prior to being an entrepreneur, I practiced law in Washington, DC. With that profession came years of fighting for inclusion from the very start beginning with the law school experience characterized by my being one of the only few minorities to get admitted at a liberal leaning university in Seattle, Washington. Back then, affirmative action was a hot topic. Opponents of it were as loud as its supporters. If you were a woman or a person of color who managed to enter a college or graduate program, the validity of your entry into higher education was constantly questioned. That questioning follows you beyond your studies and into your career, and frankly, even after years of proving yourself to be legit, you’re still singled out based on race or gender, whether it’s done openly or discreetly. But in a city like Washington, DC, progress in the legal field caught up eventually and in our government office, plenty of women and persons of color dominate the practice and the court system. Diversity became ingrained in the profession and in the psyche of the institutions, leaders and individuals in the industry. Those opposed to it became more of the minority.

So, what is happening with the outdoor industry? Why is there a lag in terms of its inclusion? My best argument, albeit a presumption, is money. It isn’t necessarily because the industry is full of racist or ignorant stakeholders, rather it is about the bottom line and the question of, “What do I get out of it?” After all, we’re not dealing with lawyers, many of whom are trying to establish a career. We’re dealing with business people who are in the industry to create and grow their wealth without limits; hence, we’re looking at a multibillion dollar industry.

When I began to explore and understand how women managed to create a loud voice in the industry and mobilize change, I soon realized that their movement towards equity was accompanied by statistics that happen to be in their favor. In one of the panels led by some of the women who have been responsible for the recent changes, one topic that was raised involved the effort to cater to women who wore sizes 14 and up. It was openly shared that 67 percent of the female population in U.S. consisted of such type of consumers. I don’t doubt that the women leaders on the panel believe that there should be equity in catering to these consumers and that they truly want to create change although I question why it took them a long time in the first place to finally include a line of products that cater to this group of women. Having said that, I must give credit to one company at the panel – Columbia- as it’s one of the very few companies that has been catering to the plus size communities long before women empowerment became the biggest buzz word in the outdoor industry. As I continued to attend the panels that addressed the issue of women empowerment, it became more obvious that the efforts made by companies were mainly driven by the fact that they benefit financially from catering to the marginalized segment of the market; hence, the point being, don’t fool yourself into thinking these efforts are being done out of morality or altruism alone. Ultimately, it’s the shift in the makeup of consumers that created the motivation for companies to finally give in as doing so translates into yet again accruing more wealth for themselves.

Touching upon the women empowerment efforts at the Thought Leader Keynote and Lifetime Award Celebration, CEOs from various outdoor companies spoke about the experience and progress toward the efforts to increase the number of women in leadership roles. The two females on the panel displayed sincerity in their desire towards equity and it rather follows logically that they would care about the issue being females themselves. Hence, I was more curious on the positions taken by the male CEOs and their thoughts about the initiative to take the so-called CEO pledge to actively recruit women in management roles.

Jim Weber, the CEO from Brooks Running noted in the brochure that was handed out at the event, “What’s driven us at Brooks Running more than anything else is the need to match our customer base as well as to match the culture in our sport and the lifestyle that we connect with. There are as many men as women who run, but women are more avid and enthusiastic about the sport, especially in races. When you look at all race participation, there were 17 million people that finished a timed race last year. I think it was upward of 60% women.”

It’s quite understandable as to why these CEOs are concerned about the statistics whether you agree or disagree from an ethical point of view. Business is business. The systemic issue behind the inclusion problem is rooted in the desire to make more money.

I was perplexed sitting in this huge auditorium that has been described as a moment to celebrate “inclusion” when the only part of the population they’re including is the women. None of the panelists who happen to all be white mentioned the need to include other minorities. If these CEOs can sit comfortably and speak about “inclusion” which was at best “selective” while not even mentioning any hint of obligation on their end to also work towards inclusion of other minorities, then the desire to genuinely include is simply not there. I, as a person of color and an immigrant, didn’t really feel included. To the extent this event was truly a celebration of inclusion, only a limited number of people along with these CEOs celebrated in reality. The rest of us continued to sit in the cloak of invisibility and silence.

I proceeded to try to understand the systemic issue and decided to approach one of the panelists to gain clarity. One of the stakeholders at the keynote event that I spoke to could not verbalize a willingness to create a CEO pledge to include more minorities in their management akin to the CEO pledge they made to include women. He quickly tried to dismiss the topic by directing me to ask a particular female CEO from the panel to comment on the next steps. It remains unclear whether that unwillingness to commit is due to fear of addressing the issue of race or just ignorance in terms of how best to proceed in addressing the issue. Either way, the lack of verbal commitment, let alone action, and the dismissive tone were frustrating to witness in person. This dismissive approach is symptomatic of an industry that has been sheltered from critical changes for far too long.

But not only that. The industry is so detached from what inclusion really means. The same CEO argued his position as an ally by blurting out that his company funds many of these [POC] organizations, as if that is all that is really necessary to help in the efforts to genuinely include. That appears as a valid solution on the surface but if you dig deeper into this, merely funding POC groups or organizations with no other effort to include at a management level vis a vis a complete overhaul of their policies on hiring and retaining diverse individuals leads to continued suppression of marginalized group as funding ensures the power dynamics remain. It’s an ideology related to colonialism and imperialism in which money is the tool that is utilized to maintain the desired power dynamics by those in leadership which normally leads to depriving marginalized groups with the ability to gain power and a real voice.

