The Importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Outdoor Recreation, Conservation and Environmentalism

August 29, 2017

A recent post on the Blue Sky Founders Forum addresses the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion, what Blue Sky refers to as DEI, specifically in the areas of Outdoor Recreation, Conservation, and Environmental Advocacy. This is an interesting topic within these spaces, for many of us we do not immediately think of DEI when evaluating the effectiveness or success of an organization, department, or program. How does increasing DEI in these areas help? As long as the organization or program is achieving their goals within the realm of Outdoor Recreation, Conservation and Environmental they are successful, right? The following from Blue Sky shares 11 Lessons Learned about how working towards DEI is an important addition to achieving organizational mission, vision and values.

First, it is important to define several of these terms. Blue Sky defines Equity and Inclusion this way:

Equity – “an approach to ensuring all people have equal access to a resource.”

Inclusion – “Amplifying, valuing, and celebrating those identities, voices, values, and styles have been marginalized.”

The following are excerpts from “11 Lessons We’ve Learned as Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Consultants in the Outdoor, Conservation, and Environmental Sector” written by Ava Holliday and Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin.

  1. “Don’t conflate diversity with race. People tend to use “diversity” as code for “race” and “diverse” as code for “people of color,” perhaps because the word “diversity” is more comfortable. But diversity represents all facets of our identity—not only race—based on which we experience barriers to resources and opportunities.”
  2. Approach DEI work intersectionally. Organizations also silo race-related efforts off from other efforts such as gender equity and anti-harassment efforts, the creation of safe spaces for LGBTQ constituents, indigenous rights advocacy, or physically accessibility initiatives. The reality is that our identities are not siloed because we walk through the world at the intersection of multiple identities, including race, ethnicity, indigeneity, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ability, class, and more. More importantly, intersectionality cultivates a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity (where initiatives compete with each other for the same budget dollars).
  3. Go beyond numbers in measuring success. Organizations usually rely on race and gender diversity metrics to measure success. But focusing only on racial composition and creating a visually colorful workforce is not sustainable unless organizations are also paying attention to retention and fostering inclusive work cultures.
  4. Focus on equity rather than inclusion or diversity. Leading with equity—an approach to ensuring everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources—is the best way to create lasting change. Solely focusing on diversity and inclusion efforts does not necessarily require an interrogation of history and power dynamics, and therefore often falls flat.
  5. DEI work should be external and internal. DEI work isn’t just about outreach to grassroots organizations or recruiting at, for example, historically black colleges. These are just two externally facing efforts that belong to a much longer list. To create truly sustainable DEI efforts, internal strategies such as implicit bias training, inclusive benefits, mitigation of bias in evaluations and promotions, and more, should be equally prioritized.
  6. External work should be mutualistic. Many organizations invite grassroots organizations that work with (for example) communities of color to tell them how to become inclusive and culturally relevant. But often these relationships are parasitic rather than mutualistic. Borrowing the analogy of an understandably frustrated colleague, grassroots groups are not “insulin pumps” prepared to inject people of color into the environmental movement. To truly engage with (not merely “serve”) communities, simply ask prospective partners how you can support them.
  7. Invite all stakeholders to the table. You can’t say you’re working with specific communities if you’re doing so within a structure that does not invite their input or collaboration. Try to identify everyone who will be impacted by your project and invite them to engage in a meaningful way.
  8. Expand beyond the traditional framework of environmentalism. Environmentalism was born out of a particular time by a particular group of people (i.e. the usual suspects, such as John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abbey, and Aldo Leopold). The dominant narrative about environmental history has silenced the voices, buried the stories, and denied the experiences of many communities, including indigenous people, women, and people of color…The reality is that people have myriad connections to nature and ways of protecting land, all of which should be folded into the environmental movement if we are to be relevant to more people.
  9. Examine your implicit biases. Organizations cannot effectively tackle the biases that manifest in their practices, policies, protocols, and procedures without leaders and staff first looking in the mirror and examining their own individual biases. One way to do this is by taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which has become a common way to measure the biases we have with different identities. To grapple with implicit bias, we urge our partners to expose themselves to different perspectives and voices, attend workshops on implicit bias, and continue to engage in difficult conversations.
  10. Articulate your “why” and build a plan. DEI work can be lackluster and subject to fits and starts unless organizations are able to clearly articulate why DEI is important to their mission and build holistic plans addressing all of the ways they will add a DEI lens to their ongoing work. The lack of a clear plan can create pitfalls when, for example, a low budget year comes around and DEI goes on the chopping block because it’s not in a formalized initiative, or when you engage in dialogue with resistant constituents who insist DEI is “mission creep.”
  11. Meet people where they are. There are and will always be people who are either resistant or relatively new to the concepts surrounding DEI. And there are and will always be people who are wondering why we are still having the same conversation about sexism and racism 20-odd years later. Meeting people where they are helps navigate both resistance and DEI fatigue. This means using accessible language (such as implicit bias), celebrating small wins to help people feel successful, consistently soliciting feedback, and providing concrete checklists to help the work feel tangible.”

To read the whole post visit Blue Sky’s Blog Here