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Camber Outdoors Executive Director Deanne Buck has tendered her resignation after six years at the helm of the organization who’s mission is “equity in the outdoors, from boardroom to backcountry.” Buck will be replaced, on an interim basis, by Camber board member Diana Seung, former executive vice president of merchandising at backcountry.com.
Events leading up to Buck’s resignation
Buck’s resignation comes 14 days after a controversial statement she made at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show on February 1. While introducing the Camber-led CEO Outdoor Equity Pledge, intended to advance the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), Buck drew the ire of several outspoken leaders in the DEI movement when she described the effort as the “first-of-its-kind.”
Expressing their outrage on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, many individuals accused Buck of disregarding the achievements of several frontline organizations who have a long history of working to bring more people of color into the outdoor industry. They also alleged that Buck misappropriated the efforts of Teresa Baker, an African American woman who introduced a similar pledge in July of 2018 called the Outdoor Industry CEO Diversity Pledge. Many called upon Buck to resign.
However, in an exclusive interview with Outside Business Journal, Buck said that her transition had been under consideration since June of last year.
“We knew back then that the work in front of the organization would require a leader who has the drive, energy, and experience to carry forward an important body of work, and we wanted to ensure that we had readied our major programs sufficiently prior to the transition,” Buck said. “We’ve made good progress, and I am ready to pass the baton.”
Interim Director Seung outlines the path forward for Camber
We spoke to interim ED Diana Seung, a Korean-American, who affirmed the organization’s commitment to improve the condition of DEI within its own ranks.
“We have an outside adviser and consultants helping us with the DEI work, and we look to them to help identify areas where we may not be authentic to our mission, where we may need to change the complexion of our board and our staff,” Seung said. “While there isn’t a strict formula of the percentage of X, Y, or Z, we’re using them to help advise us where we may need to make changes…I think we’ve made strides in making sure that we as an organization are more reflective of what we’re working towards.”
One such move is the transition of Reggie Miller, an African-American man and the global director of inclusion & diversity of VF Corp., from board member to the board’s executive committee.
Last Sunday, Feb. 10, Camber’s board of directors issued a formal apology to Baker, expressing remorse for their previous remarks and affirming their desire to learn from this incident. In an email request for further clarification, Buck confirmed that the events of two weeks ago had accelerated her plans to step down.
“It’s clear that I’ve become a lightning rod, and the work is too important for me to become a distraction,” she said. “The change in leadership at Camber Outdoors is a significant milestone in our evolution as an organization focused on equity in the workplace in the outdoor industry. With a strong board, dedicated staff, and amazing partners, Camber Outdoors will play an important role in advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion among our member companies. A new leader will have a fresh start to build bridges, listen, engage and take the organization and our work forward.”
Camber partners—including REI— have been “unwavering” in their support
According to Buck and Seung, Camber’s top financial donors, known as Peak Partners, and the more than 60 signatories of the CEO Outdoor Equity Pledge have been supportive of the organization’s response to the controversy.
“People appreciate our willingness to admit our mistake and to also step into a place of vulnerability and acknowledge what was said at the keynote on February 1st,” Buck said. “This is a journey and there is no playbook. Indeed, as we look to how we support our partners moving forward this is a really important learning opportunity for us that we take very seriously and we need to embrace.”
Since news of the backlash broke two weeks ago, Buck said none of the signatories have rescinded their support. “We’ve actually gotten one new pledge,” she said.
Camber’s staunchest support—at the $250,000 Visionary level this year—is REI. In fact, over the last five years REI has donated $1.5 million in support of Camber. Other current Peak Partners include The North Face at $100,000, as well as Arc’teryx, Burton, Brooks, and Patagonia at $50,000 each. Camber says it retains broad industry support regardless of the events of the last few weeks.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Feb. 12, REI announced the sudden resignation of CEO Jerry Stritzke following an investigation into a perceived conflict of interest relating to “a personal and consensual relationship between the REI CEO and the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry.”
Stritzke was, by all measures, an outspoken champion of Camber’s work. When asked if Stritzke’s departure could impact REI’s support of Camber during this critical leadership transition and this period of damage control, Buck said nothing is likely to change.
“All of the conversations that the organization has had with REI is that they will continue to support the mission and the work of Camber Outdoors,” she said.
At this juncture in the interview, Outside Business Jounral thought it was important to address an uncomfortable topic, one that many of our readers have raised given the timing of the resignations, the specific wording of REI’s statement, and the close relationship between Camber and REI.
When asked if she was the unnamed leader of the “partner organization” cited in Stritzke’s resignation announcement, Buck replied, “I think any question about REI and Jerry’s personal relationship or personal life should be directed to REI. This conversation is about Camber Outdoors. So, I’d prefer that we stay on that topic.”
Buck’s resignation is effective immediately, but she will remain in an advisory role through the end of February to ensure a smooth transition. (Buck also currently serves as the president of American Alpine Club‘s board of directors.) The Camber board will seek assistance from a consulting firm to recruit a suitable permanent replacement.
Steve Meineke, Camber Outdoors board president, said in a statement, “Deanne is a trailblazer. With her strong team and in collaboration with community partners, she has made the outdoors and industry companies more accessible and welcoming for women and has begun the important and necessary work to evolve Camber Outdoors to focus on equity in the outdoors for all. Now, working with outdoor leaders and those with deep DEI experience, we will take this essential work to the next level with leadership from Diana Seung, the board, the Camber team and the wider community.”