As businesses build back from the 2020 recession, many have spotted an opportunity: Promote diversity as part of their sustainable recovery. That opportunity is writ large for the outdoor industry where 70 percent of Black, Latinx, and Asian Pacific Americans participate in outdoor activities and 51 percent of first-time campers in 2018 were Black, Indigenous and people of color.
Diversity and the outdoors were key topics of conversation this summer when a dozen of the brightest minds in the environmental, outdoor, and sustainable finance communities came together to dig into this question: How do businesses in the outdoor industry regain their vibrancy and build back stronger?
In this third installment of the series, you’ll find ideas for building a stronger brand through diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
1. Rethink the Diversity of Your Customer Base
The data tells a story: U.S. brands are missing an opportunity.
The combined buying power of diverse groups in the U.S. is $3.9 trillion. Multicultural consumers make up 40 percent of the population, yet money spent on marketing to these groups makes up only 5.2 percent of total marketing budgets. Clearly, there’s a miss here.
Today in the U.S., 70 percent of people of color say they regularly participate in outdoor activities, including hiking and camping. Contrary to what mass marketing commonly portrays, an incredibly diverse mix of outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the environment and outdoor activities.
Just check out Black Birders Week or one of the many hiking, camping, fishing, running, surfing, cycling, or climbing clubs organized by people of color. As a business owner, diversifying your customer base makes good business sense.
2. Connect with Diverse Consumers on their Turf
A first step for appealing to diverse customers is to reach them in their own spaces— whether at physical events or online.
“We’re not that hard to find,” said Laura Edmondson, Corporate Responsibility Manager at Brown Girls Climb, a company with a mission to promote and increase visibility of diversity in climbing. “We’re online, we’re creating platforms for ourselves. You just have to look for us.”
Think about going beyond the outdoor industry’s large events. Festivals like Color the Crag and the Refuge Festival are geared toward the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) consumer base. To learn the needs of diverse consumers and what messaging might resonate, follow some of the athletes, adventurers, and conservationists who are BIPOC influencers.
It’s important to be mindful of building a mutually beneficial relationship, so the BIPOC community understands you value them beyond potential sales. Sponsorship, advertising, volunteerism, or community engagement on social channels with groups like Diversify Outdoors and Latino Outdoors can help reinforce your company’s commitment to DEI.
3. Create Marketing that Mirrors Your Audience
Imagery—websites, social media, brochures, and advertising—should reflect the demographic you’re trying to reach. A recent study found that 64 percent of people are more likely to consider or even purchase a product after seeing an ad they think is diverse or inclusive.
The outdoor industry is waking up to the opportunity.
People are starting to take notice that it shouldn’t always just be white dudes on top of a mountain.
4. Redefine Outdoor Recreation
One way to create a more inclusive outdoor brand is to expand the frame. What’s your definition of outdoor activity?
“I’m a fifth-generation farmer, and you have to be able to read the environment in order to do that job well and make any money at it,” Graham explained. “Especially in my teenage years, I spent all of my time outside, but it wasn’t on a mountain.”
Birdwatching, fishing, gardening—they’re no less outdoor activities than snowshoeing, paddleboarding, or polar expeditions. Too often, we let influencers on Instagram draw the boundaries of our world in narrow ways that can exclude people and activities.
“Expanding the definition of outdoor recreation is essential,” said Graham.
5. Cultivate Community to Build Loyalty
“Sometimes when you’re talking to everybody, you’re attracting no one,” said Micah Ragland, Director of Corporate Communications at DTE Energy. He suggests micro-targeting communities of color. Get educated on a community’s concerns. Try surveys to gather feedback on their preferences. Consider a consultant who can help you activate a targeted communications strategy. Creating an inclusive space with input from your customers can help you build a loyal following.
Taking action on local issues facing diverse communities can also build trust and loyalty. As a native of Flint, Michigan, this was hammered home for Ragland during the lead contamination water crisis. Local outdoor gear retailer Moosejaw sent employees to Flint to volunteer and donated supplies to the affected communities.
“I had never heard of Moosejaw prior to them having their volunteer and donation presence in Flint, and now I’m an avid Moosejaw buyer,” he said. “Brand loyalty is something that can be invoked when small businesses pay attention to race and the impact that it has on the environment.”
6. Grow Your Diversity from the Inside Out
Reflecting your customer bases goes beyond putting Black people in your advertising. It also means recruiting from BIPOC communities, cultivating an inclusive work environment, and training existing employees on DEI. A diverse and inclusive team adds to your company’s cultural competence. It can help you attract customers who identify with your business or brand and also expand the candidate pool of people competing to work for you.
“Specifically with the outdoor industry, there’s the sense that it’s kind of insular—we hire from within, and it’s a club,” said Brady Robinson, Executive Director of the Conservation Alliance. “In light of all the things that are happening in 2020, there are a lot of brands that are trying really hard to pull new perspectives and hire from new communities that aren’t as well represented in our industry.
“Companies that are truly embracing diversity and understanding that different life experiences, different opinions coming from different backgrounds—it’s just a good business decision.”
Dan Osipow (00:03):
Hello everyone, and thank you for joining Navigating Change, a four-part webinar series focused on sustainable recovery for small businesses brought to you by Bank of the West, Protect Our Winters, and Snowsports Industries America. My name is Dan Osipow from Bank of the West, and I’m proud of the series we’ve created. And I hope you’ll join us for the next four weeks as we look to highlight trends and practical improvements for small businesses in the wake of the pandemic. COVID has redefined how we do business and new opportunities are emerging for how businesses can adapt to survive now, and even flourish in the future.