Now, as a female and a person of color who aims to be a leader in such an industry in my role as an entrepreneur, how do I take all this? I see vileness in it and yet I managed to see a little bit of good. As a lawyer who practiced in the civil rights realm, I find money as the motivation behind the efforts appalling as a matter of principle and ethics. As a female, a person of color and an immigrant, it’s insulting. And yet, the best good news in this scenario, (assuming we can at least tolerate the industry’s greed over money), is that some form of leverage is available to the marginalized groups who wish to gain visibility and leadership in the industry. That leverage is in the form of being consumers in the outdoor industry. Knowing that to be the case means we can take matters into our own hands and affect the change we want. If marginalized groups consume at a significant enough level, then chances are the stakeholders will finally take real measures towards making real changes in the industry. We all agree that the racial minorities will grow tremendously in the next few decades but the growth the corporations are looking for is specific to the output they will gain directly from such growth of said population. Minorities must show proof of an increase in profits to change the minds of these stakeholders. And when they do make that change as a result of the market changing, can we as minorities really call them true allies? I leave that for you to answer personally.

You see, what differentiates this scenario from the legal profession is that the legal world has a well-established set of procedures for making organizations, whether public or private, accountable. That is done through laws at state and federal levels to prohibit discrimination against protected groups such as women and people color. At the academic level, systemic issues on inclusion were drastically remedied by affirmative action. These efforts were supported by laws and policies carried over to the profession itself. As individuals from any of the protected groups, you are afforded a platform to sue should there be an instance of discrimination based on your race or gender. The mechanisms have gone so far as imposing requirements by law, especially in the public sector, to institute mandatory diversity training—a mechanism that is completely discretionary in the outdoor industry dominated by powerful stakeholders that are private.

It’s important to note that the success in increasing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession was due to a concerted effort from different fronts—changes in case laws, statutory mandates, local policies and the open discussions at an individual level that included the decision-makers. In the outdoor industry, the mechanism for marginalized groups to use at their disposal to protect themselves from any unethical acts by any, and all, of these outdoor corporations is minimal to none. There is no real remedy nor an established process for creating change. Accountability is sorely lacking in this industry. Hence, the obstacles turn out to be greater than I had anticipated originally.

This leads to the question, “What do you do then?” When I attended the panel on the issue of inclusion, leaders from various minority groups spoke about ally-building and how such efforts have been to date. While the speakers readily shared their experience working with allies and their vision for the future of the outdoors in a clear manner, the answers provided to the question pertaining to steps we can take to overcome the barriers in the outdoors were in contrast devoid of clarity. Naturally, efforts to promote visibility via social media were noted as a worthwhile endeavor. Building communities through actual meetups and participation was also noted. But as to dealing with the stakeholders themselves and gaining access to management roles, the suggestions became rather unclear. I don’t blame them. After all, raising the question as to how to combat the lack of minorities in positions of power is a systemic issue within an industry that lacks a way to measure or monitor accountability.

Unfortunately, the lack of clarity persisted as I joined a couple more panels and discussions on inclusion. The takeaway really is we need to continue to have the discussions on the issue of inclusion until we’re able to establish a clear set of tactics. Implicit in that is the fact that many of the members of the marginalized groups have varying opinions on the topic at hand and the means to overcome the barriers. Within the group are subgroups from the Asian, black, Latino, Native American, immigrant, LGBTQ, and individuals with disabilities communities with varying sub-issues to further contend with—a quite familiar aspect that I once became a part of almost 20 years ago when battling the inclusion problem in law schools and the legal profession in general. What fascinates me is that no matter what industry you’re in, the inclusion problem brings forth with it the same set of challenges as it pertains to breaking down the boundaries within a flawed industry and the nuances within the minority groups that oftentimes serve as a barrier to creating a collective approach to the problem.

As someone who worked on diversity issues in the past, I wish I can impart a concrete set of tools to help alleviate the inclusion problem in the outdoor industry. But the issue at hand is rather unique and however similar the dynamics maybe between the two industries from the outset, the specifics within the outdoor industry compel me to conclude that the industry is unique enough that the change makers must find their own unique way of addressing the problem inherent in such scenario. In the legal field, the inclusion problem wasn’t necessarily due to money; rather it was more due to people’s convictions including their stance on equity. I can honestly attest that back then the root of the problem was truly more centered on racism and sexism.

In the outdoor industry, I’m inclined to think that the leaders are more influenced not by their personal convictions on the issue of race, gender and others (as in some instances, they may even be aligned with the belief systems held by the minorities) but by money. Accordingly, most critical decisions are being made as dictated by money, not by his or her own beliefs on the matter. As a well-established approach, however, building allies, safe spaces for discussions, and presence in major outdoor industry gatherings such as OR are all critical steps towards a solution. Certainly, there is hope. It’s just going to take a long while. So, endure the prolonged pain and learn to enjoy the bittersweet journey toward inclusion.

Photo courtesy Outdoor Retailer


Marinel de Jesus operates Peak Explorations, which organizes trips primarily for solo travelers, and blogs at Brown Gal Trekker.
Showing 40 comments
  • Dan

    Please, I’m begging you; can we stop the whining? Instead of wasting time covering “Diversity at the OR show”, it would be far more productive to cover topics that actually matter, like why the show moved to Denver or the loss of public space. Topics that effect everbody.

