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Episode 2: Calling on Brands to Diversify the Outdoor Industry | Teresa Baker, co-founder of the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge

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In 2018, Teresa Baker launched the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge after noticing a lack of diversity in the outdoor industry. Now hundreds of brands have signed The Pledge—but there’s still growing to be done. Baker joins host Kristin Hostetter for a discussion on the progress  The Pledge has made, her goals moving forward, and how businesses can use their voices for good.

Watch the edited video interview here.

Read the transcript

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Kristin Hostetter: I’m Kristin Hostetter and you’re listening to the Straight Talk podcast by Outside Business Journal. My guest today is Teresa Baker. Teresa, and I first got to know each other when she launched the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge back in June of 2018. And we of course covered it in the news. Teresa founded the pledge because she recognized that the main customer base for the outdoor industry is college educated white folks.

And that increasing diversity is critical to the very survival of the outdoor industry, the outdoor spaces that she loves and outdoor recreation as a whole. With the pledge. She appealed directly to the CEOs of outdoor businesses to create, promote and enforce policies that expand diversity, equity, and inclusion, otherwise known as DEI.

And before we get started, I just want to note that we’re recording this conversation about a week after George Floyd was murdered, and it’s been a really emotional and busy time for Teresa who has been fielding dozens and dozens of calls and emails. Teresa, I’m so glad you’re here. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Teresa Baker: Thank you. I appreciate this opportunity. 

Kristin Hostetter: One of the things that I want to talk about is the CEO Diversity Pledge. Because even though you launched it two years ago, it’s certainly now today more relevant than ever, I think that’s safe to say. So let’s back up to the beginning of the pledge.

Can you talk a little bit about your inspiration for it? 

Teresa Baker: I was just noticing lack of diversity and inclusion specifically around communities of color in the outdoor industry. So I thought, what can I do? What can I do to make our boy voices more relevant to the industry? So I reached out to a guy named Chris Perkins and said, Hey, Chris, I have an idea for a diversity pledge.

And Chris said, tell me more. And we talked and started putting in the efforts to get it going. So it’s an opportunity for outdoor brands and now nonprofits to commit to the work of diversity and inclusion within the outdoor industry at large. 

Kristin Hostetter: Awesome. I’m glad you did that two years ago.

And like I said, it certainly seems more relevant now than ever, but also having covered it when you first launched it and and fast forward to today, it seems like there’s been a little bit of evolution in the pledge. Like first of all, where it’s hosted and you’ve added some new features and benefits and services like the consulting And the job search feature.

Can you tell us a little bit about that? About the evolution. 

Teresa Baker: Sure. When the pledge first launched, I was like, we’ll be lucky if five brands sign on. Chris and I had no idea it would explode to what it has. Initially it was, and still is, Chris and I being the guidance force of the pledge. And then we had a 25 member steering committee and the purpose of the steering committee is to pair them with the brands that signed on.

So that’s still an element of the pledge, but it was housed on Diversify Outdoors website so that we wouldn’t have to create a whole nother website to house it. The fact that Danielle at Diversify Outdoors allowed us to house it there for two years was amazing. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah, because creating a website is a lot of work. 

Teresa Baker: Oh my God. Yes it is. We thought, even before all of this craziness took place, we had decided to move the pledge because we wanted to add more elements like a job board. And we wanted to extend the steering committee to welcome in under-representedcommunities across the board. So having its own website now, which is, it allows us to now have a job board and, geez, over a hundred steering committee members, as well as activists that are doing this work around D E I and that’s every underrepresented community. It’s those with disabilities. It’s people like Unlikely Hikers, so it’s extended beyond just communities of color. We are trying to keep up with the demand.

It’s crazy right now, but having its own place to land, people can go there and post jobs and hire consultants to help them do the work of DEI. 

Kristin Hostetter:  That’s amazing. And that growth is such a nice problem to have.

Teresa Baker:  Yes. We’ve actually had to pause accepting applications because,  again, it’s just Chris and I, so we are trying to keep up. We’re engaging some of the steering committee members now to help us with all the applications that have come in 

Kristin Hostetter:  I love that. I was looking at this site this morning and I love the job search opportunity there. I think that makes a lot of sense and is a great feature to add .