Dan Osipow (00:41):
Today’s topic is “The Intersection of Environment and Diversity.” Before we jump in, I’d like to cover a few small housekeeping items: All video and audio of attendees will be muted throughout the webinar. Q&A will be live throughout the webinar and the moderator will pull those questions in throughout and then utilize them for Q&A about the last 10 minutes of the program. Today’s moderator is Leslie Nuccio from Bank of the West. And our esteemed panelists are Micah Ragland from DTE Energy; Latria Graham, Contributing Editor at The Weekly; and Laura Edmondson from Brown Girls Climb. So once again, thanks for joining Navigating Change. Enjoy the conversation. And Leslie, I turn it over to you.
Leslie Nuccio (01:25):
Great, thanks, Dan. So we’re going to dive right in and just get right to the heart of the matter. And this is a question for all three of you: Why is it important for small business to take race into account when we’re talking about the environment? Who wants to jump in?
Laura Edmondson (01:48):
I’m happy to start. I think for me, and for my organization, it’s nearly impossible to separate race and environmental issues because the environmental issues that we’re experiencing—because climate change is going to be affecting communities of color, Black and indigenous people of color, our communities first. We’re already being affected first. So for us, it’s impossible to separate the two. If you’re going to work towards changing your environmental policies, they need to have a layer of racial justice. If you’re working towards being more inclusive of race issues, then they need to include environmental justice as well.
Leslie Nuccio (02:34):
Latria, I know you had some thoughts on this the other day when we were talking about it.
Latria Graham (02:41):
I did! Well, I mean there are a number of places where my mind goes to, but initially, I’m thinking about the statistics. As the country diversifies and different people start spending money in places, statistically, it’s going to be very hard to do it without us. It is going to be very hard to flourish without us. And so including us at the front of things gives you more brand loyalty in one thing, but it’s important to talk about, raised in the environment at the same time, because as Laura said, it does really affect us first. We understand climate change. We think about it in a different way. And this takes a 360 degree perspective on it because there are things that people aren’t thinking about that we instinctually think about. So in order to have everyone on board, or have the staying power that you need for some of the policies that are happening and things like that, it’s important to create a diverse, equitable world.
Leslie Nuccio (03:49):
And you the other day said something about “canary in the coal mine.” Do you want to maybe expand a little bit on that, because that was really fun for me to hear.
Latria Graham (03:57):
Yeah. So because of policies like redlining, which for those of you that don’t know, at one point, it defined where people of color—specifically for me, Black people—couldn’t buy land, and things like that, and sort of corralled them into neighborhoods and didn’t give them resources that they needed. Because you have these areas, they tend to be more readily impacted by environmental racism—like there’s a garbage dump nearby, or some sort of power plant, or things like that.
Latria Graham (04:28):
And so these people are feeling the effects first whenever you’re thinking about climate change and what is it, sea level rise? I’m thinking of the Gullah Geechee in Charleston. I’m thinking of the Native American and Indigenous community in Louisiana, those people, and this is around the world and not just in the U.S. But the U.S. is an interesting case. All of these sea level rise communities for the most part are communities of color. So they’re seeing the water. They’re seeing everything happen first, and they’re combating it in ways. And for the Gullah Geechee, they’ve combated sea level rise for hundreds of years. They know how to work with the land in order to mitigate some of that. But people aren’t necessarily having conversations with that community or with that group. So Black women specifically are often the canary in the coal mine. We’re the lead indicator of how policies are going to shake out for the rest of America. They directly hit us first, for economic reasons, for social reasons. So that’s a little explanation what I was saying there.
Leslie Nuccio (05:36):
Thank you. I found that really interesting when we talked about it before. I also think it’s just important to remember that sustainability does not just mean environment. As we go into the Sustainable Recovery series, there is business resiliency, social resiliency. And so there’s a big equity piece for people who are familiar with the UN SDGs. You’ll note that there’s a lot of SDGs around. There’s SDGs around peace, there’s SDGs around justice, there’s SDGs around gender equity. And the reason is because you can’t have a truly sustainable world when you’re marginalizing groups of people. We’ve actually proven this. Economically, it doesn’t work.
Leslie Nuccio (06:15):
So we’re seeing right now, obviously, the disastrous economic effects of climate change—the cost of the fires, the cost of the pandemic, the actual economic piece of it. And so that’s why I think it’s always important to remember it’s not that we’re redefining sustainability right now. We’re going back to what sustainability actually means, which is essentially long-term resiliency for everyone. And so I do think that that’s where that intersection also comes into play really nicely. Micah, do you want to weigh in on that one?
Micah Ragland (06:46):
Yeah, I think I’m just going to piggyback off of what Latria said. I think she fit two key words that kind of resonated with me, and the first of those being brand loyalty, demographics. And just starting with demographics first: I mean Latria’s absolutely right. I mean, if you look at the demographic trends in this country, we’re probably a generation, if not a generation and a half, if not less than that away from becoming a majority minority country. And so people of color are going to be the majority of consumers in this country in the not too distant future.
Micah Ragland (07:27):
And having previously in my work at Walmart, working on their Corporate Affairs team, one of the things that we did a lot of was just kind of track our current consumer base, but also that audience of gettable folks, and people of color were in both of those categories. They made up a significant part of retail consumers that Walmart and other retailers have, but there was also a large, gettable base, younger base, of younger customers of color that were attainable. And these younger generations, I mean, they’re really paying attention to sustainability issues, environmental justice issues, and it’s top of mind for them.
Micah Ragland (08:10):
And so by being able to be aware of those issues, paying attention to those issues and addressing them, you’re actually addressing our concern that probably a large number of small businesses, current customers have and future customer base have as well. Another point that I’ll make just more as it pertains to the brand loyalty aspect of this: With so many consumers now, and it looks like it’s evolving to where folks are just a lot more attentive to what retailers are doing and businesses that they do business with are doing, I think it can invoke a sense of enhanced loyalty.