    • Steve Casimiro

      Dan, AJ has long been committed to covering public lands issues and we have given lots and lots of pixels to the industry leaving Utah for Colorado.

      As for as “whining,” if you have specific criticism for the substance of this opinion, you are welcome to share that, but non-productive and/or personal attacks will be blocked or deleted. The outdoor industry had long been run by white men, and as a white man, and also as a citizen of the world, I’m very interested in other perspectives, especially those previously unknown to me. Marinel’s experience at OR was not my experience, and I’m grateful she was willing to take the time to share it and to hold up a mirror, or one mirror, anyway.

      • Jack Smith

        I couldn’t agree with Dan more. And pardon me for being so in-articulate as to call this pure entitlement whining. I’m frankly disgusted with her position.

        To come to OR for the first time and complain that her gender/ethnicity is not being properly represented due to lack of inclusion is ridiculous. She claims to be an entrepreneur. Does she know how people exhibit at OR (or most any other outdoor or fashion show for that matter) they pay money and buy a booth. That’s it your in! Start your own company, hire whomever you want!

        Inclusion is simple and un-resticted! You can do it two ways. Get a job, your included, or like everyone else that is there start your own company and bingo! You’re included.

        She says:
        “In the outdoor industry, the mechanism for marginalized groups to use at their disposal to protect themselves from any unethical acts by any, and all, of these outdoor corporations is minimal to none.”

        Can the author cite one instance she is aware of ‘these evil outdoor corporations’ systemically abusing marginalized groups!!!!!!!! She seems to be arguing that the abuse is so bad there needs to be regulation or legislation to protect these horribly abused groups. Whom I assume she means roller blades and ski snowerbladers.

        ‘Now, as a female and a person of color who aims to be a leader in such an industry in my role as an entrepreneur, how do I take all this? I see vileness in it and yet I managed to see a little bit of good. As a lawyer who practiced in the civil rights realm, I find money as the motivation behind the efforts appalling as a matter of principle and ethics.”

        She is APPALLED to find out that companies want to make money!!

        The fact that many outdoor companies were founded by white men is just that, a fact. And no one is trying to keep it that way its just a reflection of the participants. In the women’s swim wear industry most of the founders are…women. I think you all get my point.

        She is showing up on day one trying to vilify companies as evil corps to be feared and legislated against. These companies have spent decades of hard work to get to where they are, building great products and many donating their time energy and money along the way to worthy causes.

        Start your company, run it, hire people, keep it going for 10 years, then you will be a ‘stake holder’.

      • Wade

        I agree. This person is griping and playing the race and gender cards before even getting to the show as if her potential failure is our fault because we aren’t inclusive enough. Its identity politics bullshit.

      • C.S. Underwood

        Nature does not discriminate. I travel 12 months a year, hike 50+ times/year and cover a geography from Alaska through Canada, down the West Coast and to Colorado. I have met and passed many, many thousands of people over a 25 year span. Maybe .01% has been African American. Maybe .1% has been Hispanic. Keep in mind, zero barriers to reach and enjoy the outdoors. It’s about as welcoming as you can get.

        I snowboard every winter. Stats are only a tiny bit better. Rock climbing, worse. These CEOs would kill for an African American market. And be careful throwing LGBTQ and Disabled Citizens into a generalized group. National Parks have done an outstanding job catering to wheelchairs, etc… and they are used extensively. LGBTQ is in every facet of the outdoors. And I often see more women on the trail than men.

        This may all come across as crass. But African Americans and Hispanics do not (in general) hike or rock climb or snowboard, etc. Everyone on this site knows it because they (don’t) see it every single day. How do you include someone who doesn’t participate? You can’t remove barriers when there are none to remove.

        This argument reminds me of The Hallmark Channel. They take a ton of heat for not having Hispanics and African Americans in lead roles. They try and make an inclusive movie and no one watches it. Is it right? It’s abhorrent. But you can’t blame Hallmark. And you can’t blame the Outdoor Industry. They are on their knees begging for these groups to join them in the outdoors. This may be the one industry on earth that is motivated by more than money.

        • Paul

          CS Underwood, you wrote, “Keep in mind, zero barriers to reach and enjoy the outdoors. It’s about as welcoming as you can get.” I disagree. I think it’s important to acknowledge the outdoors is a culturally loaded space. It’s a space where a foundational text of Americana can describe a young boy having adventures and growing from the experience (Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer) but also a place where black people were summarily executed, even well after the days of slavery. It’s a space where Matthew Shepard gets dragged behind a truck in an awful death because he was gay. It’s a space where the National Park Service allowed blatant sexual harassment – in fact, there have been recent AJ articles about how sexual harassment has continued to this day.

          Now, I don’t think that most modern recreational users of the outdoors – and most AJ readers – are explicitly discriminatory. But what I think the author is advocating is that we should examine the ways our spaces, our organizations, and, yes, our corporations tell stories and give signals about who is welcome outside. I believe it can’t all be the responsibility of minorities to carve out a space for themselves. Those of us with power, I think, bear a moral obligation to help them.

    • Joe

      I find your comment to be extremely ignorant. This article is about far more than just “Diversity at the OR Show,” as in reality it is about diversity in the outdoors as a whole. The outdoor industry’s greatest fault is its lack of diversity, and if we continue ignore it simply because it doesn’t “effect everybody” (which, in reality, it really does, as lack of representation only stands to weaken an industry and its reputation), this issue will only be perpetuated. If you deem this article a waste of time, don’t bother reading it, but please understand that leaving such an ignorant comment is hurtful and counterproductive. Also, how on earth do you think talking about why a trade show moved is productive?

