Watching companies throw up “we will do better” posts and people demanding them has me (Kristin, CEO) rather incensed. People are responding quickly so that people won’t cancel-culture us – and largely those posts aren’t for the people who are really doing the work right now. There’s a line going around that says if we don’t outright say “OH, WE’RE NOT RACIST” with a social media post, then we’re racist.
Saying you’re not racist and you’re going to do better right now is hollow. Racists say they’re not racist. Bigots don’t know they’re bigots. People don’t know they’re doing things unless someone tells them or they work hard enough to figure it out.
It’s what you do day in and day out that matters. It’s creating a culture that not only works to constantly evaluate what they put out into the world, but what they do internally that matters. And you can’t do that on a base level, you have to do the work.
Now’s not the time for a predominately white company run by a woman from an affluent area to open her yap, but you know what – allies are allies and I’ve been educating myself on representation and inclusion whenever and wherever I can since I was very young and I’m not going to let anyone think anything different because we didn’t throw up a hollow statement because it was hip.
The Pad (and SLO Op) has always worked to support the under represented as a core mission. But we’ve never tooted our own horn about it.
So, here’s Ascent Ventures/The Pad Climbing’s advice – take it or leave it, but it’s what we currently do and have done for a long time.
What can a company do to be more inclusive?
- You have to read the voices of the past and follow the voices of today, and encourage your team to do it. All of them, the social justice warriors who might be a bit outside the environment you want to foster who empower the moderate voices, too. You have to go out of your way to be exposed to viewpoints that aren’t your own. Constantly. You have to be willing to talk about those things and empower people to do so – but if you are someone who wants to push it to a place where it makes it uncomfortable for coworkers and patrons – this isn’t the place. People need a safe place to talk and learn without fear or resentment.
- You have to go to places that might not be a quick turn of cash. The reason we have a gym in Santa Maria was that it was never for the money. It was because I fell in love with the community and I wanted to bring the life changing aspects of what a climbing gym can do to a population that might not be quick to adopt it as it wasn’t in their culture. And then you have to show up and be there to show them it can be if they want it to be.
- It sounds like a lot of the pandering rhetoric is about not feeling safe in a space. The people that are venturing into spaces that might not make them feel safe are already past one of the biggest hurdles to access: culture adoption. We are all labeled and we label ourselves. “My people don’t rock climb,” is a thing I’ve heard more times than I care to count. Same as when I was teaching college, how the students would tell me their families saw them as almost traitors because they were going to college and being “hoity toity” instead of supporting their families. “I am a climber,” “I deserve college,” “Hiking is a thing my people do” requires a shift of perception. That is why there are activism groups just for that. Follow them, understand them.
- You can help shift that perception by presenting people like themselves with subtlety, in videos, in images, producing bilingual material. Use them with intention – visual affirmation and tokenism. Work to let it simply be the former.
- The best way to do this is also to learn to speak about things clearly with empathy. You can do this as a white, cisgender, able, male, whatever ally. We’ve asked people to do radio ads for us and use their voice to put an authentic Spanish accent on the town to signal to people that we care about them – but we don’t let it be subtle. We say, “Hey, so and so, we want to signal to people who might not think this is a place for them, that it might be – can you help me as that exact person we’d like to speak to?” Inclusive photoshoots and intelligent casting of films matters – but don’t pretend you just invited that person of color, old person, amputee, or overweight person just because. Let it be clear what they’re doing so they don’t have to wonder. That also allows them to be an agent of change actively instead of accidentally. They can also say no – and you’re giving them the power to. Black people know they’re black, differently able people know they’re differently able, old people know they’re old. Just be refreshingly honest and ready for that conversation.
- Within your workforce, encourage intentionality. We’ve had conversations about whether “grit” is an offensive word and opted to avoid it. We have an active anti-appropriation language guarding in place. We actively research and strive to stay on top of this.
- Hiring is sticky. While you cannot hire what doesn’t apply, you can improve your pool through writing job descriptions that signal inclusiveness (without just giving it lip service), you can post jobs in places that the right people are looking, not just industry or locally (There are veteran boards, hop on LinkedIn and actively recruit from minority networking groups, etc). Audit your entire process to project the image you are internally.
- Remove barrier to entry: provide benefits for economically disadvantaged success, remove unnecessary fees (we don’t do initiation fees and have free rental shoes for this exact reason) so that ANYONE can come and be on a totally level playing field. Provide volunteer opportunities for people, provide scholarship opportunities, let access-limited groups into your gym as often as they want. Give birthday parties to homeless kids.
- Work on programs that empower the underrepresented. I started Ascent Academy to give gyms access to the things I have had access to. The next big project is to develop a general manager curriculum so that anyone who wants to run a gym can do so with some training.
- Do the work yourself – don’t go running to a group to ask them what you can do right now. They’ve been working for themselves all this time. You’re in a place where you have access to everything. Earn their advice and support.
All of this takes a lot of extra work. It takes away from the bottom line. Am I happy with the outcome of a lot of our efforts – no. And that’s why I didn’t want to have to write something like this and show you what we do – because we believe in doing the right thing while no one is looking.
So, do we need to try harder? Well, yeah. Our most recent photoshoot for inclusive stock photos was a fail – the only people showed up was the standard demographic – I guess we need to try harder. Our nonprofit is very inactive because I haven’t had time to get an active board to support it. Our leadership is getting more diverse, but it has a long way to go.
But the point is, don’t say you’re going to try harder RIGHT now. Just get the work done.