Micah Ragland (08:57):
And one of the examples that I like: I live in Detroit, Michigan. I’m a Michigander here for a significant part of my life. And I’m originally from Flint, Michigan, and when the Flint water crisis was going on about four or five years ago, I went to that community organizing, things of that nature. And there was a local outdoor retailer based here in Michigan called Moosejaw, and they were sending some of their employees to Flint to volunteer and they were donating resources to the community. And I had never heard of Moosejaw prior to them having their volunteer and their donation presence in Flint, and now I’m an avid Moosejaw buyer. My wife’s birthday is two days from today, and I was online just before this call, buying her T-shirt from Moosejaw. So, I think brand loyalty is something that can be invoked when small businesses pay attention to race and the impact that it has on the environment. And then it can just help your bottom line because the demographic shifts in this country are showing that younger audiences, and in particular, younger audiences of color, are making up a significant portion of the consumer base in this country.
Leslie Nuccio (10:15):
Yes, and actually, I read a stat and I tried to find it the other day. I believe that 57 percent of Americans under 25 are not white. So the younger generation is skewing much less white than the older generation. I will caveat this with I’m a words person, not a math person. But I’m pretty sure those numbers are right. But what is true is a disproportionate percentage of the younger generation is nonwhite. And so to your point, Micah: The future actually is a minority majority stake. And so the numbers are in. Somewhere, the numbers are in. So I’m going to go to Latria, I have a question for you, which is about the piece that you wrote for Outside Magazine recently about the misperception that Black people don’t like the outdoors. Where does that misperception come from? Why does it persist? And what kind of work do we have to do in sort of mythbusting that one out?
Latria Graham (11:16):
Yeah, so that piece was called “We’re Here, You Just Don’t See Us.” And it was writing back against the mythology that Black people just don’t do outside. There was a list that I found. It was like Black people don’t do tofu, Black people don’t swim, Black people don’t camp, or whatever. And I was like, this is completely inaccurate, because I do all of these things. But the myth persists because we don’t necessarily recreate outside the way that advertising and traditional outdoor retailer lenses believe we do or should.
Latria Graham (11:58):
When you pick up some of these magazines, you’re seeing somebody on top of a summit of a mountain. You’re seeing them do climbing and some of these other things. And that’s not all there is to the outdoors. My family, we’re a family of avid fishermen. I’m a fifth-generation farmer, and you have to be able to read the environment in order to do that job well and make any money at it. And so I spent—especially in my teenage years—all of my time outside, but it wasn’t on a mountain. It wasn’t necessarily photography-worthy. We have cookouts at lakes and things like that.
Latria Graham (12:40):
So what people think recreating outdoors looks like doesn’t meet the cultural competency part of the discussion. and on the media side of it, I’m trying to change it. I just did an essay or an article about Black joy, and there’s a horse woman in it. There’s a fly-fisher woman in that one. There’s this gentleman—he’s a farmer, but he also loves watching birds and takes people out for those.
Latria Graham (13:09):
So again, sort of expanding this definition of outdoor recreation is essential and pivotal to having that conversation a little bit. And it does persist, I think, it’s changing with Instagram and things like that, and different influencers and personalities. But the magazines that we pick up, some of the media that we digest, these are not necessarily Instagram-worthy pursuits. It doesn’t look the same as being on top of the mountain and watching the sunset and things like that. It just doesn’t necessarily have the aesthetic appeal, but we’re doing those things too.
Latria Graham (13:49):
There was just this photo, and it was Clifford Medford, and it was a photo of Ron Cruisewell in the Appalachians on top of the mountain. So we have that aspect of it too. And people are starting to take notice that it shouldn’t always just be white dudes on top of a mountain. I was like, who knew we can do all these other things? So that is starting to change a little bit.
Latria Graham (14:13):
And overcoming the legacy has to do with making some of these spaces, particularly mountain towns—and I can say this as someone that spends a lot of time in mountain towns around Confederate flags and Gadsden flags and all of those things—making some of those mountain towns and mountain spaces less hostile and more welcoming to people of color and things like that will be a big part of sort of demystifying some of that. Because there are places that as white people—and some of you know this because of the Negro Motorist Green Book—that Black people have not felt safe. There are “sundown towns,” some of them still in existence, which means as a Black person, you shouldn’t be there after sundown, because you don’t know what will happen to you. So some of it is changing that environment in order to sort of bust open some of those myths, and then some of it is just actually changing the thinking and changing the language.
Leslie Nuccio (15:12):
It shouldn’t just be white dudes on top of a mountain. Laura might have something to say about that. Laura, you want to chime in there?
Laura Edmondson (15:19):
Yeah, I mean that’s our entire mission of Brown Girls Climb is to get Black and brown women outside on top of mountains. So I 100% agree. It’s very deeply with what we do.
Leslie Nuccio (15:33):
Yeah, I do think it’s interesting to think about the outdoors differently, like fishing and just other sports that aren’t so, as you say, like maybe Instagram-worthy. Although fishing is nice; there’s a lake. Do you guys think that we’re making progress there? It sounds like we’ve heard some things that could help with progress. But do you think that things are kind of on the swing of making progress in this particular space?
Latria Graham (16:00):
I think so. And I mean, it may be partially the advent of the internet, because I was talking with an older Black male birder, Dr. Joseph Drew Lanham. And he was like, “Before Black Birders Week, I just thought it was like me and my crew.” The geography of this country is vast. And that makes you feel very isolated and alone in some ways. But we just had Black Botanist Week, we’ve had Black Hikers Week, we’ve had Black Birders Week, and if you go through some of those hashtags, you see thousands—and I truly mean thousands, if not tens of thousands—of people that are like, “This is what the outdoors looks like for me.”