  • Luke Wright

    We are living in very exciting times for women and minorities! Perhaps I live in a bit of a bubble here in the PNW, but many of the outdoor companies here put great focus on women, and I often see more women then men out on the trails. I married a woman of color who works at one of the largest corporations in the the US, and 80% of management are women. Do we have a long way to go? Sure do, but I’m proud to live in an area that is leading the way, especially because I now have a daughter who will flourish in this environment.
    A few thoughts on this article. Is there a way for this diversification to happen organically? I hope there is, as forced policies leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Also, it’s great that there are those who have made this their cause, but can we take a minute to appreciate how far we have come, just for a second? The author seems very critical of the panel and its members, but aren’t they trying to do a good thing?
    I’m confused as to why the author seems offended that companies pursue profit. Isn’t that why we start companies in the first place? I run my own business, and my main motivation for grinding away every day is profit. It feeds my family, and I hope to teach my daughter this one day so that she can go out, start a business, and have great success.

  • Fitz

    Marinel and Steve, thanks for sharing with this. I read through it twice and shared it with my co-workers. I have a humble suggestion. Could Marinel do a follow up to this piece one or two years from now after a few shows if she feels inclined to go back. I ask because my first show (and I still feel it on some level) sparked many of the same emotions, except I’m a white male. After that first show, I basically decided not to go back I found it so unsettling. A few years later, I did and kept going to understand what was happening there. I found that Marinel and I had a lot of similarities — small business owner, have a lot of ideas, see opportunities for the way for the industry to open its arms. That first show I felt like an outsider, and I still feel that way to a certain extent even most of my time there is spent with valued friends discussing ideas. The trade show is a weird, weird thing, with its own language, own organization/hierarchy. There’s a bizarre etiquette to it all. I felt like it took me years to figure it out to get to the point where I could have real conversations with decision makers. It’s a very different experience from the rest of my outdoor/business life. The more time I invested, the easier it got to navigate (I’m not suggesting that my experience is the only experience). I’d be curious to hear how her perspective shifts through time. Is the next show easier? The same? Harder? Is it indicative of the rest of her interactions with brands outside of the trade show venue?

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Drew S.

    This is an excellent piece, and I’m glad to have taken the time to read it. I would add a few logs to the fire as well … One of the common mistakes (IMO) of new attendees at Outdoor Retailer is that they make an assumption that the show is the same thing as the industry. Yes, it’s a sizable portion of it, but it’s really just the vendor brands (and a handful of leading retailers) — which, in my understanding of the data, accounts for about a fifth of the total estimated economic impact nationally. Out there in the rest of the country, the rest of that “economic juggernaut” is made up of countless small retailers, outfitters, guides, clubs, b&bs, destination area cabins, hiker friendly coffee shops, music festivals, etc etc etc. I haven’t seen a geographic map of outdoor industry assets, but there’s no doubt that a huge portion of Outdoor is located in rural areas — where the challenge of diversity is painfully acute, and sustainable economic development is a red hot topic. To create meaningful change in an industry as geographically broad and multi-faceted as Outdoor, I agree that conscious efforts by vendor brands can be helpful, but part of the spotlight also needs to be focused on our rural areas — places where increased diversity can be more than a goal, it can be part of the solution.

  • Greg

    I think it’s important to recognize that these industries are not intentionally holding people back. They don’t go home at night and say “man I hate minorities and women”. If they do let’s provide that proof and show that it’s pervasive.

    It’s important our dialogues are inclusive of both sides of the issue and that both sides try to understand the other. Nobody ever changed anything by making the other side guilty or lawyering up and throwing policies at things. At best those are surface solutions and not dealing with root causes.

    If we want to see actual progress in this arena we have to start with not a position of activism, but a place of mutual understanding and kindness. I understand the goal of activism, but all too often it just ends in defensiveness on both sides. This is where the activists go wrong in my opinion. Things like title 9 and affirmative action laws had good intentions, but they quickly got lawyered even deeper by activists and became monsters unto themselves and the very people they were designed to assist. If you talk to the people that try to wrestle these kinds of laws at a corporate level, it’s unbelievably difficult, costly, and prohibitive to the success of relationships and organizational cultures. At the end of the day, nobody accomplished any of the stated goals.

    It’s far time we start again, and look at where the root causes of issues lie on both sides, and where we can come up with new ideas and solutions that depart away from such a black and white approach of victim and victimized. As always, this is not so easily a black and white issue, although it would certainly feel better if it were. That’s why these topics are difficult.

    • Paul

      Greg, you said: “Nobody ever changed anything by making the other side guilty or lawyering up and throwing policies at things.” I would humbly disagree with the assertion that policies haven’t changed things. The author pointed out that laws against discrimination have had a generally positive impact, and I would agree with that. In my belief, affirmative action has also had a generally positive impact, if only in absolute numbers of people provided access to education.

      Now, I would say that both anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action have downsides – that is undeniable. On the whole, though, I prefer to live in a society that tries to affirm and give power to marginalized groups rather than a society that says “You’re all on your own, start from where you are and work hard.” I think you and I might disagree about that point, but I’m confident in my reading of the world that folks with marginalized identities are not starting from the same point as I am (I’m white, straight, cis-gender, and male). I had a leg up. So I’m supportive of policies that redistribute power and access a little, even if those same policies result in some red tape and inefficiencies.

