This is a letter I wrote to a brand a few years ago. After I experience a poorly done DEI training, I decided to leave out the brand because. This an experience that has more than likely happen to BIPOC. Who may have been afraid to write something like this.
My name is Brittany Leavitt, I am a 28 year old African American woman and 4 year employee of a Brand I am a Outdoor School instructor in the Mid-Atlantic Region. I love being able to share my skills of backpacking, rock climbing and camping essentials with the many great participants in our region. While working as instructor, I have been able to help with pilot programs and special projects like a Brand Festival, the national women’s outdoor festival. I’ve also been able to use my voice to help women of color make a connection to nature during the Force of Nature Campaign. As a local leader of a national non-profit, for the past 5 years, I have encouraged other African Americans to not only visit a Brand Stores to purchase their gear needs, I have also mentored African Americans to join a Brand staff.
Last December, I attended the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in-store training. It focused on the employee/customer interactions both in-store and with the Outdoor School. While the training may have been well intention , it had a negative impact on the employees of color.
The organizers of the training allotted 1 hour for this discussion. Based on the comments made by the “trainer” and my colleagues, this was clearly inadequate. My understanding of the purpose of the training was to create an “Anti-Bias Space.” As I will detail below, this training failed in this regard, and if anything, only succeeded in further marginalizing employees of color.
From my experience and speaking to many others who have had the same thoughts these are a few things that stood out:
1.) At the beginning of the training, the trainer admitted that they were unprepared to lead the workshop. Specifically she stated “ I am not trained on the subject, but I am going to give it a go.” Please understand how deflating this was for our team. It signaled to me and the other employees of color that a Brand did not take this topic seriously and was merely checking a box. A training that should have brought us together and helped us a team to better understand and respect each other, did the opposite. And it certainly let the entire group know that this training would be a waste of our time.
Given the wide range of experts who are available to provide training and support to workplaces on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, I am surprised that this person was chosen. As employees of color, we can only take it as lack of commitment to this issue which calls into question all the efforts we make to tell potential and current customers of color that a Brand is a place they should spend their dollars.
2.) The curriculum was poorly designed. We were asked to do some exercises including a “privilege survey.” No time was allotted for a discussion. I must reiterate that we understood the purpose of the training was to create an “anti-bias space.” For that to happen there needed to be some time and space to reckon with the bias that is in our workplace. While a Brand is far from the only workplace to have issues with bias, what does occur here needs to be acknowledged in order for it get better. The facilitator’s inability or unwillingness to create a safe space in which employees could talk about the bias they have witnessed or experienced in our workplace came across as a means to silence us.
3.) The training in combination with the lack of diversity in Brand management, field instructor and other workforce positions leads us to believe that the “For All,” strategy is not meant to include employees of color or our networks. After the training concluded, there were no follow up action items or recommendations for how we can do the work of creating an anti-bias space. The other employees of color and I interpreted this as the store was simply “checking a box.” The lack of awareness about how a training of this quality would impact us is disappointing. We are left with the burden of knowing that our company recognizes that DEI is an issue for a Brand but it does not merit thoughtful investment or resources.
I appreciate you taking the time to read this letter. I hope you understand the context your employees of color are living in. We are all existing in a time nationally when people with immigrant backgrounds and people perceived to be of immigrant backgrounds, African Americans, and other people of color are being attacked by both explicitly and implicitly racist actions and policies. If a Brand truly values Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, it will be bold and intentional in its commitment to long term change. To do otherwise evinces that the company’s aspiration for “a live well lived” is out of reach for your employees and customers of color.
Thank you again for your time. I look forward to discussing this matter with you further.