Latria Graham (16:36):
And so that channel has completely changed that sense of isolation that I’ve had as a Black person in these mountains, because I don’t necessarily have a group. That’s another thing we have talk to about. I live in the deep South and regionally it’s two hours to Charlotte, and two hours to Atlanta. And so I’m often, when it comes to gathering as a group of people of color, it’s something that I have to take a day off and do. It is not something where I can just go to my local meetup and do that. But taking that sort of into account, I have the internet and I can see all these other people doing it and go places that I’ve wanted to go and learn from them.
Latria Graham (17:15):
So I think, partially thanks to social media, where we’re getting some of that, and I think this current crucible moment that we’re in—and people talking about the murder of George Floyd, talking about Breonna Taylor—people are starting to wake up to how urgent this is, how anxious people of color have been. There’s some empathy and compassion in a way that we haven’t had before. And so people are thinking about it, and they’re like, “Oh, my world doesn’t have to be entirely white, my media shouldn’t be completely white,” et cetera, et cetera. So all of that is starting to help, I think, but it will be interesting to ask this question a year from now and figure out whether or not it was just performed in solidarity and people got exhausted and they went right back to their old—because my feed is starting to be full of like how to socially distance barbecue, instead of social justice and things like that. So I think we are, but we have to keep rolling this rock up the hill. We are really going to be, I’m blanking on the name of the Greek mythological character that rolls the rock up the hill. And then it’s just—
Leslie Nuccio (18:21):
Latria Graham (18:22):
Yeah, Sisyphus. We are going to be Sisyphus for the rest of our lives, because it’s a continuing education thing, but we just have to keep the pressure on it and keep rolling the rock.
Leslie Nuccio (18:31):
Yeah, I think it is one of those things that as white people when we ask ourselves, “What can we do to help?” One of them is don’t stop helping. And it can get tiring, especially for those of us who aren’t accustomed to thinking about racial trauma. And we have the luxury of taking breaks. But then we got to get back at it if we really want to help. It’s an ongoing process, hopefully not a Sisyphean process, Latria. I’m going to be hopeful about it. I did a project once called Project Sisyphus where I was rolling with a wheelbarrow rocks up a hill. I remember that weekend. It was a long weekend.
Leslie Nuccio (19:18):
Laura, I actually have a question for you: I want you to talk a little bit about Brown Girls Climb and your mission. And I know that you consult with a lot of businesses and organizations. So I want to understand what do you tell them about the importance of diversity? And what sort of advice do you give them when they want to appeal to a more diverse audience and/or have a more diverse workforce?
Laura Edmondson (19:40):
Yeah, so Brown Girls Climb is a mission-driven company founded four years ago? That sounds right, about four years ago. And yeah, our goal is to get Black and Indigenous women of color outside or in the gym climbing with each other. So we strive to build community with each other because it’s not available. It’s not readily available, as Latria was saying, in everybody’s area. So we’re trying to build that for people and trying to make those connections.
Laura Edmondson (20:12):
But as far as what we tell organizations about reaching out to people of color—it’s costing you business to not do it. We’re here. And as Latria pointed out, we’re already doing these things, we’re getting outside in our own ways. So it’s basically like an untapped market, you’re leaving money on the table if you’re not appealing to our community, if you’re not coming to us. So I think that’s the No. 1 thing I would say from a business perspective. It’s also just a good thing to do to broaden your consumer base and to make people feel included and wanted and involved in whatever market you’re in, whether it’s snow sports, or rock climbing, or whatever it may be. So yeah, that’s what we primarily tell our companies that we work with, is just that it’s just good business sense. So there’s that.
Laura Edmondson (21:10):
As far as some tips, I would say: Meet us where we are, because we are here, you just have to look for us. And we’re not that hard to find. As Latria pointed out, there’s hashtags on Instagram. We’re online, we’re creating these platforms for ourselves. You just have to look for them. Because traditional ways into this industry have not been as accessible to us, we’ve had to create our own pathways. So you need to come and find us where we are. I’m thinking of things like Color the Crag, which is an all-POC climbing festival that Brown Girls Climb puts on with Brothers of Climbing. Refuge Outdoor Festival, which is an all-POC outdoor festival. There are events like this happening. And we’re not seeing the recognition from brands and companies showing up to those like they would a more mainstream event.
Laura Edmondson (22:01):
So meeting us where we are is really important. And then once you’ve decided to reach out to us, make sure that you’re reflecting that in your marketing when you do reach out. Because if you reach out to us and show us someone who doesn’t look like me, or who doesn’t look like the people that we’re trying to build this community with, it’s not going to be as inviting, it’s not going to be as appealing to get involved or to buy your product or whatever it is, if we’re not seeing ourselves reflected back.
Leslie Nuccio (22:31):
And I know Latria was talking a little bit about safe space and any of you can answer this: So how do outdoor brands, retailers, et cetera—how do we create safe space so that you do feel invited to the party, but not just invited to the party, you’re dancing at the party? You know what I mean? What are some things we can give to people?
Laura Edmondson (22:54):
I think that it needs to be a co-created space, it’s the No. 1 thing I would say there. It’s going to be very hard if not impossible, for a white-led organization to create a safe space for people of color, because the space you’ve already created doesn’t feel safe. So that tells us that you don’t know what feels safe for us. And we can help you with that. That’s part of what our work is at Brown Girls Climb with our consulting that we do. So you need to come and help us and we’ll build the space together. Micah or Latria, I don’t know if you have other thoughts on that.
Micah Ragland (23:30):
Yeah, I think you hit on it. I think having that co-creation at the initial phases is really important. And then going to your previous response just on representation: Having representation as best you can amongst your staff, and if not possible there, then definitely having it in the materials that you’re putting out, I think is key to it. I think those are just two easy, fundamental things that really aren’t heavy lifts that can get you most of the way to where you need to go when it pertains to just creating those more welcoming spaces for consumers of color and people of color.