  • Angela Paterna

    I have read several articles along these lines and have seen comments similar to the one above that seem to say that the author is whining. I have been thinking about this a lot and can see why people would think that the author is whining. But I think there are deeper issues on why we don’t see much diversity at these events and they relate to larger problems that transcend the industry. Communities in general are often very segregated with the wealthier giving the appearance unwittingly (or not) of monopolizing the trails and the towns that feed those trails. I think until those issues can be resolved it will always be a shock to other ethnic and racial groups who decide to attend this event. Instead of thinking those authors are whining, consider why they may feel excluded, even if the trail head doesn’t say “No [fill in the blank of group] allowed.” There are perhaps better ways of stating the issues, but if it brings attention to the larger issues, I support it. If it appears to be whining, perhaps consider a respectful conversation with someone in the community to get to the bottom of it. All the issues are important, not just the reasons why this event is in Denver.

  • Justin

    Thanks to the author for her viewpoint and to AJ for helping to bring it to the fore. It’s critical to hear and understand diverse perspectives if we want to evolve, grow, and be better humans . Interestingly, the idea that money would be a motivator for what should be ethical or moral decisions is nothing new. I just listened to this episode of Radiolab that talks about the Constitution’s little-known Commerce Clause, and its unexpected role in helping end segregation in the South: http://www.radiolab.org/story/radiolab-presents-more-perfect-one-nation-under-money/

  • Jeff Brines

    Steve, you are a smart dude. I would encourage you to consider showing the flip side to this coin. This victimization only makes what is being written about here worse…

    Capitalism is the system by which we are encouraged to make products better, to meet market demands, to innovate. A properly functioning market does not care about your skin color, your gender, your ethnic background. It doesn’t “care” about anything. Supply and demand does not have feelings.

    This “blogger” is acting as a victim. As though there is this “rigged system” whereby she’ll never be able to break through. This is the exact opposite of the spirit that made the outdoor industry so awesome in the first place. Pioneers don’t ask what is. They look around and do what is needed, regardless of the well worn path.

    The proverbial participation trophy this author is looking for does nothing to better the industry, or her situation in life. She mentions how the industry isn’t meeting the needs of certain stakeholders. AWESOME! Sounds like a great business opportunity to me…

    OR is a trade show. To sell shit. Not to make someone feel included or not included. The irony to this whining is palpable.

    “The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling.”


    • Steve Casimiro

      Jeff, I’m not sure what the flip side is, but I’m certainly open to accepting other opinions around this topic. I’m also cheered by the thoughtful, constructive comments we’ve received so far. Thanks, AJ people, for keeping it smart.

    • Mike G

      In starting Travel Noire, Zim Ugochukwu said “I wanted to see me.” In starting Walker & Company, Tristan Walker said he wanted to establish the “Procter & Gamble for people of color.” Is there a similar opportunity to establish The North Face for people of color, informed and powered by the perspective that is currently missing? The industry’s foundation is made of entrepreneurs and risk-takers that saw a need and had an idea.

  • Jeff Brines

    Thanks for the reply Steve.

    I feel the flipside to this article is two fold.

    First, show the outdoor industry is an industry, which is to say it functions on supply and demand. Its economics, which really doesn’t discriminant. If an entrepreneur sees a shortcoming, there is nothing (as far as I know) in the way of this person addressing this as an opportunity. That is paramount to a market working properly, and I don’t think that burden (reaching a new audience) lies on anyone but the person who stands to benefit (the person starting the business)

    Second, I think its important to remember how the outdoor industry came to be. Nobody handed anyone anything and said “okay, now you take the ball and run with it”. It was a bunch of people saying “I wonder if….” and filling in the blank accordingly. It was gritty, and tough, and going where people haven’t gone before (physically and metaphysically)

    There are countless stories, from Gary Fisher to Yvon Chouinard. Peter Turner to Dave Weagle. So many stories of people saying “eh, I’m gonig to do it this way” and seeing what happens.

    As I was about to post as a reply to one of the comments, I’m a huge cheerleader to people like Emily Coombs, someone running a non profit to engage a demographic that otherwise wouldn’t have the ability to do these sports. That is “inclusionary activism” that has an impact, but it has to do with getting people out there, not handing them a business.

    I know, it can be a slippery slope, and I’ll be the first guy in line to say “that’s not okay” if someone tells someone else they can’t participate in a sport because of their gender or color of their skin, but that’s not what I see happening here, and that’s not what I think this article is about.

    You can either be happy & successful, or you can be a victim. But you can’t be both….

  • Bart Scrivener

    Marinel, I think I’m ultimately on your side. Yes, the outdoor industry could be more inclusive. It has a lot of historical inertia to overcome.

    But there are ways you can contribute beyond simply bemoaning the state of things.

    First, and please take this constructively, learn to focus your argument. You wrote 2,700 words for what could easily have been a 270-word piece. It is very difficult to follow your stream of consciousness.

    Second, understand that the outdoor industry is a business, and it’s about making money. Help show the industry how inclusion can benefit them. You sound surprised by your realization that those who are addressing the marginalized are not doing so out of morality or altruisim. Of course not!