So Teresa, how does your pledge differ from Camber’s pledge and should companies that sign one, sign the other and vice versa. Should companies be signing both if this work is really important to them,

Teresa Baker: (Audible sigh) How our pledge differs is that Camber doesn’t ask anything of those who commit to their pledge. Our pledge has four elements that we ask people to commit to. I felt it necessary not to just have people sign a document saying, yeah we’ll do the work. That’s simple. That’s easy, but actually holding them accountable to the four pillars of the pledge and throughout the year. They report back on that progress under those four pillars.

Camber has since expressed to me that they are no longer promoting their equity pledge, that they are diverting people to our pledge. And that’s a conversation that Emily and I have had through various conversations over the past year. I can’t say if people should sign both. What I can say is that if you are committed to the work of diversity and inclusion beyond just signing a pledge, then you have to hold yourself accountable to action.

And that’s what our pledge asks is that you put action behind your commitment. Yeah. 

Kristin Hostetter: That’s great. That’s great to know that they’ve been diverting to your pledge. I think, for me personally, and I think a lot of people were a little bit confused about the two, and it’s so great that you’ve been able to come together and work together and build up your pledge  into this robust platform.

Teresa Baker: I don’t think the fact that we have so many people committed to our pledge has anything to do with Camber. The fact that so many people are putting the word out about the pledge and so many brands are doing the work and speaking about it publicly, that’s, what’s bringing attention to the pledge.

Kristin Hostetter: And so can you talk about the four pillars a little bit? So people understand if they sign what they’re signing on for. 

Teresa Baker: For me, the most important is outward facing. So brands and non-profits are committing to being more diverse in their marketing strategies and in their own line campaign showing a more diverse representation of people in the outdoors. So that to me is the most important, but then there’s also a commitment to hiring and having people of color represented on boards. And then there’s the element of working together. I think that says a lot, all these brands coming together. I lost count of how many climbing gyms have signed on.

So it would be good to pull them all together so that they can commit to working together on the pledge. And the other is just sharing information about the pledge, their commitment to the pledge and. Everyone who has stepped up to sign. So it’s not like we’re asking presidents to step down and replace them with someone else. We’re asking to make the work they’re doing clear and obvious and, having greater representation in leadership roles, within companies and on boards. That’s to me, it should be automatic, but it isn’t happening often enough. So the pledge encourages people to take more steps towards that. 

Kristin Hostetter: That makes great sense. Tell me, who can sign the pledge? If you’re not a CEO, can you take your diversity pledge? And are there plans or current practices to open it up beyond the C level? Because I think when you see CEO, you might say, Oh, I’m not a CEO, I’m a brand manager or a brand leader. Can I sign it? 

Teresa Baker: The commitment that we’re asking is from the CEO, the founder, of brands that is the commitment we’re asking for, but we are in communications with brand managers and whatnot. We’re not asking the CEO to be part of every element, but we are asking them to be aware that their company has signed his pledge and that their name is attached to it.

Beyond that we are working with various departments throughout the nonprofit or brands to get this work done, but we want to make sure that the CEO is on board with the commitment has company, his or her company is making. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah. And then that adds a whole layer of accountability to it too, right? 

Teresa Baker: Yes. 

Kristin Hostetter: I know the last few weeks have been exhausting for you. Aside from that what have, what, what has this, this current crisis and climate been like for you personally? 

Teresa Baker: It’s been really busy over the past three months, actually having brands reach out, while everyone was, or in some cases still are indoors, not being able to do much. I’ve had a lot of brands reach out to me and ask, what can we do at this moment to keep our audience engaged? So, I was already involved in a lot of conversations with brands around that. And then of course the incident with Mr. Floyd took place and incidents before that took place, and then everything was just in an uproar. So it’s been super busy.

Which is part of the reason Chris and I have decided to pause new applications so that we can get caught up and get people on the right path of implementing the pledge versus just signing it and saying “we signed a pledge, our work is done.” No. We want to make sure people understand that beyond signing the pledge.

That’s the easy part. Right now comes the hard part of putting a plan into action so that we can move forward with that. But it’s been super busy.  

