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Implementing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Efforts as an Outdoor Leader

September 1, 2017
Outdoor explorations
Photo courtesy of the AMC's Outdoors Rx ProgramOutdoor explorations

Often we get asked by folks, “What’s one thing people can do to make the outdoors more inclusive?” Despite the fact that we are diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) professionals, this question always seems to stump us. It stumps us not because we don’t have an answer; in fact, we’re stumped because we have too many answers! An immediate thought is usually, “How much time do you have?” but in service of actually providing a useful answer to folks, we often end up asking people what their role is in an organization or in their community, and from there we are able to give a more definitive response.

Even then we find ourselves rambling off several tips and ideas because rarely does a single tip or effort rise to the top. Instead, we see the strength of DEI efforts amplified when they work in concert with one another.

With that said, we wanted to create a list of intertwined tips and ideas for outdoor leaders that will help push DEI efforts just a little further forward.

1. Ensure your registration process is inclusive.

This encapsulates the entire sign-up process. First, you’ll want to make sure trip information is posted in places accessible to a wide range of people. Be sure to post your trip details on various online platforms, including the AMC Activities Database (ActDB). Also, remember not everyone uses the internet to find community events – if you can, post your trips in local community centers or list them in community newsletters. Additionally, if you ask participants any information about themselves, do so with care. For example, if you’re asking for someone’s gender, be sure to provide options beyond the gender binary (i.e., male and female) and include options for people to identify as trans*, genderqueer, or agender .

2. Ensure you offer a variety to trips to meet different needs, abilities, and desires.

This tip is really about creating trips and events that speak to different people. We know people connect to the outdoors and nature in a myriad of different ways; make sure your trips reflect that diversity as well. This might mean one weekend you lead a backpacking trip in the White Mountains and another weekend you lead a city bike tour through Boston. If you’re not sure how to expand the types of trips you lead, look for other people or organizations that might be willing to co-lead a trip with you.

3. Create group norms.

For every trip, be sure to lay down some group expectations that support an inclusive environment. This allows you to set the tone of a trip from the beginning and serves as a reference when someone fails to uphold those group expectations.

4. Set an example via inclusive language.

The language we use can be really impactful in both tone-setting and opening up conversations. While there are no definitive handbooks on inclusive language, there are tons of free resources and articles online. If you’re curious about a particular word or identity, chances are you aren’t the first. If you’re curious how a particular person identifies, remember you can ask. (Though be cautious with this – sometimes asking someone how they identify out of the blue can actually make a person feel different or feel like a microaggression. Our general rule is to ask if it seems pertinent to the conversation or we need to know as a trip leader). Finally, remember language can be a great way to open up conversations. If someone uses a term you’re not familiar with, ask them about it – it may be an opportunity to learn. On the other hand, using lesser known, yet more inclusive language may confuse some people. Those moments can be an opportunity to have a conversation about a word or phrase.

5. Be open to feedback.

Inevitably, we all make mistakes. Receiving feedback about something we did, especially if it was unintentional, can be tough , but remember that feedback is also tough to give. Be sure to say thank you to the person giving you the feedback and think deeply about how to integrate it into your daily life. This not only signals you are open to feedback, but also cultivates a culture of feedback in the group.

6. Make sure your risk management practices are inclusive.

As a trip leader, we’re often concerned about the physical safety of our participants for good reason. There are a lot of unknowns, and especially for those trips far from immediate medical care, a seemingly innocuous injury can turn into a debacle. If we focus solely on physical safety, our risk management practices are incomplete. We must also consider emotional safety for several reasons. If a participant is feeling emotionally unsafe, that person may hesitate to speak up when needing help or feeling uncomfortable, which can lead to physical harm. Secondly, emotional harm, though less visible, is as serious as physical harm. Failing to pay attention to the emotional needs of a participant is failing to mitigate risk. If you want to learn more on this topic, watch this 1-hour webinar about inclusive risk management.

Although these are just a few tips and tools for outdoor leaders, we hope these guide your on-going DEI efforts and support more inclusive trips.

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Ava Holliday

Ava Holliday & Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin are the founding partners of The Avarna Group, which provides resources and insights for outdoor and environmental organizations seeking to implement diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Collectively, they have over 15 years of experience in the outdoor and environmental sector, including 8 years of leading outdoor trips for youth and adults.

Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin

Ava Holliday & Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin are the founding partners of The Avarna Group, which provides resources and insights for outdoor and environmental organizations seeking to implement diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Collectively, they have over 15 years of experience in the outdoor and environmental sector, including 8 years of leading outdoor trips for youth and adults.