Inclusion and Diversity

Since its founding over 20 years ago, GirlVentures has sought to empower girls and young women to develop and express their strengths through outdoor education.We are now at an exciting point of evolution as we look towards the future, recognizing the need to advance inclusion, equity, and representation in both our organizational culture and our programs. While we celebrate GirlVentures’ history of innovation and impact, we are focused on improving the inclusivity of our programs and providing access to the outdoors for all girls.

As an organization, we are dedicated to practicing radical inclusion, making our programs as widely accessible as possible, and adopting organizational practices that actively promote inclusion, cultural humility, and more equitable distribution of resources. In order to practice authentic inclusion, we first acknowledge the historical exclusion of marginalized groups, particularly women, people of color, indigenous people, and gender expansive individuals in the outdoors, the environmental industry, and the social sector in general. At GirlVentures, we are working to critically examine mainstream assumptions about diversity, to de-center white cis hetero narratives in our programs and operations, and to re-center power and representation around a framework of equity and inclusion.

Since their inception, outdoor education and environmental conservation have been both exclusive and exclusionary. Seventy-four percent of outdoor recreation participants are white, 46% make over $75,000/year, and 59% of youth outdoor recreation participants are boys (The Outdoor Foundation Outdoor Participation Report, 2016).  The leadership of the outdoor and environmental industries reflects similar systematic exclusions: more than 70% of the presidents and chairs of the board of conservation organizations are male, and people of color occupy only 12% of staff positions in environmental organizations (“The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations & Government Agencies,” 2014).

In engaging with issues of access to the outdoors, we often consider economic obstacles, including the prohibitive costs of training, gear, and transportation to wilderness areas. It’s essential to situate these challenges as part of a broader conversation around systemic barriers that have allowed the wilderness to persist as a bastion of white male privilege.  Representation in the outdoors is also a critical component of actualizing inclusion. Girls from underserved communities, and particularly girls of color, often do not see themselves reflected when they read stories about outdoor adventure, scroll through wilderness photos on social media, or browse outdoor retailer catalogues. In actualizing equity, we commit to improving inclusion in our organizational structure, our programs, and our media and communications.

In applying an inclusion framework to our girls-only programs, we also acknowledge the need to move beyond the gender binary, and to look at gender from an intersectional lens.  We seek to engage more effectively with the spectrum of gender expansive youth (cis girls, trans girls, non-binary youth, gender non-conforming youth, gender queer youth, and other girl-identified young people). Applicants not assigned to the female sex at birth are welcome to apply for and participate in our programs. Engaging in complex conversations around programs targeting girls, and expanding the meaning of “girls only,” encourages us to serve youth who need the most support, with more effective initiatives.

The underlying causes of lack of access to the outdoors are complicated, and at GirlVentures we seek to respond to that complexity by ensuring that inclusion is not only one of our organizational values, but is also reflected in our program design and delivery. Specific aspects of our evolving focus on inclusion and diversity include:

Inclusion in Organizational Culture

  • Critically examining power and privilege in hiring, staff management, curriculum, and communications policies and practice.

  • Instituting staff reviews that incorporate lateral feedback, and an annual 360 degree review of the Executive Director.

  • Expanding outreach networks to recruit and retain staff and instructors of color, and developing strategies to enhance the diversity of our Board of Directors.

  • Creating opportunities for staff and supporters to educate themselves, make space for others to lead, and to share resources that advance equity and inclusion.

  • Working with organizational development and inclusion experts to ensure these efforts are successful and sustainable, and seeking capacity building from other organizations serving diverse youth, including youth of color and gender expansive youth.

Inclusion in Programming

  • Enhancing the focus on intersectionality, inclusion, and social justice in all course and program curriculum.

  • Providing safe spaces for dialogue on issues relating to gender, ethnicity, and other dimensions of identity, and encouraging participants to challenge themselves, build confidence, and share their perspective.

  • Expanding opportunities for participants to apply what they’ve learned on course through social and environmental justice advocacy and community service.

  • Providing training for course instructors on inclusion, identity, and social justice, and offering scholarships for instructors to obtain industry certifications, including Wilderness First Responder.

  • Developing affinity group trips for girls of color and other historically excluded groups, led by instructors who reflect those communities.

  • Reducing barriers to participation by developing multilingual outreach materials, simplifying our scholarship application process, and conducting culturally relevant, bilingual family outreach and course starts and graduations.

  • Amplifying the perspectives of diverse voices and organizations that serve affinity groups on our social media.

  • Publicly advocating on issues of diversity and inclusion in alliance with other organizations working to advance social and environmental justice.