Allyship in the Outdoors: I Took The North Face’s Racial Inclusion Course and Here’s How It Went

Photo Credits - Andrea Rondon via Unsplash

Allyship in the Outdoors is a new educational course from The North Face available in the UK. It addresses racial inclusion issues, and I took it to discuss our experience. In this article, we also explore why the course has received backlash and the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

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Allyship in the Outdoors – Our Experience of The North Face’s Course

An Overview of the Allyship in the Outdoors Course

As mentioned, The North Face created this course to address racial inclusion in the outdoors. It asks the reader, “Are the outdoors for everyone?”. Here, it’s easy to think they are, but statistics suggest otherwise. The course states:

  • People from ethnic minorities are three times more likely to live in a nature-deprived area
  • Despite comprising 14% of the general population, only 1% of individuals from ethnic minorities visit national parks
  • While 44.2% of white individuals visit the countryside, only 26.2% and 25.7% of black and Asian individuals, respectively, do the same

Sport England suggested that language and perception are some of the barriers preventing individuals from ethnic minorities from enjoying the outdoors. Nature England added that discrimination and cost were contributing factors, too. After highlighting these disparities, the Allyship in the Outdoors course turned to the experiences of some of The North Face’s athletes. 

READ: World Hijab Day 2024: Improving Workplace Inclusion

First, GB climber Molly Thompson-Smith discussed her experiences growing up. She highlighted instances where people would touch her “bushy” hair, and although complimentary, this made her uncomfortable. She added that she’d never noticed her minority background until she went climbing. This was because the climbing facility lacked representation for individuals from ethnic minorities.

allyship in the outdoors

Then, professional snowboarder David Djité talked about life on the slopes. He outlined how he’d get funny looks for being an individual from an ethnic minority who could snowboard. He also mentioned how people would ask where he was from. When he said Switzerland, the same individuals would ask where he was really from.

Finally, the course addressed its primary focus, allyship. It explained that allyship involves challenging ourselves to actively show up for others in less privileged positions. Furthermore, they believe allyship is a verb, not a noun, as it requires the individual to practice the core values to challenge racism instead of being passive.

Industry Backlash

However, the Allyship in the Outdoors course has received backlash online. Some suggest the course’s good intentions are lost as the company has used it as a marketing ploy. This is because people who undertake it get a 20% discount, leading to some believing people will speed run the course for the discount. Others believe it shows The North Face’s lack of diversity in its customers, claiming, “Why would black customers need to take a course about ‘white privilege’…?”.

Allyship in the Outdoors: My Experience

Regardless of The North Face’s motives, the course itself is excellent. Not only is it made to a high standard, but it also asks questions many may not have considered. Addressing the first point, the course comprises a series of diagrams concerning exclusion, separation, inclusion, integration and belonging. This helps demonstrate the path society must take to bring people out of isolation and make them feel like one.

The course also includes videos that allow readers to listen to first-hand accounts of outdoor experiences from individuals from ethnic minorities. This was probably the best part of the whole course. Globally, we discuss race discrimination and how people should be treated equally, but as a white individual myself, certain aspects of life can be taken for granted.

In one of the videos, a person from an ethnic minority shares a story of when she went shopping with her white friend for outdoor equipment. She explained how the shop assistant gave her white friend all the attention, leaving her confused. This made her lose confidence and question whether she belonged in that environment.

Another example concerned Molly Thompson-Smith putting on a climbing helmet when she was younger. She explained how it was more difficult for her and took her longer due to her “bushy hair”. She added that this made her feel uncomfortable, and to this day, she still doesn’t enjoy putting her helmet on.

READ: Could Equal Pay Soon Encompass Race and Disability?

I found these stories remarkable and eye-opening. This goes beyond treating individuals equally and trying to be a kind, caring society. Like many, I have participated in various outdoor activities, but thoughts that could cause a loss of confidence have never crossed our minds. As such, the Allyship in the Outdoors course gets you to look deeper into how people experience things differently.

Overall, even if the course has caused controversy, it could be suggested that courses like this are a step in the right direction. The North Face’s delivery may be wrong, but the individuals in the videos from ethnic minorities have good intentions in educating people. As a society, we can’t ever be done learning, and constantly trying to improve ourselves can only be good. 

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Whether employers use the Allyship in the Outdoors course as an employee experience or create their own to promote workplace diversity, much can be learned from it. This is especially true in a time when diversity, equality, and inclusion are essential topics employers must get involved with.

As mentioned, The North Face’s course asks questions beyond the normal scope of equality. As such, pushing employee engagement in the matter could further promote inclusion in the workplace as we create a more understanding environment. 

The more we educate ourselves as a society and workplace, the more understanding we become. And hopefully, as the Allyship in the Outdoors course points out, this will lead to more people feeling a sense of belonging.

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