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah. We’ve seen so many brands come out in the last week, two weeks with a brand statement about being anti-racist right. And there’s been  lots of call-outs: that’s great, you’re making a statement. You’re posting a black square, but what are you actually doing about it? And it just seems that your pledge, especially where it stands today in the commitments that you’ve made and the services that you’re offering really are just breaking down any barriers for brands who really want to do this work.

Teresa Baker: We’re trying, but what I try to get people to understand is that the pledge isn’t the only avenue. The pledge is just one piece that can help people do this work. There are DEI agents. And when I say DEI is diversity, equity and inclusion.

And for some people, they add the justice piece, which is relevant as well, but there are a lot of us across this country doing this work. So the pledge is just one piece to help people. And I think the fact that we now have the website, there are so many elements there that can help people move forward because all too often, people tell us we’re stuck.

We don’t know what to do. We don’t know where to begin. How can we find a more diverse pool of candidates for our current job opening? That’s all there now. So that’s one obstacle that we removed so that people can have a place to go and learn about the amazing individuals across the country who are doing this work.

So by no means, are we saying sign the pledge. No. If you’re not committed to doing the work, do not sign the pledge because we will hold you accountable. We do not practice the call-out culture. We practice the call in culture. So if there’s something happening and we feel we need to step in, we do it privately, not publicly at no point where we say anything harsh about any of the brands publicly.

So we’ve made that commitment to help them and not hinder them.

Kristin Hostetter:  I love it. What’s the goal?  You’ve paused it right now at 100, so you can catch up. Is there like a dream number in your head in terms of the broad commitment by the outdoor industry. I don’t even know how many companies there are in the outdoor industry, to be honest, but a lot more than a hundred. 

Teresa Baker: God we’ve gotten so many responses. Chris sent me a message this morning. 60,000 hits in two weeks. That’s ridiculous. And then we’ve had hundreds of people wanting to submit applications. So right now we have 101. Chris is working on uploading another hundred.

That’s how busy it’s been. And a huge shout out to the Outbound Collective. Brian has been a huge help with the website. He actually built the site and is helping us maintain it because it’s so crazy right now. But when Chris and I first started this two years ago, we didn’t really have a goal.

Like I said, I was like, Chris, we’ll be lucky if five people say yes. So I didn’t really have a goal, but certainly my goal is not to have thousands of brands sign on. I think I’d be comfortable at about 250 at the most. Because it’s not about signing every brand out there, it’s about maintaining the relationships with the brands who have signed and making sure they have everything they need to be successful.

Kristin Hostetter: Right. Before I forget, Teresa, can you tell people the URL of the website? Cause it really is a great site and very beautiful and people should check it out. What’s the URL?

Teresa Baker:  It’s One thing that I need to definitely get out to people, because we’ve had so many people reach out saying we want to donate and that’s awesome.

We need the money, but we are not set up as a nonprofit or an LLC. And we are in the process of finding out which is the best path to take for that. But we are just two individuals trying to make a difference. 

Kristin Hostetter: Be sure to keep me posted when you do figure that out, cause I’ll help you get the word out.

You’ve been at this for two years, you did have some early adopters to the pledge, which granted was a little bit different in terms of the commitment at that time. It’s evolved as we said, but can you talk about any brands that have really committed to this from the beginning of the pledge and what kind of progress and evolution they’ve seen? Any brands that you’d like to celebrate and call out for doing great work.

Teresa Baker: I want to acknowledge them all for being brave enough to take the step. I know this isn’t easy. And when you make that commitment is now public. So the public is watching you. What you do. I can’t tell you how many emails I get from people saying brand X is not showing enough of the people you are trying to showcase, so maybe you need to get on them. The public is reporting back on these brands more so than Chris and I. But of course there are brands out there that are just doing amazing work. Always Merrell has exceeded our expectations of what a brand can do. Hoka has stepped up and they’re doing amazing work. And my friends over at Granite Gear. How awesome is Rob? I love Rob. I love the commitment that they’re making. And then again, the Outbound Collective. They have put out four films now, speaking to lack of diversity in the outdoor spaces, along with Wondercamp. So  there are people stepping up doing this work, and then you have Q, James Q, Martin, that’s stepping up. So I’m happy with the commitment that people have made and as time goes by more and more people are doing more work to showcase, not just the pledge, but their commitment to moving this industry forward. 