Latria Graham (24:20):
Yeah. Micah and Laura hit on most of the big stuff. For me, I think there’s one thing that I’ll say that may be slightly controversial, but we’ll have to see how this goes over: But for those doing business, I’m particularly thinking about with these towns, or if you know that you are working with a vendor that has racist leanings, or you’re working in a town where these people have these beliefs about people of color, you have to make racism expensive for them. You have to be willing to go out of your way to spend your money somewhere else, and let them know why. A lot of these towns that I pass through aren’t growing, because I’m not going to spend my money there because I see signs that this is not a safe space for me to get out of my car and go visit this shop or go get something to eat, or any of that sort of stuff.
Latria Graham (25:20):
And so, I went on this one press trip, and I was like, I told the person I was like, “I’m not getting out of this car here. Let me explain to you exactly all of the things that make this a hostile space for me. And if you want this resort to thrive, some things are going to have to change because like all these visual markers, by the time you get to the resort, you’re a wreck.” And so you’re buying your fruit and vegetables from somewhere. You’re buying all these things that you need from from somewhere, and it’s like, “Hey, I have to look at who I’m doing business with and say ‘Are you about creating a diverse, equitable space for the people that that pass through here?’” And if the answer is no, I have to go spend my money somewhere else.
Leslie Nuccio (26:05):
That makes sense. Yeah, I have that sometimes when I go places where I get misgendered. It happens occasionally when I get called sir, in like deep Texas, like, “Really? I’m wearing lip gloss you guys.” But it’s jarring, like “What? I’m not in California right now, am I?” I’m going to move to Micah: Micah, you’ve spent a ton of time in your career in corporate communications, including head of comms for the EPA during the Obama administration. So serving a diverse customer base does require embedding diversity in the company. We spoke to that a little bit, like higher diversity, because that’s who’s going to help you shape how to market, how to have product offerings, et cetera. So can you talk a little bit about that? And actually, can you talk a little bit about some of the pitfalls that you’ve seen in really achieving true gender equity within your organization?
Micah Ragland (27:00):
Yeah. I think as it pertains to racial and gender equity, as it pertains to whether you’re marketing to your consumer base or are looking to create some additional new communication avenues with them, I think some of the early pitfalls that I’ve seen—and I’ve worked in communications and environment and sustainability space in different areas. I’ve done it from a policy perspective when I worked on Capitol Hill for a few years, I did at the EPA from an administrative regulatory standpoint, and I’ve done it in corporate America at Walmart, and now in my current position, at DTE Energy here in Detroit—and I think one of the things that I’ve always coached my staff on is don’t be afraid to microtarget.
Micah Ragland (27:50):
I think Laura hit on it really, really well. Microtargeting is really easy. It can be the low-hanging fruit of just tagging certain select audiences and tweets or Facebook posts that you’re putting up. It can be looking at messaging that works for particular communities of color. When I was at the EPA, I would tell my staff all the time, we lead in with sustainability and environment first, that’s kind of like our 1A, but our 1B, our 1C, our 1D—those have to be issues that really connect with the audience that we’re going after. And I know in African American community, when I’m being marketed to or when there’s a new law or something that’s coming out, the top two things that come to my mind was, “How’s it going to affect my wallet or my wife’s pocketbook? How is it going to affect my health? And how’s it going to impact my child’s education?”
Micah Ragland (28:53):
It really comes down to economics, education, and public health for a lot of people of color. And that was my parents’ thinking, that was my grandparents’ thinking on issues. And so whenever we would lead in with a sustainability issue, and we really wanted to target communities of color, leading with sustainability, but then we would bring in those those supplemental three points to show how they’re intertwined with our sustainability messaging. So it was one thing that I’ve kind of seen shortcomings with.
Micah Ragland (29:25):
And then I think Laura really made a key point, and I just want to really emphasize it is like not being afraid to co-create a messaging space with the audiences that you’re trying to target. It’s really not a heavy lift. Consumers want to be engaged. I practically work for a monopoly here in Detroit, the utility that I work for, but we’re constantly putting out polling, and our customer base never tires of it. They never, ever want to hear us stop asking them how they feel or how we can improve or how we can get better or what things that they want to see in our materials.
Micah Ragland (30:13):
And so I think by doing those three things, just really working in the infancy phases of communicating with those customer bases that you want to go after, microtargeting those communities, and then really intertwining what they want to hear in your messaging, I think will go a long way to just creating more inclusivity and not just what you’re communicating but in terms of making you more attractive to diverse audiences as well.
Leslie Nuccio (30:43):
And what are some of the pitfalls that you’ve seen happen? Or any of you can jump in too.
Micah Ragland (30:48):
Yeah, one thing I’ll note is that I think one of the things that I’ve seen from a communications marketing standpoint is that sometimes marketing materials are too broadly communicated sometimes. And I’ve worked in the PR space as a consultant, too. And I had a client one time I said, “Well, who exactly are you trying to talk to?” And the client told me, “I want to talk to everybody.” Well, okay. Sometimes when you’re talking to everybody, you’re attracting no one. And so I think that’s kind of been one of them that I’ve seen from a marketing comms standpoint. I’ll bring it up to Laura and Latria from there.
Latria Graham (31:29):
I sort of have been thinking a little bit about this: Divorcing a person’s body from their words. So there was—I want to make sure that I have this right—there was a company and they had this white woman running, and they used Rue Mapp’s words. And it was like, “Why would you be like, ‘Oh, checkbox, we’ve used something from a Black woman,’ but wouldn’t use her photo?” What does that say about it? And people just doing things, doing the bare minimum, to say, “Okay, we’ve checked this box for having a woman,” because I know, it’s also along gender lines, but “We’ve got a woman, we’ve got a minority, done.” Or, someone that identifies as a minority just isn’t listened to. Like you brought them in to say that you had one, but you’ve never intended to implement their ideas, because tokenization is the strawman of diversity.
