The national nonprofit’s mission is in sharp focus in light of recent events
By Julie Kailus
Photos courtesy Camber Outdoors
Emily Newman, executive director at Boulder-based Camber Outdoors, took the reins at the thought-leading organization right before the pandemic sent everything into a tailspin.
Camber Outdoors is a national nonprofit focused on building equitable, inclusive and diverse workplaces across the $887 billion recreation economy. The organization works with active-outdoors industry giants like REI and Patagonia down to minority-led small businesses and startups that want to hire and lead with a broader perspective.
In many ways, COVID-19 has only amplified Camber’s mission. “Because we are focused on people and work, we could not be busier,” Newman says. “Rather than competing for talent in a tight job market, many workplaces have had to look at staff reductions and new ways of doing business. It’s even more important that companies demonstrate their values to employees and customers when times are tough.”
Workplace disparities are more evident than ever. “COVID-19 has had strikingly disparate health and economic impacts across populations, affecting employees differently across ethnic backgrounds, gender, socioeconomic status, family structures, and health profiles, etcetera,” she says. Camber has responded with resources such as trainings on equitable human resources practices, dialogues with funders that support diverse communities, and what Newman describes as methods for leading with inclusion in decentralized workspaces.
Before the pandemic, Camber was highly focused on letting constituents speak candidly so the organization could get to the root of inclusion issues. Newman got the idea while serving on the leadership team with My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, launched from the Obama White House. “The number-one thing I heard as I spoke with young people who were being mentored was how the diversity of all our voices toward common goals of inclusion and collaboration at work helped them to see what could be possible,” she says.
Camber is committed to a vision of “Everyone’s Outdoors,” so to put that message into action, they created a roving StoryBus, which made its first big stop at the 2020 Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver this past January. Everyone was welcome to record a personal story about working in the outdoors.
“The StoryBus was the happy result of a delicious dinner and bottle of wine shared with colleagues and friends at KEEN,” Newman says. “What I am most proud of is that a diversity of emerging talent and leaders might have an opportunity to hear stories of the workplaces of the active-outdoors industry that they can connect with. And that connection could create a whole new path for a young person who might not have believed that a career in this space was for them.”
But while hearing more stories from more voices is a great start, there are still considerable hurdles to understanding workplace inclusion, equity and diversity as a business imperative, even though data supports this, according to Newman.
“Companies that commit to action in these areas demonstrate superior performance,” she explains. “We aren’t talking about charity or something that is ‘nice to do,’ but instead the future workforce, future customers, future world — the future of business. I see an incredibly bright future.”