By Eric Smith
Diana Seung fully understands that Camber Outdoors is in the midst of a lengthy “healing” process after a rocky few weeks that saw the organization take a huge PR hit and then lose its executive director in the aftermath.
Seung, who most recently worked at Backcountry and has served on the Camber board of directors since January 2018, was appointed interim executive director on February 15, the same day Deanne Buck announced her resignation from the organization she had led for six years.
Buck’s decision to step down had been planned since last summer, Camber said in the press release announcing the transition, but it was expedited because of the backlash the organization received following the launch of the organization’s CEO Outdoor Equity Pledge.
During that announcement on February 1, the last day of Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver, Buck mistakenly called the initiative the “first of its kind.” Camber later apologized, saying it regretted that “the language we used failed to respect and acknowledge the myriad ground-breaking efforts in the outdoor industry, especially Teresa Baker’s CEO Diversity Pledge, which launched in July 2018.”
The damage done, Buck resigned 11 days later, paving the way for Seung to take over on an interim basis and for Camber to clean the slate. And now that she is settling into the role, Seung is keenly focused on her short-term mission of restoring long-term stability to Camber Outdoors and its relationships with the outdoor community.
“We have let a lot of people and organizations down for various reasons and it’s my responsibility to mend relationships where needed and lead the staff through this tough transition,” Seung wrote in a recent email interview with SGB Media about the transition.
As the Camber board searches for a permanent replacement, Seung is focused on overseeing that healing process, which is centered on the organization returning to its chief purpose of creating an “outdoors for everyone.”
Seung, who grew up in a first generation Korean-American household, is an advocate of diversity and inclusion, which she developed through years of working in retail, most recently in a senior role at Backcountry.
SGB Media reached out to Seung the day she was named interim executive director, and after a couple of weeks of travel and training, Seung was able to respond to our questions about the transition and the path forward for Camber.
The biggest takeaway from her comments, which appear in full below, is that Seung and the Camber board say they are committed to learning from the organization’s missteps and working with stakeholders to ensure progress is made. One example, Seung said, is engaging an “external, credible and professional diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) expert to assess everything.”
Here is what Seung shared with SGB Media about her goals as interim executive director and how the organization carries out the healing process as it begins the next leg of this journey:
How’s the transition going and what have been the primary goals for both you and the organization in this process? As you can imagine, it’s been quite busy through the transition but overall I’d say it’s been going well. As interim ED, my focus is to ensure that all internal actions and processes align with our mission and to reaffirm organizational stability. Doing that work effectively requires the input, participation and representation of other underrepresented groups. As a board and staff, we are committed to making the necessary changes to ensure we have the right people and voices at the table.
My goal is to continue to deliver on the promise we made to the industry to help support their DEI efforts, provide programming and events to support our mission, and keep the conversation going to set up the next ED for success.
Take me through the timeline: When was it decided that you would take over on an interim basis? How long is the plan for you to be interim executive director? After Deanne submitted her resignation to the board of directors’ executive committee, I was asked to step into the interim ED role. There is not a pre-set determined amount of time that I will serve in this role. The executive committee and I are committed to finding the right next leader for Camber Outdoors and as a result, have not put a strict timeline on when a new ED needs to be hired. The board’s job (myself included) is to ensure we get the right individual in the seat to lead the organization successfully. I remain committed to Camber and will continue to serve on the board.
How has your time on the Camber board plus your work at Backcountry helped prepare you for this position? I have been a huge supporter and believer in the work that Camber does. I have served as a mentor in the Camber Mentorship Program, served as a judge for Pitchfest and as a director on the board for the past year. My connection to the organization has made this transition pretty seamless as I was already familiar with the staff, programs, and evolution of the mission and organization. As the interim ED, my job is now to ensure all of our CEOs, corporate partners, and members are provided the support and service we have promised to achieve the goals of our mission. Luckily, from my time at Backcountry, I am already familiar and have worked with many of these individuals.
What is the biggest challenge facing you personally as Camber’s interim executive director? The organization and community at large are going through a healing process from everything that’s happened over the past few weeks. We have let a lot of people and organizations down for various reasons and it’s my responsibility to mend relationships where needed and lead the staff through this tough transition. I am trying to pick up the pieces, figure out how we got to where we are and engage with those parties we disappointed and hurt along the way. This takes time, so I really hope the community can be patient with me as I do my outreach and I am hopeful they will be open to working with me while in this role.
And what is the biggest challenge facing the organization in this process? Change is hard. Going through a leadership transition is difficult to begin with, but dealing with that on top of recent events has been even more challenging. We’re going through a period of healing, rebuilding, and re-engaging with the community now that new leadership is in place and we have alignment on what we need to do next. There is a lot of work to be done and no time to waste.
In the press release announcing the transition, Deanne cited the “need for a leader with deep diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) experience”; how will you bring that to Camber on an interim basis? As a woman of color in an industry that is driven by mainly white males, I have personally experienced what it’s like to work in an industry where you don’t see many people that look like you. There is a tremendous opportunity for the industry to be more diverse and inclusive in the workplace. I think the lens in which I see the industry and view the opportunity brings value to the table. With that said, I would be naïve to think that this work can be done alone. There is a world of experts and advocates out there and Camber Outdoors needs to leverage those voices and their expertise. We will engage an external, credible and professional diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) expert to assess everything—including how we do this and our approach moving forward—and advise us on how to do this work more effectively. We expect this engagement will drive an action plan that could take many forms, and that includes the perspectives of communities to whom these efforts matter most.
Does Camber Outdoors need to rebuild its relationships with some stakeholders based on the recent “misrepresentation of the outdoor industry pledge” that sparked a public apology? If so, how do you and the team do that and what milestones do you hope to achieve along the way? Thus far I am happy to say that no CEO has rescinded their support of Camber or the pledge. However, I recognize that any leadership transition will cause alarm for the community as they will question the organization’s next steps and will want reassurance that the commitments made to them will be supported. It is now my job along with the Camber Outdoors staff to engage with our community of CEOs and partners to ensure that trust is reestablished where needed and any concerns are addressed.
As a team, we have been doing outreach to our CEOs to confirm that those that signed our pledge still feel committed to the work and Camber. For those who have questions or concerns, we are having honest and open conversations around our next steps and commitment to the mission. How we respond, learn and grow from our missteps is key. We hope that our actions speak louder than any words we can tell them. The past events have been a huge learning experience for Camber and place greater emphasis on the importance of partnering with others who do this work so that we can share best practices and be thought partners in this effort. At the end of the day, we’re trying to achieve the same goal of equity in the outdoors and that requires humility and vulnerability.
Do the recent events strengthen Camber’s resolve to envision a future of “Everyone’s Outdoors” and can the organization become stronger because of them? When an organization goes through challenging periods like this, they can either choose to quit or rise above things. So many lessons have been learned as a result of the recent events, which will make us stronger and better equipped to do the work needed to improve the outdoor industry workplace culture. One of the key lessons we’ve learned is that we can’t do it alone. DEI work is expansive, and in order to create meaningful change in the industry, we need the efforts of all stakeholders and DEI groups. We’ve also learned that mistakes will be made, and we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable in this space and learn from our missteps. Part of doing DEI work is accepting that you need to be vulnerable because it’s hard work that takes time, thoughtfulness and openness. But the goal is too important to turn away from the conversation and we’re committed to working with others to make meaningful progress for the industry.
Photo courtesy Camber Outdoors