Equity & Inclusion Update: Community Feedback and Steering Committee

In November 2018, we hosted a town-hall style meeting to hear from members of our community interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Learn what was discussed, how we're moving forward, and how you can support this work.
Kristina Ciari Tursi Kristina Ciari Tursi
Communications Director
January 01, 2019
Equity & Inclusion Update: Community Feedback and Steering Committee
Colorful landscape. Photo by Tim Nair.

At The Mountaineers, we believe a diverse and inclusive outdoors inspires unity, respect, and passion for the places we love. As we aspire to offer outdoor opportunities for ALL, we are assembling a board-chartered Equity & Inclusion (E&I) Steering Committee to lead our efforts to become a place where, a century from now, future generations will recognize themselves in The Mountaineers.

Becoming a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community was cited as a key priority in last year’s strategic planning for Vision 2022. As a result, investing in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) was identified as one of our top seven strategic priorities for the next 5-years (along with leadership development & progression; course innovation; teaching & gathering places; youth program diversification & expansion; carbon footprint reduction; and conservation & advocacy education). 

DIversity, Equity, & Inclusion Survey

In September 2018, we asked for volunteers to engage in our DEI work. More than 50 people responded to our call for volunteers, and 94% of those individuals participated in a pre-meeting survey. The results of the DEI survey largely mirrored feedback we've been hearing through our annual membership and volunteer surveys.

Survey Takeaways:

  • Members value The Mountaineers for its community of volunteer-driven programs and conservation-focus, which offers opportunities to learn new skills and get outside safely and responsibly.
  • We are currently failing to adequately serve our existing membership (and thus attract new members from all backgrounds) due to a lack of transparent processes and progression paths, bureaucratic hurdles, inadequate volunteer recognition, and undefined coaching and mentoring programs.
  • Many existing structures further a culture of exclusivity. Our opaque volunteer structure and insular committees were cited as barriers to participation, especially when it comes to valuing different backgrounds for all levels of organizational leadership (including on the Board of Directors and staff).
  • The locations of our program centers is a barrier - with only two centers serving 7 branches, it's difficult for individuals to see how they belong in the community. 

By focusing efforts on these areas of opportunity, we can increase the relevancy of our organization for all outdoor enthusiasts, grow our volunteer leaders, and better retain members already in our organization.

We were excited to see that some of The Mountaineers existing initiatives were recognized as furthering our goal to be more inclusive. Internal communications (blogs, social media, and image selection) and DEI-focused sessions at the Leadership Conference were highlighted as efforts to change the narrative about who belongs in the outdoors and what it means to be 'outdoorsy'. Our new Gear Library and recent growth in scholarships and youth programs were also cited as inclusive programs.

Program Successes:

  • Since we renamed "Financial Aid" to "Scholarships" in the summer of 2018, and added a Scholarships link to each of our course pages, we have seen a 30% increase in scholarship applications.
  • 9.8% of our social media shares in the last 6 months were related to topics of DEI, our 3rd largest category after Tips & Tricks and Mountaineers Programs.
  • Since 2014, 31% of the faces shown on the cover of Mountaineer magazine have been of people of color. 

While it's true we have been intentional in these areas, and that we are investing in leadership development and more inclusive recruiting/hiring processes, putting a few stories in our magazine and sharing pieces from marginalized voices on our social media is not enough. 

The reality is that many of our systems and processes are the same as they were when we were founded in 1906, and while they may have carried us this far, continuing with the status quo will not help us stay relevant in 10 years, let alone another 100 years. We need systems to assure we consistently meet our goal to be a more inclusive community. 

Town Hall Meeting

We held our first town-hall style meeting on November 12, 2018, to recognize and own our failures as as organization, create space for people of marginalized identities to discuss their experiences, and begin to identify opportunities for improvement. 

We began with a land acknowledgement as a sign of gratitude and respect toward the Indian Nation(s) on whose ancestral lands we meet and recreate. It’s a simple, powerful way to show respect and further our commitment to creating a more inclusive community. We hope to grow this practice within The Mountaineers, and encourage our leaders to incorporate land acknowledgement statements into courses, activities, and events. After this land acknowledgement, we continued with personal introductions, naming ourselves, our pronouns, and our connection to The Mountaineers. 

