‘A tale of two outdoors’: Merrell study examines inclusivity in outdoor… – Grand Rapids Business Journal
While increased time spent outdoors was one positive effect from the COVID-19 pandemic, it turns out the experience has not been the same for everyone.
Merrell, a division of Rockford-based footwear and apparel maker Wolverine Worldwide, recently shared its “Inclusivity in the Outdoors” report, a first-of-its-kind examination from the company.
Based on the multinational survey, the report examines the perceptions plus experiences of women, Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ+ and lower-income people and groups when it comes to spending time outside.
While existing outdoor research traditionally analyzes race, gender and income regionally, Merrell’s study takes this a step further by considering participants’ emotive experiences, perceptions and resulting behaviors with a call to action to drive change.
“We noticed there is a lot of research in regard to inclusivity in the outdoors, but most of that research really looks at the numbers, the statistics behind it plus specifically in regard to how many people are out there, whether it’s from a race, a gender, a sexual preference and so on, ” said Regina Hill, corporate social responsibility marketing manager at Merrell. “We saw an opportunity to go a little bit additional and dig into the emotive experiences that people actually have when they go outdoors. What is the outdoor experience actually like? And how do factors such as race and gender and income status, for example , affect different people’s experiences outdoors? ”
Merrell originally conducted the survey in 2020 on the perceived inclusivity of outdoor spaces and garnered responses from participants across the U. S., Canada and the U. K.
An initial report has been presented to the company’s justice, equity, diversity and inclusion advisory council. The council questioned whether the report represented enough groups of people plus embodied a truly inclusive approach.
In addition , Hill said the political and societal unrest of 2020 combined with the pandemic caused questions regarding the timing of the survey. The team decided to hit pause on the report and start again two years later.
“We decided to come back and refill the study again in 2022, making sure that we have intentional representation of the different groups that deserve to have time or deserve to be seen. And as we did that, we were able to see some new findings as well as a few trends across time, ” Hill said.
Specifically, the new report found while most people have positive associations with the outdoors, not all survey respondents had the same positive experience. In 2022, about one in five respondents indicated they experienced some type of discrimination while spending time outside.
Fifty-three percent of survey respondents also noted they have felt afraid at some point while being outside, and 15% noted feeling more cautious and alert — the latter a 4% increase from 2020.
“What we really found was what we call ‘a tale of two outdoors. ’ We found that while there are a lot of positive associations with being outdoors, that’s not necessarily everyone’s story, ” Slope said. “And the other thing that’s important is that you can have a positive feeling and also hold a sense of tension at the same time. For example , you can feel thankful and still feel cautious. As we looked at the report, we discovered that communities of color in particular still feel cautious about safety when they’re outdoors. ”
Among global Black participants in the survey, 21% have experienced discrimination when outdoors. Although 44% reported feeling thankful to spend time outside, 11% still said they feel cautious while doing so. “I don’t feel safe outside alone, ” one Black U. S. respondent said.
In addition , nearly a quarter of Black respondents said they experienced discriminatory treatment while shopping. For Merrell, these statistics reflect the need for change within the outside retail industry.
“As we look at the statement, we see there are some discrepancies in regard to how people are treated within stores and specifically for the black community within the U. K. as they noted a lot of discrimination in their retail spaces, ” Hill stated. “So, we are making sure that we have training out for our store spaces and not just for the people who are working in the corporate space as well. We’ve had a series of conversations in 2022 about competition and the outdoors and what that will looks like while understanding that people have different experiences. ”
The report furthermore indicated 28% of Hispanic and Latin American individuals, 21% of Asian people and 23% of other nonwhite people experienced splendour while spending time outside.
For Indigenous peoples in North America, the record found these groups tend to spend more time outdoors (36%) than the global average (27%).
The report, however , also showed these groups face several barriers to feeling accepted in outdoor spaces. Twenty-one percent of Indigenous respondents compared to 15% of white respondents reported experiencing discriminatory treatment when outside, and 22% associated with Indigenous respondents also mentioned discriminatory treatment when shopping for outdoor footwear, clothing or gear in a retail store.
