Sue Rechner: “We all need to lean in on DEI”

Merrell president wants to be held accountable, and wants the rest of the industry to be, too.
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Sue Rechner, Merrell's president, is committed  to mentoring and supporting the younger generation of outdoor and DEI advocates. 

Sue Rechner, Merrell's president, is committed  to mentoring and supporting the younger generation of outdoor and DEI advocates. 

Over the past couple years, it’s been encouraging to see brands and organizations elevating their messaging and efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the outdoors. While there’s evidence of change – products that meet the needs of many communities and storytelling featuring people that range in their body shape, ethnicity, creed, orientation and intensity — the work being done to make DEI a non-issue is far from where it needs to be.

Recently, I was invited to moderate a panel surrounding the topic of the LGBTQ community and the outdoor industry. The panelists included representatives from REI, The North Face, Patagonia, and Hipcamp.

5 people sit at a table during a panel discussion. Sue Rechner is on the right

Sue Rechner, right, moderated a panel discussion at the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit in northern California.

There was a common thread between us. We all felt a responsibility to elevate DEI throughout our organizations, until one day it’s an irrelevant topic. We knew collectively we could be doing a lot more to offer relevant products, include communities that are not seeing themselves in our marketing, and worse, not feeling welcomed while participating in the outdoor activities they love.

Comments from the audience were abundant: how a “shrink and pink” approach and our standard fits can alienate; how our marketing images exclude diversity, how our voices are too silent, and how positive DEI role models are virtually invisible.

I could relate. And I was acutely aware of the role we could play—I could play—in demonstrating that we are listening, willing to step up, lean in, mentor, and change. I make it a priority to mentor and support the younger generation of outdoor and DEI advocates, and I’m consciously trying to create more room for these important efforts. I’m voicing the need in our product meetings to extend our sizing in footwear and apparel, but we’re not where I know we should be. We’ll get there, and it’s a core focus for our team.

So, what can we do? How do we as an industry start to show some true leadership on the issue? And drive real change quickly, before we lose even more relevance with our large, diverse, outdoor-loving community?

The answer is: We just start.

We take some type of action.

We hold each other accountable.

We continue to address the reality that this may not be an overnight change, but we make it a thread woven naturally into everyday efforts.

We don’t turn our heads away from the topic.

We stop believing that the issue of inclusion in our industry is irrelevant or overstated.

We make the conscious effort to start thinking differently on a daily basis as leaders of brands, members of organizations, allies of underrepresented communities—as humans— in order to drive change.

We raise the difficult topics in meetings and during decision-making, and don’t allow them to be pushed aside.

We take chances and push against the obstacles to create a “new normal”—in our product design, our affiliations, marketing imagery, and messaging.

I recognize this is easier said than done. Mindfulness, understanding, consensus-building, action planning, implementation—it’s a lot for organizations to move through.

It’s easy to overthink it and it’s natural to have some trepidation: How do we do this in an honest way when we haven’t always been as inclusive as we should have been? How do we communicate without the appearance of pandering or being inauthentic?

But if your action level is at zero right now, I encourage you to take at least one step forward. Think of all the ways you can change or help drive diversity, equity, and inclusion consciousness in your organization.

Start featuring more diverse communities within your campaigns and find stories of unique people and their experiences. Launch efforts within your organizations to hold your business accountable. Ensure your product team understands the diversity of consumers and their needs for outdoor gear and apparel. Get the right input; listen to relevant voices. Pick an initiative and run with it.

Let’s start taking more action and stop overthinking.

By 2040, the demographic landscape of our country will look much different. We need to activate and engage the next generation of outdoor stewards. I invite you to hold yourselves accountable.

Hold Merrell accountable.

Be the change in your organization. Let’s work to ensure that in the near future, our industry’s collective actions inspire and welcome everyone to enjoy the outdoors.

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