Voice of Leadership: Sidestepping Stereotypes and Propelling Outdoor Diversity

Voice of Leadership: Sidestepping Stereotypes and Propelling Outdoor Diversity

Do we want to increase outdoor diversity, or are we just paying lip service to the matter? This is a question I ask myself. Most people are familiar with the ongoing efforts within the hunting and outdoor industries to increase the racial diversity among America's hunters and outdoors people. Many have noticed how disproportionately “white” hunting and the outdoors have become. This unequal participation is a cause for concern, and many have taken steps to get more minorities actively engaged in the outdoors. While these steps involve a lot of talking, planning and the forming of organizations to work toward diversity, how successful are we?

The problem is that many are doing a lot of talking without producing results. Over the past 11 years that I have been working to bring racial diversity to hunting and the outdoors, I have heard countless speeches about the importance of increasing outdoor diversity. I have also heard just about every excuse imaginable as to why companies cannot produce results. “Oh, they [minorities] just aren't interested in the outdoors” and “Well, they [minorities] can’t afford the equipment needed to participate” are two excuses that I commonly hear. Minorities are interested and can afford the necessary gear. I believe such excuses allow companies and agencies to stay within their comfort zones without producing results.

Jim Curcuruto, executive director of the Outdoor Stewards of Conservation Foundation, said, “It is hard to believe we are talking about almost the same issues with diversity recruitment today as we were more than a decade ago.”

Some progress has been made but more needs to be done, including featuring more diverse images on outdoor-related websites and in marketing efforts, adding diverse staff members, partnering with organizations focused on diversity recruitment such as N.onT.typical Outdoorsman, and adding people of color to executive teams or boards of governors. With the rise in firearms ownership since the pandemic, there has never been a better time to grow hunting and shooting sports, but it will require more action.

When I first started my mission to introduce more minorities to hunting and the outdoors in 2010, statistics from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) showed that only 3 percent of African Americans hunted. This statistic, combined with much of the conversation surrounding the topic of diversity, led me to believe the issue was with the minority community. Some 11 years later, I think that part of the problem lies within the hunting and outdoor industries themselves as many people simply are not working to create more diversity. Some still hold onto outdated beliefs and paradigms that hunting should look a certain way or that diversifying hunting would mean losing part of their identity.

As the old saying goes, “When we know better, we do better.” I have attempted to help outdoor agencies and companies reach the minority market and deliver the results they say they want, reaching those who don’t necessarily fit the profile of a traditional hunter. Agencies that have contracted my help, such as the USFWS, have experienced results by taking more action. In getting started, I recommend that organizations and companies take these three actions to produce immediate results.

1) Make a sincere and deliberate commitment to making your organization diverse and/or to ensuring that people from diverse audiences are using your products.

Most mission statements and company websites mention the cliché “diversity, equity and inclusion” statements, but how many are walking the walk? I have witnessed organizations saying that they welcome diversity, but there must be a sincere effort. The commitment should flow from the highest levels of leadership down to the lowest-level employee while keeping an eye out for those who are not getting with the program.

2) Find ways to reach the end users of your product or audience and connect with them.

It takes time, money and strategy to make efforts work. In relying on technology, algorithms and the Internet, some companies have disengaged from developing personal relationships with the customer or rely on technology to appeal to their core customer base. Most companies and organizations would love to see an increase in membership or quarterly sales, but when it comes to the hunting and outdoor industries, they only appeal to a small percentage of the American population. This is not by accident as it is done systematically. For instance, before 2020, if you looked at any outdoor catalog or magazine or visited a major outdoor retailer such as Bass Pro, Cabela's, etc., you'd be hard-pressed to find a person of color. It is not because people of color do not hunt; we are rarely, if ever, shown. This contributes to a perception nationally that minorities do not hunt, which has never been true.

3) Actively support minorities, which have proven themselves as outdoor influencers, leaders and result producers.

Let me share my own experience. After 10 years of hearing our industry talk about how it struggles to find ways to reach the minority community, or to get more minorities to participate in hunting and the outdoors, I thought I had created the perfect solution—a magic bullet—that would not only motivate more minorities to hunt but also would bridge what we call the “diversity gap.” I would launch my television show and serve as a personal example. Through my work at the grassroots level to inspire and educate minorities to hunt, I felt that I had the solution companies and organizations would be interested in supporting. I was in for a surprise. All 50 companies I approached turned me down when I asked about sponsorship or partnering. What surprised me most was that some of the same companies talked about the need for more diversity and how they were struggling to reach minorities. It didn't make sense that here I was, a black hunter, influencer and mentor in the same community that they were trying to reach—someone who had been taking groups of minorities on their first hunt for years and was about to launch a national show to reach even more minorities—and nobody would touch me. This was when I realized that most organizations were all talk, at least in my experience.

And I learned it wasn't just me. As far back as 20 years ago, several other minority outdoorsmen started outdoor television shows also with no support from the hunting and outdoor industries. Most were told there wasn't a market for what we were trying to do. Some were told that the company could not sponsor them because they wanted to teach black kids how to hunt, shoot a gun. Turn on any outdoor show through the years and what did you see? White kids hunting and shooting and having a jolly old time.

From a minority perspective, having heard the endless talk about how companies support diversity and want to reach the minority market, it is ridiculous that companies are failing to support minority producers, hosts and influencers. We can no longer talk about diversity and give elaborate speeches about it. We must produce results. I have heard companies and organizations talk about their inability to get minorities into the outdoors for a decade. If we are going to make a difference in creating more racial diversity among those that participate in the outdoors, we need to do less talking and take more action.

About the Author
Eric Morris is the producer and host of N.onT.ypical Outdoorsman TV. When he’s not hunting, fishing or working on his show, he is consulting and working with wildlife conservation agencies to help them increase minority participation in hunting and the outdoors. Morris lives outside Atlanta with Razor, his Chesapeake Bay retriever, and describes himself as being America’s biggest advocate of hunting and outdoor diversity. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Voice of Leadership Panel
Facilitated by The Hunting Wire and the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum, the Voice of Leadership Panel is an appointed group of outdoor industry leaders who have volunteered to contribute their voices on key hunting and outdoor recreation issues to inform, inspire and educate participants within our community. Panelists for 2021-2022 include:

  • Cyrus Baird: Senior Director of Government Affairs, Delta Waterfowl
  • Karen Butler: Founder/President, SLG2, INC DBA: Shoot Like A Girl
  • Haley Fitzgerald: Conservation leader and hunting enthusiast
  • Eric Morris: Producer and Host, N.onT.ypical Outdoorsman TV
  • Ken Perrotte: President of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoors Writers
  • Brenda Weatherby: Director of People and Culture, Weatherby, Inc.