Transforming Inclusion at The Mountaineers

Learn what The Mountaineers is doing to become a more inclusive organization. Share what you think we should be to reach and engage new audiences in our comments section.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
December 22, 2016
Transforming Inclusion at The Mountaineers

Over the years, members of The Mountaineers community have worked on a number of inclusion initiatives to encourage more involvement from diverse communities. To date, limited resources have been put toward a mindful effort to create a more inclusive environment at The Mountaineers.

"What what do you mean we haven't focused on creating an inclusive environment?! Our hikes are open to everyone and our leaders are incredibly inviting and friendly."

This response comes up regularly when we start conversations about inclusion. While we have amazing opportunities happening across the organization and have fantastic leaders who are organizing inclusive outdoor activities,  our organization has historically been led by white men and women. We've generally had good gender diversity - 50% of our founding members of were women - but we have a long way to go to reflect the greater Northwest.

Our current demographic statistics show our members are roughly 45% female, slightly less than the gender statistics for the state of Washington. Further, the demographics of Western Washington are evolving as more children are born from multiracial families and people are relocating to the Puget Sound for a variety of jobs in technology and other leading industries.

In 25 years, the minority will become the majority in the United States. Our role in creating a more accessible and welcoming outdoors for all must be at the forefront of everything we do. We want to be embraced by every demographic and reflect the greater community to offer equal opportunities by gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity, income, outdoor interest, political leaning, size, state of origin, skill level, football team loyalties, and more.

Inclusion Movement

Over the summer, a group of staff decided to do something more intentional to increase inclusion across the organization. We started meeting every other week to brainstorm what we can do better at the staff level and how to involve our branch leadership, volunteers, and members. We fully acknowledge that we should have focused on this work sooner, but that's all the more reason for us to push forward now.

As part of this work, we started chatting with leaders from other local organizations who have been working toward reaching more diverse communities. Groups like Outdoor Afro, North Cascades Institute, OutThere Adventures, and Glenn Nelson - founder of and contributor to Voices Unheard for our Mountaineer magazine. We intend to connect with more organizations and leading voices in the new year.

An Inspiring Voice in the Outdoor Industry

In mid-September Laura Swapp, REI’s director of public affairs and next gen marketing, came to speak to our staff and volunteer leaders at The Mountaineers. Over the past few years, Laura has been involved in REI's efforts to define what diversity and inclusion means for REI and their strategies to engage diverse communities. As part of Laura's work, she was tasked with determining how to engage multicultural Millennials.

A few takeaways from Laura's presentation:

note: these are REI's findings from numerous studies, and these statistics were presented to our staff and volunteers during Laura's presentation.
  • Millennials, individuals born in 1980-2000, have replaced the Baby Boomers as the largest generational population and tend to identify with each other more than any other demographic. 

  • Millennials report having more in common with similarly-aged peers of any race than people from a different generation, even if that person is in their own family.

  • Millennials face historic levels of debt and income inequities and tend to value experiences as a type of cultural currency, meaning they place a great deal of value on unique and enjoyable experiences including travel and outdoor adventure.

  • Millennials are constantly connected and share information instantly with their networks and expect information to arrive immediately.

  • Multicultural millennials in particular grapple with negative stereotypes of their race, gender, how they identify, and report feeling like they have to work to overcome social pressure such as “we don’t hike,” or “people like us aren’t into that.” These pressures can cause tension and apprehension with respect to one's outdoor pursuits.

  • People of color in the Millennial generation often report feeling measured and judged against "white standards". An illustrative example is the “uniform” for engaging in outdoor activities: if you aren’t wearing the right gear from the right company, or simply don’t have certain gear, you can end up receiving some very unwelcome and unsolicited advice from others on the trail.

Engaging more Millennials, while continuing our work to create safe and responsible recreationists, is a focus of ours at The Mountaineers. By welcoming and engaging this generation to our organization and offerings, we will ensure we're cultivating the next generation of people to protect and care for the lands where we recreate. 

Moving Forward

As we move forward with our efforts to be a more inclusive organization, Laura provided us with the following thoughts:
  • An organization undertaking this type of effort needs to be willing to listen and accept some “brutal truths.” Hearing that people think you present yourself as an elitist or exclusionary organization is not easy, but if you ignore this feedback you are doomed to continue giving off that impression. It's important to make it a cultural value to face and accept these brutal truths.

  • Be willing to flex your “brand standards” so the less experienced outdoor enthusiast can see themselves as part of of your organization and what you have to offer. By making the internal changes you can (e.g. imagery, content, language) without changing who you are, the events, activities, courses, and books you provide will be more inviting.

  • Be open to new communities and challenge conventional wisdom that people who are not traditionally part of the outdoor recreation world won’t be interested in what you have to offer.

Ideas We’re Considering

There were a number of ideas gleaned from Laura’s presentation. Here are some we’re considering:

  • Continue to remain vigilant with our storytelling. Since taking on her role over three years ago, Suzanne Gerber, our publications manager, has ensured the stories and imagery in our Mountaineer magazine reflects the diverse voices we engage in the outdoors. Kristina Ciari, our communications and membership director, has focused on providing a mix of content that highlights diverse perspectives and experiences in the outdoors across our social channels, and Web Chang, our digital communications manager for Mountaineers Books has done the same. In looking at the outdoor content landscape, we find there is often is the savior story of someone coming from "the streets" and discovering the outdoors and having that change their life. We understand now how this continues to perpetuate the idea that the outdoors is inaccessible to those from diverse communities. By continuing to be intentional with who we feature and the stories we share, we will ensure we're doing our part to promote a truly inclusive outdoors.