Latria Graham (32:30):
Just because you have this diverse-looking photo, if they’re not bringing their full selves to work, if they’re not able to express their ideas and perspectives, that really messes with things.
Laura Edmondson (32:44):
Yeah, I’d also like to add that your efforts need to be genuine and authentic, because if they’re not, we will be able to tell. So as someone who works independently from Brown Girls Climb with brands, I would rather a brand come to me and say, “Hey, we realized that we haven’t been doing enough as far as diversity and inclusion goes. We want your input on how we can do better.” Rather than come to me with some idea that they made up that they think is going to fix it, that’s not actually well-rounded, that’s not actually informed by what the community wants. So I think being willing to understand that you’ve been lacking and acknowledge that and then approach it from a genuine and authentic stance is also really, really important. And then when you are asking for our input, be prepared to pay for it, because we don’t give this out just for free.
Leslie Nuccio (33:40):
Yeah, I was actually going to ask you Laura, because the other day when we were talking, you talked about the cost of emotional labor, which I found really interesting. And I think maybe white folks haven’t been trained to think about things this way. So I wanted to actually not miss that point. So maybe you could talk about that in terms of people, let’s say hiring you or hiring, especially people to come in and talk about D&I.
Laura Edmondson (34:01):
Sure, absolutely. So I’ll speak from my experience influencing on Instagram. When a brand reaches out to someone asking them to talk about their gear, there’s this rate, we’ll say $500. And they’re like, “Hey, well, you mentioned our brand when you’re talking about our gear, tell us how great it was and the experience you had.” But when a brand comes to me and says, “Hey, we want you to talk about your experience and include the lens of being a Black woman in the outdoors.” That’s going to include a lot of trauma for me, living in a white supremacist society and going and trying to recreate in a majority white space is going to include me unpacking my trauma, and that should come at a higher cost than someone who’s just reviewing the tent that they took out.
Leslie Nuccio (34:48):
Yeah, I thought that was an important point to cover. So thank you for covering that again. Does anybody have anything else on that? I’m going to go to our final question, which is an open forum for each of you to provide one or two tips for people in the outdoor space to be better allies to people of color and/or attract them as customers. I think probably being the first one probably leads to the second one. So whatever tips you guys want to provide to wrap before we take questions from the audience.
Micah Ragland (35:28):
Yeah, I think I’ll chime in on this one first. I think a lot of outdoor brands are very genuine in their intent in terms of wanting to bring more customers into the fold and increase the diversity of their customer base, and hopefully also working towards increasing the diversity of their workforces well. I think, whatever your mission is as a business, I think working to find where there’s overlap with emergent issues in communities of color, whether it’s environmental justice, like the issue that Moosejaw stepped into in helping to donate resources to Flint, Michigan, which is a community that’s 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, is a majority African American community. It’s part of the Moosejaw mission to have corporate social responsibility as part of their mandate, and they really looked at Flint, Michigan, and said, “This really isn’t a stretch for us.” And they were very purposeful in including that into their mission, because there was overlap there. And so I think it’s not a terribly hard or a challenging thing to do to say, “Hey, we’re a good company. And here are communities of color who are advocating on these issues that we agree with. And let’s just be more purposeful and making sure that we integrate that into our public stances and to our advocacy and to our advertising.” Really making it a part of your brand more.
Latria Graham (37:25):
So I guess I will chime in on this one next, if that’s okay. Two tips I have: The first is to think about the language that you use. As a writer, we have the saying that language is effective, language can be dangerous, because of the ways that it can be weaponized, because of the ways it can be used to define. So people often use the words “underserved youth,” like that’s just standard, something that you would write in a grant application. “Under” denotes not being sort of on the same level in terms of respect, in terms of a number of things. So I try to use the phrase “those without access,” usually, or “those without historical access to.” This acknowledges the reasons that the barriers are there, and doesn’t just sort of lower this person or this organization or these youth, that you believe that you’re going in to help in terms of the language, different things like that.
Latria Graham (38:42):
And then the second one is to define the way you think about community. And then look for the holes in that. Think about where you’re located in your space and say, “Have I really thought about this five-mile range and the people that live in it, the organizations that exist in it, the land features that are in it?” And then keep widening that range out to see what you learn about your community, what you think about your community, the blind spots that you have, because all of those are opportunities.
Laura Edmondson (39:23):
I think for my input, I would say embrace vulnerability, embrace being given feedback, embrace new ways of doing business, because the status quo obviously hasn’t been serving the entire population that you’re trying to reach. So be willing to get creative, be willing to think outside the box, be willing to take direction. That’s like seven tips, not two, but those are the quick things that are coming to mind for me.
Leslie Nuccio (39:57):
Yeah, I’m going to answer that one as a white person myself, which is I think that discussions about race are uncomfortable. And acknowledging that we have a lot of work to do is not a failure, necessarily. It’s just an acknowledgement of where we are. And I think it’s important that we really look at how we can improve, and to your point, Laura, take feedback without getting defensive, because there is a really big difference sometimes between intent and impact. And typically, when I see people have that sort of reactivity, “I didn’t mean to,” typically people aren’t actually saying, “You meant to do this,” because that just means you’re a jerk. Typically, when somebody is talking about a harm that has been caused or improvements that need to be made, it’s really everybody’s in the same place, which is we’re trying to make things better and more inclusive. And I don’t think it’s a secret that there’s a lot of industries that have work to do, that we as a society have a lot of work to do.
