3 Simple Steps to Get Started on Your Equity & Inclusion Journey

We’ve heard from a number of our volunteers that it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to equity and inclusion. Here are three steps to help you get started.
Kristina Ciari Tursi Kristina Ciari Tursi
Membership Director, E&I Committee Liaison
January 29, 2020

About a year and a half ago, The Mountaineers announced our intentions to formally engage in equity and inclusion (E&I) work. Guided by our Board of Directors, this commitment stems from our belief that a diverse and inclusive outdoors inspires unity, respect, and passion for the places we love. Studies also show that groups with better diversity make better decisions. In an organization where safety is so highly valued, investing in E&I will only make us stronger and more resilient. We’re grateful to all of you who have participated in making our community one where all people feel safe and respected.

We’ve heard from a number of our members and volunteers that it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to equity and inclusion work. That’s why we’re building a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI*) Toolkit for volunteers, which we hope to share in late-spring. In the meantime, we hope this blog is a good first step to help you get started.

*A note about language: internally, we use "Equity & Inclusion" when referencing our initiative, which our steering committee decided best reflected our goals, however the language around this is always shifting. In the broader community, tt's most commonly referred to as DEI, which we will will reference throughout this blog as well. 

We recognize that this work can be intimidating and is often uncomfortable. We (as human beings) are wired to react with fear and distrust when our beliefs are challenged, and a lot of DEI work involves recalibrating what we’ve long held to be true. This work is not something you can read about to check a box as complete. Understanding the systematic and cultural barriers that shape our daily lives is a learning process of months and even years. It starts with keeping an open mind and a willingness to push back feelings of defensiveness.

Like learning a new outdoor skill, understanding DEI takes time, and that’s okay.  Be kind to yourself, recognize you won't have all the answers, and be willing to learn.  The Mountaineers want to support you wherever you are on your journey. 

Here are three steps to help you get started:

LEARN

The first step to becoming a more inclusive leader is educating yourself! Start by learning some basic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion terminology and why this work matters.

What

According to Independent Sector (a national membership organization bringing together a diverse set of nonprofits, foundations, and corporations to advance the common good), Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are defined as:

  • Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, encompassing the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. While diversity is often used in reference to race, ethnicity, and gender, a broader definition also includes age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance, and includes diversity of thought: ideas, perspectives, and values. 
  • Equity is the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Improving equity involves increasing justice and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions or systems, as well as in their distribution of resources. 
  • Inclusion is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people.
  • Another term to know is belonging. Defined by John Powell of the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley,  belonging is “being fully human; being respected at a basic level that includes the right to both co-create and make demands upon society.” 

Put another way, “diversity is a fact (the numbers are what they are), inclusion is a choice (you decide whether to include someone or not), but belonging is a feeling that can be enforced by a culture that you can purposefully create” (Medium).

Why

Our investment in DEI work is in response to the feedback our members provided during our Vision 2022 strategic planning process.We strive to include people who have traditionally been excluded from the outdoors, but more specifically, the goal is to shift our culture so that all people feel a sense of connection to and belonging in the outdoors. This engages more people in our efforts to protect public lands and the outdoor experience, ensuring our future as an organization.

Engaging in DEI work is particularly important when it comes to The Mountaineers reputation around leading safe trips. While ‘Safety’ is not one of our core values, it’s certainly one of our cultural values, and trips are known for a high level of physical safety. But what about emotional safety? Our decisions are impacted by our emotional state, and how we’re feeling emotionally dramatically alters how we react in certain situations. Emotional safety is closely tied to feeling a sense of belonging. If not everyone feels emotional safe, it compromises everyone’s physical safety.

"Before I climb, I count the ounces that I carry on my back judiciously. Prudent and discerning, I take only what I need and leave the rest behind. The heaviest load, however, is invisible. Homophobia, fatphobia, and racism take up space in my life — on my back — and weigh me down." - Bam Mendiola, Mountaineers Intermediate Student

To learn more, please click through and read the resources linked above, check out our post from 2016 offering 6 ideas for Mountaineers leaders to engage in diversity efforts, and visit our Equity & Inclusion Committee page to find additional resources. 

REFLECT

Once you have a basic understanding of the whats and whys of DEI work, it’s important to understand how you are personally showing up to your programs. As humans, we all hold implicit biases. It's our awareness of these biases and how we choose to react to it that makes the difference. We have all grown up under a different set of circumstances, and how we move through the world is impacted by our life experiences and our privileges.  

If the concepts of implicit bias or privilege are new to you, we recommend you watch “Life of Privilege Explained in $100 race” (4 mins) and read "What Implicit bias Means and How It Affects Behavior" (4 mins). 

To understand your own implicit bias, the best place to start is with one of the implicit bias tests developed by Harvard. You’ll see a number of tests available by subject, and each one takes about 10 minutes to complete. Start with the Skin-tone IAT, then visit others as you are interested. Race, Gender-Career, and Age are particularly relevant for The Mountaineers.

“Privilege doesn’t mean you’re right, you’ve had it easy, or have never had to struggle or work hard. All it means is that there are some things in life you’ll never have to think about or experience because of who you are. Before you can be an ally and fight for the rights of others, you have to understand the rights you have and others don’t - that’s privilege." - Pattie Gonia, excerpted from “Call Yourself An Ally? Here’s how to actually be one.

To understand your own privilege, and how your life history compares to others, take the Your American Dream test created by Moving Up (4 mins). You’ll find out what factors were working in your favor and what you had to overcome to get where you are today.

Reflect on this knowledge. Spend time sitting with it, especially if it is uncomfortable. Ask yourself: How do your biases and privileges impact your day to day life? Your life at The Mountaineers? Knowing what you know now, what might you do differently in the future?

SHARE

Culture shifts one conversation at a time. In every interaction, you are co-creating culture with other Mountaineers. Changing culture means sharing and discussing what you know to help make The Mountaineers a better place for all people. 

What does this look like? Share something you recently learned while carpooling to the trailhead and see what your companions think. Find someone who might be struggling with their DEI journey and offer to have a conversation, listening to their challenges and sharing some of your own struggles. And, if you're someone who does have a lot of privilege, use it to advocate for individuals who have less. 

Rest assured that this work is messy and ever-changing and that you will make mistakes. Be gentle with yourself when it happens, and gentle with others when they make mistakes too. Just like learning a new skill in the outdoors - whether it’s mastering navigation by compass, perfecting a new paddle stroke, or tying in for your first rappel - you’ll need time and practice to get comfortable and gain confidence. In doing so, you’ll assure the future of The Mountaineers and the public lands where we learn and grow.


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Mike Kretzler
Mike Kretzler says:
Jan 29, 2020 10:53 AM

One relatively available way into part of this for leaders is to keep your trip groups together. It's a basic tenant of all of the trips I lead. I heard a recent trip member recount her experience of being "ditched" on her latest Mountaineers trip. This is unacceptable to me, but apparently something Mountaineers do. It seems ableist and disrespectful to me.