Our goals for the evening were to establish a baseline of where The Mountaineers is today, and what an inclusive and equitable Mountaineers would look like tomorrow. The majority of our time was spent in small group discussions.

key takeaways

  1. We can’t create solutions until we agree upon the problems we are addressing and the objectives we wish to achieve. 
  2. We need to "own" our history as a traditionally white, affluent, and male organization, and recognize that we’re making slow progress compared to greater Seattle area demographics. We need to strive to represent the communities in which we operate.
  3. To make progress, all levels of leadership need to model accountability through tangible, actionable support and interventions at multiple levels.
  4. As we approach this work, we need to create a business case to allow DEI efforts to stand alongside other priorities, making a case for investment in inclusion in a prioritized way and valuing the outcomes and benefits of a more diverse and inclusive membership.
  5. In an ideal world, The Mountaineers has clear and transparent paths to leadership, breaks down economic barriers, is a place to discover what the outdoors means to everyone, is a non-competitive community, is collaborative - not prescriptive - and works through partnerships with companies whose core values align with ours.

To serve current and future generations of Mountaineers, we must take a holistic approach to inclusion, which means:

  • Valuing active, ongoing engagement to promote full participation and a sense of belonging.
  • Consciously making space for traditionally marginalized voices; acknowledging systematic inequality.
  • Fostering a culture where all experiences are valued, and not solely the lived experiences of white men.
  • Intentionally focusing on ways to identify and remove barriers to participation.

E&I Steering Committee

As a next step, we are in the final stages of vetting volunteer applicants for our E&I Steering Committee, formally chartered by The Mountaineers Board of Directors. The committee will have Board representation and financial support. We anticipate this steering committee will meet for the first time in early February, and we will continue to share updates from our meetings and provide opportunities for additional feedback to be given from our great community. 

One of the first important decisions the new steering committee will need to make is around the definitions of "Diversity", "Equity", and "Inclusion" for The Mountaineers, and which words we will choose and apply to our work. Some organizations use all three, while others choose alternative pairings or options. We have heard feedback that some people of color find the term "Diversity" to be polarizing, and so our first meeting referred to the "Inclusion Committee", and now we've started using  Equity & Inclusion or E&I. We'll need further discussion to determine the right balance for The Mountaineers.

The E&I Steering Committee will also focus on - or center - the DEI work as equal to or more important than the other priorities in which our organization invests. As we seek to have DEI work stand alongside other Mountaineers priorities, we need to outline why investments in these areas will benefits us in the long run. For example, reducing barriers welcomes more people from all backgrounds to participate, and when diverse perspectives are represented, it makes us a more innovative and resilient organization. 

In order to center DEI efforts, we will need to establish as set of guiding principles to help evaluate our initiatives. Many of our current strategic priorities are focused on growing and supporting our volunteer leaders, reducing bureaucracy, increasing transparency, and providing better progression paths within our programs. While these efforts will have a direct impact on our DEI work, the priorities are not currently vetted by a shared set of guiding principles, meaning we are missing out on an opportunity to view these initiatives through a DEI lens.

As we embark on this work, we have been cautioned that our approach will need to be broad, multi-level, and org-wide with a focus on long-term, systematic, and cultural changes (while also making immediate, short-terms improvements). We are not here to simply check a box and pat ourselves on the back. 

The storied legacy and history of our 112-year old organization is our biggest asset, and our biggest weakness. Like all great mountains, The Mountaineers has a shadow side; a largely untold story of people who have been excluded from or marginalized in the outdoors because of their skin color, gender, available resources, or sexual orientation. We are committed to owning these realities with humility and honesty. We vow to ask questions as opportunities to learn, not to defend our actions, and to assume best-intentions from each member of our community. And, we commit to offering regular communications about our DEI work as a way to increase transparency, reduce barriers to participation, and grow trust among our many sub-groups in The Mountaineers community.

We acknowledge that this work will be uncomfortable, and that means we must own realities about our organization and its structures. Our future depends on the actions of our leaders today, and we are committed to assuring that, 100 years from now, future Mountaineers will see themselves in our footsteps.

Get Involved

In addition to the E&I Steering Committee, we have assembled a DEI working group which will receive regular updates and engagement opportunities around specific priorities identified by the E&I Steering Committee. We are committed to providing regular updates through our blog as well, but if you're interested in more frequent updates, please email kristinac@mountaineers.org to get on the distribution list.

Additional Background Information

We've published a number of pieces over the years on the topic of creating a welcoming and inclusive environment. We encourage you to peruse these blogs, and dive into the additional resources identified within each article. 

More Reading

Recently, several members of our staff attended a presentation by Jodi-Ann Bury of VillageReach, a health care access technology company serving remote rural areas in developing countries. Through an 18-month, low-investment project, VillageReach completely revamped its communications to reflect its core values. The process they followed included great steps, outlined in this short blog. Nearly all of these goals are also applicable to The Mountaineers, and we will be referencing the VillageReach process map in our DEI efforts.