    Third, don’t spend 2,700 words on whining (sorry, Steve, but she is) without offering a creative solution, or even a suggestion. The tone is “please take care of me.” You yourself simply throw your hands up and say “the industry is unique enough that the change makers must find their own unique way of addressing the problem inherent in such scenario.” After all that, you don’t even have a thought to offer?

    That is not the least bit helpful. Change will only come about when you—all of us—contribute to the change. Until then, you’re just a victim on the sidelines tossing rhetorical bombs.

  • SuperDoobie

    Why would she complain that “that women in the outdoors have gained visibility and leadership recently as a direct result of the movement initiated by the women themselves to pave a better future for women in the outdoor industry”

    Who else is supposed to do that for them, men?

    She says that, “you’re still singled out based on race or gender, whether it’s done openly or discreetly” which is exactly what she is doing in this article by stating “I as a person of color, a female and an immigrant ” she seems to be one (and people who think like her) focusing on race and gender.

    She goes on to slight the entire industry by saying, “It isn’t necessarily because the industry is full of racist or ignorant stakeholder”. It isn’t NECESSARILY because the industry is full of racist of ignorant stakeholders? So women, people of color, etc, should be in a leadership position in an industry they historically have no interest in? Because, why?

    Why does she seem so surprised so few people make plus size shoes and other accessories? Sure, some fat people love to spend time camping, hiking, etc. but most of those people would not be called outdoor enthusiasts. Sitting at a Starbucks near the trailhead in your fancy size 18 spandex leggings and Girl Power baseball hat doesn’t count as an outdoor enthusiast.

    Seems to me that she has identified some great business ideas to follow up on and make a lot of money instead of suggesting an entire industry is racist and ignorant.

  • Greg

    Of course they are concerned about money. That is the function of a corporation in industry. They are corporations, this is an industry.

  • Craig

    I don’t agree with her conclusions or premis. The author comes across tone deaf and uniformed. I believe she was upset because OR was primarily white/male. More felmales in outdoor industry than every before, but still needs improvement. Of all the industries to pick for this BS argument, this was a poor one. Fight for DEAMERS, fight for equality of all people, fight for dignity for all, but don’t invent BS. Like other commenters said, diversity will only come with increased interest by those groups. Geez. Worst article ever on adventure journal. RESIST!

  • Mo from Marin

    Tactics for both Outdoor brands and consumers who care:
    1. Start showing more minorities in your advertisements and “branded content”
    2. Volunteer to take at-risk youth into the wilderness. If you don’t have time, donate money to these organizations. The only way to change the Benjamins (supply) is to change consumers (demand). One of the most surefire ways to change consumer demographics is at the grassroots level. Cultivate an appreciation for nature alongside people who might not look like you. Some of this is cultural and speaks to how health and wellness is looked upon by different communities.
    3. Support minority-run businesses. They’re the folks who were sick enough of working for “the man” that they took the risk to start their own thing to change the power dynamic. I see this happening in droves right now – my female friends sick of working for a*hole men leave and start their own thing… and are wildly successful because they’re supported by likeminded people (ie, others who are sick of the inequitable power dynamic).

    Thanks Steve, for running this piece. I went to OR for the first time and while I was surprised at the amount of women (I expected less), I was shamefully aware of the lack of color. I appreciate you putting light on the subject. (Ps. the piece could have benefited from a good edit, but it did a great job with the message).

    • Jane S

      Start showing minorities in ads? Why? Just because? If this demographic doesn’t partake in the segment the brand sells to, why would they put minorities in ads? Brands are trying to sell stuff and won’t be around long if they just want to be the PC company, just because…this doesn’t make sense.

      OR is a trade show, to sell goods. It’s time the industry became more business like.

  • Jerry

    “I as a person of color, a female and an immigrant” = Identity Politics. Why doesn’t the world adjust to me??? What about me??

  • Eric

    Interestingly I see once again that the Asian community, of which there are many on the trails I hike, are I guess excluded from the “minority” underclass. I didn’t go to OR but I have to assume that Snow Peak and other like vendors were present, no?

    I am sorry that the writer seems all consumed by the racial make up of any given industry, and very thankful my biracial kids enjoy the outdoors without the extra pack weight of their mixed race slowing them down.

    • Paulina Dao

      Actually despite being a brand that is headquartered in Japan, Snow Peak HQ and its employees are very hipster white.

  • Phoo

    As is often the case with these things, the outrage in the comments section is almost as interesting as the article itself!
    I think that the author clearly acknowledged that the Outdoor Industry is not some kind evil pact bent on suppressing women and minorities, but just a bunch of folks looking to make a buck. Everyone can take a deep breath and stop being offended on that point. The title, last couple of paragraphs, and anecdote about the shoe company illustrate that rather well. Speaking as a rather avid minority outdoorsman, where I personally differ is with whom we should hold to task with regard to inclusion issues. It’s not necessarily the responsibility of the retailers and manufacturers to do it. Again, they are just looking to make money, not fix social problems (that said, they can all stop patting themselves on the back for it if they are not actively engaged). While I don’t see that their aren’t any axes that need to be ground against Patagonia, REI, etc., it is nonetheless interesting that they do not pursue inclusion as a matter of survival! On a percentage of population basis, the Caucasian-male demographic is shrinking… but that will be the problem of said businesses to deal with in the end. As for why more minorities are not well represented in things like mountaineering and the like is a whoooole different kettle of fish. A bit more complex than some trite adages of “getting off the couch and out the door”. Fire up the Google-machine and get ready for the fire hose if you care to tread those waters.