Leslie Nuccio (41:04):
And so doing that work really requires connection and empathy. And empathy really starts with examining the impact of what has happened to somebody who’s been perhaps harmed, however inadvertently, by our words, et cetera. And so I know that I’ve had to become comfortable with knowing that I will make mistakes in these conversations, because there’s no great playbook. There’s a lot of literature. Robin DiAngelo has some great books. Ibram X. Kendi has some great books. There’s lots of literature that we can find out there as white people who genuinely want to help change that status quo, and we will still make mistakes. And that is okay, but it’s not up to our friends of color to pat us on the back and be like, “Thanks for trying.” We have to actually internalize our own mistakes and deal with that kind of, whether it’s guilt or shame, or I see a lot of “You’re trying to make me feel guilty” type things on social or whatever. And that’s not actually typically the point of racial talks.
Leslie Nuccio (42:09):
Nobody’s trying to make anybody feel anything. It’s really just a discussion of how can we be helpful. And it’s hard. And I think it’s exciting that we’re in a place in society right now where we are having these discussions, and people are genuinely—and Latria, people would need to have their social distancing barbecues, but not in the absence of really trying to move the needle as regards to racial equity, gender equity, et cetera.
Leslie Nuccio (42:38):
Because to tie this up with a bow, if we really want a sustainable recovery—and that includes a sustainable economic recovery—we cannot do it when we’re marginalizing groups of people, when we’re forgetting about the environment. All of these things work together. And so if we really want a sustainable future, we have to have an equitable future. And it’s that simple. And I would quote a bunch of statistics from our chief economist, but for anybody who’s interested, Scott Anderson has plenty of economic reports to this end that have been posted on our channels, et cetera.
Leslie Nuccio (43:11):
And with that, does anybody have one more thing that you want the audience to know before we open it up to questions? Covered it? All right. We have some questions. I think it’s in the Q&A thing. So I’m going to click this and see if that’s where I’m supposed to go. Yes, it is. Can you guys see those two, Laura, Micah, and Latria? Can you see the questions? Okay, so there’s one for Laura, which is: What have you seen that businesses are doing that is effective to bring people of color into their audience or clientele?
Laura Edmondson (43:46):
I think it’s important for businesses to do some background work before they start, because you need to have an understanding of what you’re getting yourself into rather than just going up and expecting somebody to hold your hand and walk you through what you’re supposed to do. So I think that background work is very important. I think being willing to just completely scrap the old model and start from scratch is also very important, because capitalism isn’t serving us.
Laura Edmondson (44:23):
Capitalism is not an equitable system. Capitalism isn’t helping anybody except for banks and billionaires and millionaires and whatever, and it’s keeping people down. And I think if your focus is just on the money that you’re trying to make, then you’re not going to be making the changes that need to happen. So starting from scratch and building something new, building new pathways forward, is going to be really important for bringing people of color in. I think also, like I said at the beginning—and I can’t really emphasize this more—come find us where we are, because we’re out there and we’re pretty easy to find nowadays with the advent of the internet. So do that background work—come find us. There honestly aren’t a ton of people doing it right now. So the market is there, all you have to do is come find it.
Leslie Nuccio (45:19):
Great. Latria, do you see the second question for you?
Latria Graham (45:25):
Yes, I do: “What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen in the outdoor business world that showed a welcoming and inclusive environment for people of color?” And then somebody’s like, “What’s the worst thing you’ve seen?” Something that sticks in my mind as the best thing I’ve seen: I was invited to this event called The Pursuit Series. And I can only speak to the one that was in North Carolina, but I’ve never seen so many people of color on every level of an event. Usually they’ll bring in like “the diversity speaker,” and there will be like, and sometimes it’s me, sometimes I’m the only Black person for 100 square miles or whatever. But the campers were about 40% people of color. It had reasonable—what was I going to say—admission rates like if you wanted to camp and things like that. They thought about it on every level, because sometimes I’m invited to things and the starting price for a glamping weekend is like $1,700.
Latria Graham (46:25):
There’s a place for those things. But that is not where you’re going to find those that are trying to sort of get into this. And definitely, not always where you’re going to find people of color. People of color do have money, and we will spend money on experiences that we love. So I will say that, but there is something to be said for having a lower entry point if there was glamping available. And the glamping was beautiful and expensive and all of that.
Latria Graham (46:54):
But where you can come, you can camp, you can try all these new activities, they had like 40 activities or something that you could do. And I would say half the staff leading those activities were people of color. And it was all of these different brands that brought people in—either guys that they’d hired or people that were just actually in their company, and said, “Hey, let me tell you about this thing that I’m really excited about. Here’s nature journaling, or how to tie a fly for fishing,” and all of that sort of stuff.
Latria Graham (47:23):
So visually, it was an interesting space. And then even with the activities that they did, there was one—I’m blanking on her name—but it was basically a version of like CrunkCardio. It was dancing, it was dancing outside of these tents. And it was amazing. It didn’t have to be fly fishing or learning to slack line or anything like that. They thought about it at every level. And then I found out the people that sort of organized it, and were basically running it—at least half of that sort of executive leadership were people of color.
Latria Graham (47:56):
And so they’re they’re thinking about it completely differently. So it was just like when I go to certain trade shows, including Outdoor Retailer, who I work for, they often bring in people of color to make it seem more diverse. But then when you go to the booth meetings, the people that you’re meeting with, I would say—out of doing this for almost two years and taking probably 150 meetings—I may have taken three with Black people and less than 10 with people of color.
Latria Graham (48:30):
So that’s sort of the difference that you’re seeing. It’s like “We will bring you here to show you off, but we won’t hire you.” That is something that I am big on as an editor is pay transparency, and letting everyone know what the market rate is, paying everyone a premium in order to do that, because that’s something that people don’t tell you about. And there was one influencer and there was a white influencer, same campaign. And they were paid 15 times more for the same size audience for the same type of branded content.