Kristin Hostetter: That’s a great segue into into this next question, which, I’d love for you to share a few minutes of advice with me on how I can do a better job with the platforms that I have with Outside Business Journal.

Teresa Baker: I think the most powerful thing this industry can do is use its voice, period. Journalists have so much power. Editors have so much power to get out to the public a positive message or a negative message. And I think for publications, Now is your time to shine. You need to continue beyond this moment, but into the future, getting out the importance of this industry, period. Pushing forward a more diverse community, because what a lot of people fail to understand about me and my work, I wanted to do this work because I didn’t see enough faces that look like mine. Around the table of environmental protection. And that is my ultimate goal is to engage more people in that fight. And I think the more people that see us and understand we too care about these outdoor spaces, the more people we have in place fighting for the protection of them.

So continuing to push out the message of underrepresented communities is something that you, as a journalist, and  I don’t mean to offend you if you don’t describe yourself as such, but I think that’s important to stay the course. Don’t let this moment die down and then your commitment to it dies down as well.

So stay the course. This is a long journey ahead. In five years, I’m doing away with the pledge. I don’t want the pledge to be in place. I want people to all, to automatically be doing his work and the pledge will not be needed. So that is my hope moving forward for the pledge. And my hope for the industry is that OIA, Emerald steps up and understands the power that they carry and move this industry forward.

Kristin Hostetter: Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience, people that may be listening. I mean you’ve given us a lot of really good tangible advice. I think even if you’re not a CEO, it makes total sense to go to, read the content there, read about the pledge, understand it, bring it to your CEO, things like that.

Is there anything else that we’ve missed here, Teresa, that you’d like to share with our audience? 

Teresa Baker:  I just want everybody to understand the power that they have as individuals. All too often, we think, Oh, I’m just one person. I can’t make a difference.

This pledge is crazy. And we have some major multimillion dollar companies that have committed to that. And this was an idea from one person. And I didn’t allow the fact that I was one individual to stop me. And if anyone knows me, I will say anything. I don’t hold back. And I think all too often, people think they have to walk the straight and narrow in order to make a difference.

I screw up every day. I say stuff I shouldn’t stay. But I keep trying to become a better person at this work, because I understand now that I speak to a larger audience because of all the people that these brands bring on. People have to knock me upside the head a couple of times every now and then and say, Oh you shouldn’t have said that.

Or I’m like, damn it. You’re right. So I’m trying to become better at this myself. We do not have all the answers. We are trying as well. So for people that come to us and they’re like “Our plan is going to be based off everything you say.” They can’t work you to have the answers. And as a collective, we’ll put this piece together and kick ass moving forward. But we all play a role, no matter how small of a role you feel, you play a role. And all of those roles coming together is what’s going to make the outdoor industry a better industry.

Kristin Hostetter: That’s awesome. Teresa. I want to thank you so much  for shedding so much light on this topic. Really challenging the industry to come together. Not letting people get off easy. I want to thank you for your passion around this and your grace and your willingness to to put in this work and bring more people into this.

I really appreciate it. I’ve learned a lot from talking with you  and I look forward to working together. In the years to come right up until we don’t need that pledge anymore. 

Teresa Baker: Absolutely. Absolutely. We’re gonna rip it up in five years, hopefully sooner than five years and just celebrate everybody being kick ass around DEI and the outdoors. Thank you. I appreciate this opportunity. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah, you’re welcome, Teresa. Have a great week. 

Teresa Baker: Thanks, you too. 

Kristin Hostetter: And thank you everybody for listening to this episode of the Straight Talk podcast by Outside Business Journal, the outdoor industry is full of fascinating people doing bold things, whether it’s in sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion, specialty retail, activism, marketing, or brand building.

And here at Straight Talk, we dive straight in this episode was produced by me, Kristin Hostetter. Our executive producer is Jeff Moore. Our executive audio engineer is John Barcklay. Our associate producer is Aashish Shrestha.  Our production assistant is Louisa Albanese. Please subscribe today to the Straight Talk podcast, write us a review, and of course stay up on the latest outdoor industry news at