  • Host our popular Gear Grabs, Meet the Mountaineers sessions, and select Mountaineers Books' author events in South Seattle. This introduces The Mountaineers to communities outside of Magnuson Park or those who have don’t have transportation means to get to our Program Center and will extend the reach of our content and stories found in Mountaineers Books.

  • Focus on where our branches are holding their local branch events and ensure they are in accessible (e.g. public transportation) and welcoming locations for our community.

  • Grow and enhance our relationships with local organizations doing similar work to promote diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. Our Mountain Workshops program model to provide under-served youth with experiences in the outdoors has proven to have impact and a similar model could be applied to our adult programs.

  • Partner closely with college campuses like University of Washington, Seattle University, and community colleges throughout Western Washington to reach younger and more varied demographics to engage as members, volunteers, and Mountaineers Books readers.

Top-Down Support

In wrapping up her presentation, Laura mentioned that it was critical to the success of her work that she have the backing of REI’s CEO, Jerry Stritzke. For us, it will be important that our efforts and values are embraced and espoused by leadership at all levels - trip, course, committee, branch, board, council and staff.

Recently, our CEO Tom Vogl took the Camber Outdoor CEO Pledge, which seeks to:

  • Build thriving companies and active-outdoor industries where diverse experiences, ideas, and people contribute to innovation.

  • Expand opportunities and business growth by attracting and retaining a skilled workforce that reflects the demographics of current and future outdoor enthusiasts.

Similar to REI, The Mountaineers welcomes all who share our collective passion and love for being outside and who have interest in protecting  the places where we play. We want to be an inclusive organization that truly welcomes all. No one person can foster this change, it will take a village to take on this effort and we welcome your participation.

If you have ideas about what we should be doing - comment below! Want to get further involved with this work? Contact .

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Louis Coglas
Louis Coglas says:
Dec 27, 2016 08:29 AM

I always thought that membership and courses should be free or discounted up to 22-25. Outdoor adventure is expensive especially collage age and new families.

Rob Holman
Rob Holman says:
Dec 29, 2016 10:58 AM

This feels like a solution in search of a problem. What has attracted me to the Mountaineers was the lack of politics. Climbing for the joy of climbing regardless of gender, age, religion or sexual preference. I really hope we are not turning into a political organization.

Andrew Black
Andrew Black says:
Dec 29, 2016 11:39 PM

Nope, you have it backwards. There is already a problem and The Mountaineers and other organizations are looking for solutions. Please don't dismiss this important issue as "politics". Of course The Mountaineers don't discriminate, but are they inclusive enough? They want to do better and I whole-heartedly support their inclusive movement. I noticed that you are on the Everett Climbing Committee and are a climbing leader, which leads me to formulate my own suggestion for a more inclusive environment: The Mountaineers also need bottom-up support from volunteers.

Rob Holman
Rob Holman says:
Dec 30, 2016 09:42 AM

I am involved in the Everett Branch in several capacities. I climb to enjoy the outdoors, challenge myself and help others. I could care less what race, religion, gender, etc anyone is. Attitude is what matters. It will be interesting to see how this program manifests itself. It feels very political to me but I do have an open mind and generally assume positive intent. I don't participate in politics when it comes to my hobbies. I choose hobbies to get away from that and distance myself accordingly when things take that turn.

Stephen Bobick
Stephen Bobick says:
Dec 30, 2016 09:06 AM

I agree Rob. I find some of the language in the article offensive - calling out race and social status "e.g. rich white men". Gee, that makes me feel so great, appreciated (for 11 years of volunteering thousands of hours), and *included*. Left wing identity politics have infected the Mountaineers, with its divisive rhetoric. The organization better hope it doesn't feel the backlash that was given at the last national election.

Silvija Bosnic
Silvija Bosnic says:
Dec 30, 2016 10:03 AM

As a diverse member of this organization and one that has benefited greatly from it, I must say that I'm quite disappointed and highly offended by the discriminatory rhetoric used in this article.

"People of color in the Millennial generation often report feeling measured and judged against white standards. An illustrative example is the “uniform” for engaging in outdoor activities."

Who in their right mind equates outdoor gear as a "white standard"? I mean, could you have said anything more racist than that? If you're going to use that as a basis for implying that the organization is not inclusive enough, then you might as well organize a protest against REI for selling all sorts of "uniforms" that cater to "white standards". In addition to that, how exactly does one measure inclusivity for a volunteer organization such as this one? What basis is this being built on? I haven't seen any facts. And what justification do you have for using discriminatory statements towards "whites"? The Mountaineers are a volunteer organization where everyone is able to join, contribute, engage, learn and give back, regardless of their race, so why is race being brought up in such a way? Pretending to want to be more "inclusive" while using racially baiting words such as "white standards" and "people of color" gives me the sense that The Mountaineers have lost their way and purpose in this world.

Perhaps the writer of this expertly written article should first send out a "thank you" to all the people that have volunteered with the organization and then find a better way of communicating future "inclusivity" that does not deliberately attack any genders, ages, religions or sexual preferences.