  • Piedlife

    Curious to know how many of folks who commented that the author was “whining” actually have friends who are people of color that they hang out with on a regular basis? That you have over for dinner? Know their personal history? Have asked them what fears (if any) they had to overcome to engage in an outdoor activity?

  • Accidental FIRE

    My take on this perhaps comes from a slightly different background than others, maybe not, you tell me. I grew up in Baltimore City, in what’s basically a ghetto. Ever seen the shows “The Wire” and “Homicide”? Yeah, Baltimore is that bad, and where I grew up (back then) was about half and half white/black ethnicity.

    I’ve been held up at gunpoint, involved in drugs an all the trappings that come associated with a youth in a tough city. Fast forward to now and I’m an outdoor sports junkie who escaped the city. And I’m a white dude. And yes, I’ve read many pieces like this over the past few years that indirectly imply that we’re all racist, or that the industry is racist.

    I was ice climbing in the Catskills 2 weeks ago and mentioned to my partner how lucky we were to be able to do that sport. It’s friggin expensive! I had on $500 boots, $250 crampons, $350 ice tools, and maybe $600 of jacket/pants/gaitors etc. And then there’s ice screws, harness, sling, beaners, rope – you get it. The barrier to entry is HUGE.

    So I can see why there are no African Americans out on the ice. It’s financially out of the reach of so many more of them than it is whites. Labor statistics don’t lie, they make less overall.

    But here’s another angle to it. When I go back to Baltimore to see my friends and Mom, I always make time for a hike or run. And even though I’ll be in an park that’s surrounded by a 90% African American neighborhood, the majority of the folks I’ll see on the trail are white. And it’s the same in Washington DC where I live now. I can go to the Anacostia area which is mostly African American and get on a trail and it’ll either be deserted, or I’ll see a few white folks.

    The barrier to entry for hiking an easy trail or running is practically zero. Shoes. Yet I don’t see many African Americans interested, even when the trails are literally right across the street from their house.

    These are just my observations (they’re not accusations), and they come from hundreds of samples. Why is this?

    A commenter above named Angela hit on what I think is happening. Once white people seem to dominate a certain trail or activity, then African Americans – consciously or not – mentally surrender that territory. Let’s face it, most whites and blacks hang out with people of their same color, for the most part. Yes there are exceptions but I’m saying “most”. So I think it’s a form of “unconscious tribalism” that’s taking hold.

    Folks of color see trails and the outdoors already “taken” by whites, and they surrender that territory and just don’t bother. Apologies for using war metaphors as I’m not implying in any way that either side considers it a war, but that’s my educated guess from observation as to what’s going on.

  • Edward

    After about 25 years working in the outdoor industry in Latin America, I’ve come to the conclusion that lack of participation is cultural. Latinos don’t go camping because the group’s cultural nnrm is that they don’t go camping. It certainly isn’t for lack of trying on my part. The Lily white nature of the outdoor industry will change when group norms change and not before.

  • Paul

    First of all, to the author, the outraged comments claiming you are whining and should be silenced infuriate me. I’m sorry that perspective is so loud within our community. I think you have reasonable points that are worth serious consideration, and I’m sorry that some folks above are attempting to deny you that.

    I run a collegiate outdoor program, and we’ve tried hard to improve access to our programming to students of all backgrounds. We have a generous financial aid program which covers program fees for any student receiving aid from the institution; we make clothing and equipment available to use for free for most students; we actively seek out leaders from communities traditionally underrepresented in the outdoors; we try to promote folks with marginalized identities; we use the best knowledge in behavioral science to remove bias from our selection processes*; we make space and provide resources for mentoring of folks without outdoor experience.

    The result of this has been, to be frank, not as substantial as I would have hoped. Our participants and our leaders are about 55% non-male, which is great. Hearteningly, LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming folks are a little overrepresented in our programming compared with their presence at the institution as a whole. Racially, though, we are still disproportionally white, East Asian, and South Asian; we do not see many Latinx students participating, and we have very few black students. We are also still disproportionally comprised of wealthy students.

    Some folks commenting above have blamed this lack of representativeness on the minority communities themselves. That seems misguided. We need to ask why outdoor spaces are culturally claimed by whites, and we need to examine how we all respond to articles like this one that attempt to hold up a particular mirror to us. I can’t blame folks with minority identities for choosing not to assert themselves into an industry that has not made space for them.

    I want to recount a story of a student of color who came through my program. On his arrival to college, he participated in an outdoor orientation program. The bus dropped him in a small town, where the group walked a few miles up a dirt road to a trailhead. He later told me he was terrified for that whole walk, because “All I had ever heard was that people in places like this don’t like people like me”. He had a great experience in his small group, though, and he wanted to help our program. He was generous with his time while in college, pushing us to examine the ways we were reinforcing or buying into stories that led to beliefs like the one he had held. I tried to support him as much as I was able, but, in the end, it wasn’t enough. We – and I really mean primarily he and other students with marginalized identities who had joined him – experienced strong pushback like what is written above. He stopped participating, and when he graduated, he no longer felt well about our program or about his place in “the outdoors.”

    I agree with the author’s assertion that the industry as a whole has a moral obligation to make this space more equally accessible. We love the idea that everyone has the same opportunities in our country, but I just don’t think that is true. I want to be part of moving us in that direction.