Income inequality is another barrier, with 39% of Indigenous respondents in the Oughout. S. and 27% associated with Indigenous respondents in Canada reporting below-average household earnings. According to Merrell, the overall review data revealed those with lower household incomes typically have less access to green spaces compared to respondents who reported above-average incomes.
Despite Indigenous peoples historically having a deep connection with the Earth, Hill said these discrimination plus income-related factors serve as barriers for them to access a space they naturally feel is home.
The survey found women have started to spend more time outdoors in recent years, though representation still is smaller than men’s participation outdoors. In spite of a slight increase in participation, 56% of women reported feelings of fear, and the underlying factors behind this fear have shifted since 2020.
Specifically, women respondents within 2022 expressed less fear of animals compared to 2020 and a global increase in fear of men in the outdoors. Forty-one % of women indicated a fear of men, which was a 16% rise from the previous research.
“In 2020, we saw that women were afraid of what I like to call the lions and tigers and bears — the things in nature — as well as potentially getting hurt or possibly getting lost, ” Slope said. “It seems their confidence may have increased within those areas, but women are now 16% more afraid of men in 2022 compared to they were in 2020. This leads us to a place of saying, ‘what do we need to do to make sure the outdoors is safer for women specifically in this case? ’”
To combat these concerns, Merrell launched the Merrell Hiking Club (U. S. and Canada) in 2022 with the goal of ensuring women can safely and confidently experience the outdoors.
Safety issues also emerged in survey responses from LGBTQ+ people. Fifteen percent associated with LGBTQ+ respondents said these people feel unwelcome in the outside compared to the global total of 6%.
LGBTQ+ respondents also reported experiences of discrimination while searching for clothing, footwear or gear in a retail setting. Yet, despite these barriers, the particular report shows this demographic has a strong desire to spend more time outside.
“We learned that the LGBTQ+ community has been left out of the conversation in regard to accessing the outdoors plus inclusivity in the outdoors, ” Hill said.
In light of these findings, Hill said Merrell “is not shy” to have conversations both internally and externally regarding inclusivity in the outdoors. Hill said the company hopes in order to encourage other brands and leaders in the outdoor recreation industry to take the necessary steps to break down barriers keeping individuals from enjoying time outside.
Besides retail training and company-wide awareness, Merrell has engaged in several partnerships to help lead a charge for change. On Thursday, Jan. 26, the company announced its second collaboration with Unlikely Hikers, an inclusive community of hikers, on an ungendered colorway plus size-inclusive line of outdoor footwear.
“We set out more than six years ago to build a community of hikers and adventurers of all shapes, sizes, genders and abilities after seeing a need to have more diversity represented in the outside community, ” said Jenny Bruso, founder of Unlikely Hikers. “Now, we’re able to give a voice and provide products to those not always heard or even represented in the outdoor local community. ”
The footwear incorporates Merrell’s usual durability, traction, comfort plus sustainability features. The collection also includes bags, shirts and a hat and is available online for customers in the U. S. and Canada.
Merrell also works with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America to make sure kids from marginalized communities get access to the outdoors.
“We know that the earlier you start, the more comfortable you are and more likely you are to spend time outdoors as you grow older, ” Slope said.
For Hill, it’s also important to examine the way spending time outdoors is defined.
“A lot of times when we think about the outdoors, especially within the industry, we think about camping and hiking, right? Those are some of the first things that come to our mind, ” Slope said. “But the reality is that people spend time outdoors in a lot of different ways. Walking, looking at nature, gardening, spending time in your backyard — those are all outdoor activities also. Looking at how we transform the industry is also looking at the definitions we use. ”
Hill, who was raised and still resides in Grand Rapids, enjoys outdoor activities such as gardening and taking walks. At a previous job, she said anytime her coworkers were looking for her, she could be found sitting outside in the patio area.
“I’ve been spending time outside since I was a child; however , if someone asked me if I had been outdoorsy, I might say no because I’m thinking of something like camping, ” Hill mentioned.
“But it turns out the outdoors is in my DNA. And part of putting out this report is challenging the perspective to say, ‘yes, I actually am outdoorsy. I love to spend time outside. ’”