By Eric Smith

When Emily Newman was appointed executive director of Camber Outdoors last September, she took over an organization that had spent much of 2019 in transition—and in turmoil.

The Boulder, CO-based nonprofit, which promotes workplace equity in the active outdoor industries, found itself in a PR mess last February that led to the departure of its executive director, Deanne Buck, and the start of a lengthy healing process for Camber and its stakeholders. After Buck’s abrupt resignation, Camber board member Diana Seung served as interim ED for seven months, working to rebuild critical relationships.

Now, Newman is tasked with continuing that work and leading Camber into a new chapter. She has set out to bring the organization’s message of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace to a broader audience and with a fresh voice.

Newman’s extensive background includes more than 20 years in the nonprofit world, where she focused on workforce access, equity and inclusion. She has spent the first few months as Camber’s ED speaking with and, most importantly, listening to the organization’s myriad stakeholders.

She will be front and center at this week’s Outdoor + Snow Show industry trade show in Denver, CO, where she and her team will spread the organization’s gospel through a “StoryBus” outside the Colorado Convention Center and three “StoryBooths” inside the show, all with the help of corporate partner Keen Inc.

Newman also will introduce the keynote speaker at the breakfast that Camber is hosting Friday, January 31. The event, a mainstay at Outdoor Retailer, is titled “Corporate Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity – A Global Perspective.”

Last week, SGB Executive touched base with Newman about her new role with the organization, which also just named five new board members. In the expansive interview, Newman discussed her goals for Camber Outdoors, the challenges she’s facing, how she approaches DEI, an important vote of confidence she received and more. Here’s what she shared.

What was your knowledge of Camber before the appointment and how has it changed since? I got to know Camber through my initial interactions with the board search committee. They’re all outstanding passionate leaders who care very deeply about building a great industry for all its people. They all lead with a very thoughtful, corporate perspective. The thing that’s changed since I have been here—I’m coming to know more about the trailblazing spirit of the women who founded this organization, and how that flows through the culture of our workplace. Early on I received an encouraging note from Ann Krcik’s mother about how grateful she was that I would be leading her daughter’s legacy of inclusion forward. That meant a lot to me.

What has been your message to Camber stakeholders in your first few months? My message has been, “Get ready.” This takes all of us. Everyone has a role in creating inclusive workplaces and we have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to accomplish this important work. My team and I are focused on programming that delivers, that extends from entry points to the C-suite, that engages, cooperatively, with our partners across the nonprofit space. Our programming will be centered around mostly learning themes, from foundational awareness to recruitment and hiring, to inclusive leadership practice. I’m also very data-driven by nature. Gender diverse corporate leadership outperform on profitability by 21 percent. Ethnically culturally diverse groups outperform by 33 percent. It’s just so compelling. We’re working with Claremont Evaluation Center, which is a world-class, data and evaluation group to help our partners understand the correlation of equitable practices and systems with outstanding business outcomes.

How would you describe your approach to growing DEI in the outdoor industry? I would describe my approach as action-oriented and collaborative. The fact is, nobody can dismantle systemic inequities alone. It takes organizing and requires relationship-building. We aim to broaden the access that people personally experience in the active outdoors industry. We’ve begun with a fresh approach, new conversations, new friends, new relationships and recommitted efforts to do the work. We encourage all of our corporate partners to begin with a focus on inclusion. When a company works toward building a culture where everyone feels they belong, we all have a part in that. We’ll be supporting our partners to evaluate systems and processes with an equity lens to remove biases. When company inclusion and equity are made a priority, diverse talent is attracted and retained. But all of that said, we don’t have all of the answers. We’re working to listen and lock arms and progress.

After last year’s turmoil (which I know preceded your arrival) and transition of leadership, which included Diana serving as interim ED for about seven months, do you think Camber’s goal for achieving DEI in the outdoors has been transformed? Diana did extraordinary work and I’m so proud to have her as a member of my board. I think the organization has clarified its focus on the workplace. It’s part of what, frankly, attracted me to this position and where my depth of experience lies. I think the industry has an incredible opportunity because of its willingness to work together on issues of people and the environment. Let’s move to action. And action means devoting time, effort and resources to be intentional in creating workplaces for all.

You’ve been in this role for about four months now—what’s been the biggest surprise? My biggest surprise has been how many important nonprofits in the equity space are flying under the corporate radar. Certainly, some corporations are very supportive. Other industries are expanding significant time and dollars to build nonprofit capacity because those partnerships are key to engaging the next generation of diverse, talented leaders and consumers. I encourage, my team encourages, the organization encourages companies to support their local organizations focused on equity and inclusion in the outdoors.

What’s been the biggest challenge. What’s been the most fun? Our great challenge—and we’re not alone in this—is helping companies to understand that the work of building equitable and inclusive workplaces is an urgent journey. This industry can move the flywheel on inclusion, equity and diversity, but not if it lives on the back burner and isn’t incorporated into values, budgets and how we measure our success. This is not charity. It’s the future of business.

I’m having the most fun with the people who work in this passion-driven industry. You know, from Camber’s outstanding staff and board to CEOs and nonprofit leaders who are committed to expanding the tent of inclusion and the spaces that they love. That passion is just amazing.

What are/is your broad goals for Camber? In other words, what does the organization look like at the end of your tenure and what will it take for that to be accomplished? In the past four months, the whole Camber Outdoors team has looked to refresh and enhance programming, launch community engagement initiatives, refine partnerships that will advance the core mission of this organization, including with academia to build informative data as an indicator for strategic action in the active outdoors industries. Our goal is not for Camber Outdoors alone to decide how to democratize and equalize the active outdoors industry. Our goal is to develop a broad coalition of leaders who can develop, work toward and activate the best strategies. That spans from corporate partners to nonprofit partners. Camber Outdoors is looking forward to continuing to engage across industry companies and with leaders who are passionate about building these inclusive and equitable workplaces. At the end of my tenure, I’d be thrilled for all points of this industry to have adopted the performance imperative of building equitable and inclusive workplaces and embarked on a journey of measurable change.

What obstacles have you identified for achieving those goals? When I talk to leaders in this industry, and outside of this industry, everyone understands how important this work is. The challenge for most people is the how-to—how do we get there. That’s what Camber, along with our partners, will be working to access both within this industry and beyond this industry, sharing those tools, that educational content. Putting those practices into place takes work and intention, but I think we can do it if we work to do it all together.

Photo courtesy Camber Outdoors