    *Great book on the behavioral science of equity and inclusion: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01C5MZGS6/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

    • Ian Giacopuzzi

      I have been increasingly interested in the fact that outdoor sports are dominated by white and Asian patrons, and while I agree this is a problem and indeed a problem that is not the fault of those outdoor communities that are under represented, I also do not think this crisis can be blamed on the outdoor industries in any significant way.
      To be honest I had a hard time following what exactly the author above was reacting against, particularly because the outdoor industry is merely an opportunistic and ultimate unnecessary part of the outdoors. The reasons that there are not more Black and Hispanic people in the outdoors are many and complicated, and I would be entirely outmatched if I tried to explain all the cultural, economic, geographic, and educational barriers that separate these people from the outdoors, but I would like to point out that the outdoor used to be largely dominated by males and in the last 10 years this has changed dramatically! This gives me hope that I will begin to see more people of color skiing and back packing, and more Hispanics mountain biking and climbing but ultimately it is up to the individuals who enjoy these sports to invite a wide and diverse set of friends to participate in the outdoors. Make the world you want to see, we all needed someone to show us how to be confident in the outdoors, so be that person for your friend who may be from a culture that is under represented outside, and may have more fear of the outdoors. I think it is a stretch to say that white people are hoarding the outdoors, but we can certainly be better about sharing. That being said I’m not showing anyone my secret pow stashes or my favorite underground bike trails 😉

  • Elie

    I love this article and appreciate your words. Thanks too to AJ for publishing this.

  • Ashley

    After reading this article, which offered a unique perspective often left out of mainstream outdoors literature, I was so disheartened to read many of the comments. Just because the author presents a perspective you haven’t spent time considering before doesn’t mean you should shrug it off as flawed.

    While I agree that it would be great for CEOs to address issues of inclusion (on a broader scale than white women) because they feel morally convicted to do so, I also wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the idea that increasing diversity has economic benefits. There’s a lot of research that shows how diversity in management positively affects a company’s bottom line. It’s time for the outdoor industry to get with the program!

    Marinel: Thanks for taking the time to share your perspective and shine a light on this issue. You’ve gained a blog follower!

    • Jack Smith

      Ashley, I spent time considering the authors perspective as did many of the other posters. To suggest we didn’t is insulting. Her arguments are flawed. She doesn’t understand free market principles.

      She comes from a world where nothing is created only litigated and legislated. If we were talking about discrimination related to National Park, State Park or any trail access for that matter, that would be relevant.

      I don’t see any barriers to the growth of organic diversity in the ‘outdoor industry’. Do you?

      • Ashley Davis

        Jack, thanks for your response. I definitely think there are barriers to organic diversity, including (but certainly not limited to) implicit bias and discrimination in hiring and promoting practices within companies and unequal access to seed funds for start-ups. Free market principles, in theory, might engender organic change, but it relies on an assumption that each individual in society has equal access to social and monetary capital, which just isn’t the case. My hope is that we–as employers, advocates, consumers, and funders of the “outdoor industry”–become more intentional about fostering a space than encourages diversity at all levels of leadership.

        I’d encourage you to check this article out. It’s about the tech industry, but there are some transferable learnings: https://www.geekwire.com/2017/mlk-day-heres-7-black-tech-leaders-say-diversity-state-industry/

  • Eric

    I’ll keep it short but I do want to say that this article and the author’s perspective are incredibly valuable and the intersection of social and environmental issues is squarely where we all should be placing ourselves. The powers that be are responsible for both social inequality and environmental destruction: anyone who cares about either issue has the same enemy. Not everyone can commit to fighting every single issue, and some issues may feel more personal for some than others, but that is fine, we must support one another in this fight for justice, be it social or environmental. I thank the author for speaking up, Steve Casmiro for providing a platform, and everyone else who is supportive. This is why I love AJ.

  • D

    Or it could be the men and women, or black vs white just have different interest. I doubt the college basketball camps worry about diversity.

    Its not a mystery or a negative it reality.

  • Kenji

    Great discussion and thank you Marinel for putting your experience out there. I directed the OR Show for 8 years, worked for show management for 15 and have been 32 years in the specialty outdoor industry that OR is focused on. Throughout my career I worked hard to give voice to the minuscule but growing cultural inclusion movement in the industry; I hired people of color, women and millenials to help power my team struggling to be relevant to a fast changing marketplace. Why? Because I like to play the ‘race card’ or ‘gender card’? No of course not. It’s because it’s good business. I (and the show, and the industry) can only Win if we grow the pie. Market share wars are useless to the growth of the overall business. It may be true that no overt discriminatory hurdles exist to the naked eye, but one doesn’t have to think too deeply or empathetically to understand intimidation and elitism. These are sicknesses that weaken all industries that allow it purchase. If we don’t care about the health of our industry, then by all means keep saying things like ‘the trailhead is right there, nobody is stopping you’. If you are interested in a healthy, vibrant and relevant industry, then get on board the rest of the business world and actively recruit, retain, and truly build world-class teams. And do a little homework on modern diversity and inclusion initiatives.
    Marinel, I invite you and I to have a conversation about the industry you caught a glimpse of in a Denver last month. I welcome your experience and viewpoint, but also feel it’s important to share my experience with you. Thanks for coming to lunch, and hope we get more hang time in this passion-driven engine called the outdoor industry. You are most welcome here!

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