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What We've Learned in Our Work Toward Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Posted by Jessi Loerch at Oct 12, 2021 10:07 AM |

In early 2018, we rolled out a diversity, equity and inclusion plan at WTA. Over the last 3 years, we’ve consistently worked toward the goals in that plan. Now, we want to take a moment to reflect on our work and some key lessons we’ve learned.

At WTA, it is part of our mission to help lower barriers to getting outdoors and to build a more equitable and inclusive hiking community in Washington. It’s a goal we’ve been working on for years, and it’s one we’ll always keep working towards. 

In early 2018, we rolled out a plan to strengthen and advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) throughout our work. Over the last 3 years, we’ve consistently worked toward the goals in that plan, and we now want to take a moment to reflect on our work and some of the key lessons we’ve learned. 

A hiker wearing black boots walks up a dirt trail with a sign for Mount Dickerman in the background.
Photo by Sara Madura.

Work to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion takes time — and must be embedded across the organization.

An equity journey takes time and careful attention. It is not a task organizations or individuals can check off the to-do list, but instead we all must embrace it as a journey of learning, growth and continuous improvement. It’s important to continue to examine our values, policies and practices through an equity lens, and we’ve made sure our staff have time to devote to it. One way we’ve done this is by creating a Change Team — a group of staff from all levels of WTA — who meet regularly to discuss WTA’s DEI work and hold ourselves accountable. We’ve also encouraged constant learning with dedicated time for individual and staff-wide trainings, as well as more informal monthly conversations. These discussions are a powerful way for us to learn and grow together. We often start with something light-hearted — a discussion of our favorite ice cream or what superpower we would like to have. It’s a chance to build connections and trust while also thinking about the challenges of  racism, mental health, accessibility in the outdoors and many other issues. 

We need community partnerships to do this work well.

Partnerships are critical to all the work we do at WTA — and advancing equity in the outdoors is no exception. We’ve learned so much from our partners, and they’ve helped us do more and better work. Building strong, lasting relationships with organizations like GirlTrek, Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors has allowed us learn from and support the work of communities who have been disproportionately impacted by inequity and systemic racism. For example, WTA has partnered  with GirlTrek and the Forest Service on research to understand barriers to getting outside. We’ve partnered with Latino Outdoors to get Latina youth out for a week of trail work in Mount Rainier National Park. And we collaborated with Outdoor Afro to create an introduction to hiking video. We’re so grateful for these partnerships and appreciate how we’ve been able to work with our partners in a way that advances their missions, including connecting them to other partners and opportunities for financial support to help grow the reach of their programs. 

We are focused on making everyone’s experience with WTA programs welcome and inclusive.

One of the main things we’ve learned while doing this work is that we are united by a shared love of the outdoors — and we want everyone to be able to find that same joy and connection to nature. This is why we work to ensure that all of our programs and events create a warm, welcoming environment for all participants, both on and off trail, online and in person. This includes things like improving our website and social media by adding image descriptions and information on hike accessibility, and removing fees for participating in our annual Hike-a-Thon activities. On trail we continue to invest in training our crew leaders, staff and volunteers to ensure a safe, inclusive environment for all and to help them spot and address incidents that make people feel unwelcome.  We’ve also begun offering more shared-identity events, including work parties for LGBTQ+ youth, Latina youth, all-girls events and more. We’ve also created new Intro to Trailwork events to help people of all backgrounds and abilities try out volunteering in a low-pressure, inclusive environment. 

This is just a taste of the work WTA is doing to advance equity and inclusion in the outdoors. Want to know more? You can dig deep into the details in our DEI report that looks back at our progress and lessons learned from the last few years. And because we know this work that will never be done, we’re taking all the things we’ve learned from our past years of work and moving them forward. We’re currently in the process of creating our next 3-year plan to ensure we keep moving forward on our equity goals. 

Thank you to everyone in our community for helping to make this work possible. Together we will create Trails for Everyone, Forever!