Latria Graham (49:10):
And I—absolutely not, absolutely not. It’s robbery at that point on the part of the brand. And I won’t lie. At least what I can do in my capacity. It’s like, “Hey, this is what everyone gets paid. You can go check with other people. Here’s some resources.” And especially with newer writers, or people that are new getting sponsorships and stuff, “Let me give you the lay of the land. Let me tell you what I know. And also let me tell you when you’re going to get paid. Your check will be in the mail two weeks after you submit your content to me.” Like, that sort of stuff ends up mattering. And that’s not the sort of outdoor industry, outdoor retailer, outdoor world that we’re in. They’re not thinking about that. In some ways, I’m still chasing invoices from January from work that I did in November that was published in January. And the economics of it—we can’t pretend that they don’t matter because they do. But yeah, so that’s both the best and sort of the worst. There are some really egregious offenses that have happened sort of in this space.
Leslie Nuccio (50:16):
So I’m actually going to then, because of your answer to that question, I want to skip to the question of: “How do we avoid tokenism as we try to represent our business as becoming diverse?” What if you’re starting from ground zero?
Latria Graham (50:30):
So I guess I’ll jump in, because I’m already on, but I often do this when I’m interviewing people, I was like, “What would your ideal world look like?” If you’re working on something, and you’re asking a person of color, sometimes I’ll ask them, “What are your dreams?” Or “What does an equitable space look like for you? What do you wish that you had that we don’t have right now?” And how do we get those things. And then learning how to scale up because you can’t necessarily dump an entire year’s worth of money into making something happen. And ask them if you’re working, I’m thinking about this as a company or a retailer. “Is there something close to your heart or a project that you’re working on or want to work on that makes a great difference for you? And how can we support you in doing that?” Is a question that I’d normally ask as a leader, which blows my mind that I’m being considered a leader in this industry now. But that’s important to me. It’s those sorts of questions instead of centering whiteness in the middle, and saying “Okay, work around this.” Saying “No, everybody come to the middle.” And what can we do to create this watertight vision that enhances and validates everyone?
Leslie Nuccio (51:53):
Thank you. We probably have time for one more, which somebody asked: “To Latria’s comment on language and Leslie’s the statement about being comfortable about making mistakes and being empathetic. Both good points, Leslie referenced additional information, where can we find it?” Google! But there are, I would say, so the thing about this for me is I think that we as white folks ideally need to do some personal growth work ourselves if we really want to commit, because it’s going to bleed through into professional worlds.
Leslie Nuccio (52:27):
So I think there’s people like Laura, who you can hire to come in and talk to you about how your business might diversify. But there are also books—I mentioned Robin DiAngelo, she’s white. She’s in like Portland or something. She writes a lot of books that you can look up on Amazon, or perhaps better from your independent bookstore, because small business is an integral part of sustainable recovery, it makes up the bulk of the American economy. And they’re suffering right now. So actually, please patronize your local small business bookstore if you can. Ibram X. Kendi is another one. He has amazing talks. He has a very long book about the history of racism in the United States. He also has other books that are not quite this big that we can read. But overall, it’s really just Google searches or there are groups online that we can find to do that from a personal growth standpoint. And I think that Laura probably has better answers than I would definitely have on the professional development part and probably the personal growth part. I leave it to you.
Laura Edmondson (53:39):
Yeah, as far as professional development goes, seek out consultants from the community that you’re trying to connect with. Brown Girls Climb has done some of that work in the past. I’ve done some of that, as an independent contractor. Cia Blackstock as another person that comes to mind who runs Collective Liberation Climbing, a part of Avarna Group, I believe is what they’re called, does consulting work like that as well. There are all sorts of resources out there, but I think it’s very important that you source them from the community that you’re trying to serve.
Leslie Nuccio (54:17):
All right, anyone else? Oh, we do have one quick question, which is: “Post-election, do we think that the conversation around race and the environment will change if leadership changes?”
Laura Edmondson (54:36):
I think it will, but I don’t think it should.
Micah Ragland (54:43):
I think yeah, if there’s a change in administration, I think it will. What I’m hoping is how it will change is, my hope is is that it’s just a lot more inclusive of just how sustainability and environmental equity are two more tangible things as pertains to people of color in this country. I live on the east side of Detroit. And I’m right on the border of this community called Jefferson Chalmers, which is a majority Black community. And we border a community that’s majority white and Jefferson—we both border the Detroit River. But it’s the Black section in Jefferson Chalmers, when there’s sea level rise and things of that nature and flooding. It’s constantly happening on the Jefferson Chalmers side, which is the majority Black side of the line. And not barely has much on the white side. And it goes to infrastructure investments, the setup of the communities and things of that nature. And so I’m hoping that as we have talked about sustainability and climate change, environmental justice, and equity as a whole, that it just points to how this really impacts people of color, their livelihood, with their homes. It’s a public health issue. It’s in economics as well. And so I do think it would change if there was a changing of the administration in November.
Leslie Nuccio (56:19):
I think either way, it’s up to us to keep this conversation going. How’s that?
Laura Edmondson (56:23):
Leslie Nuccio (56:24):
Either way. Right? Because yeah, I think we have that power. So that’s a wrap. Thank you so much for being here, everybody. And please join us next week, everyone in the audience, for the second in the Navigating Change: Sustainable Recovery for Small Business. Next week’s title is “Values and Sense of Sustainable Recovery,” moderated by Chris Davenport. And the panelists are Julia Day from NPD; Mario Molina from POW, which is Protect our Winters; Nick Sargent from SIA; and Ben Stuart—that’s my boss—from Bank of the West. So thanks, everyone. And if anybody has any additional questions, I’m sure you can follow up with me or Corey or anybody, any of the panelists, we would be happy to answer them. And that’s it. Thank you all for being here. I really appreciate it.