Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (JEDI): Part 1 (The What and Why of JEDI)

Justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) are all hot topics in the outdoors world, getting more attention than ever, and increasingly being recognized for their importance.

by Taylor Goodrich, Communication and Media Specialist, American Trails


Justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) are all hot topics in the outdoors world, getting more attention than ever, and increasingly being recognized for their importance. American Trails, alongside the Partnership for the National Trail System (PNTS) and the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance (NWSA), are hosting a two part webinar series on JEDI. Presenters Ava Holliday and Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, both founding partners of The Avarna Group gave a thorough and informative presentation for Part 1 (The What and Why of JEDI) of September of this year, and Part 2 (JEDI Strategies For Your Organization) will be on November 5, 2019.

As Randy Welsh of NWSA said in introducing Part 1 of JEDI, “These are more than just buzzwords, but instead they represent concepts, themes, and actions and truly involve representing the interest of all people. Organizations face constant pressure to make sure they're welcoming others to their communities who may have an interest in what they do, even when they're different in ethnicity, culture, lifestyle, religion, or race.”

According to the presenters, the most important place to start with JEDI is by looking at the definition of each word in the acronym, and really appreciating the full scope of what all is included. The definition of diversity they use is, “the differences between us based on which we experience the systematic advantages or barriers to opportunities.” Diversity, in this case, is not just what makes everyone different, but rather what are the experiences around race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and age that create barriers that are important to understand.

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American Trails, alongside the Partnership for the National Trail System (PNTS) and the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance (NWSA), are hosting a two-part webinar series on JEDI. See details at the bottom of this article.

Diversity is More Than Race

Further, it is important you can't achieve diversity as an organization just by hiring one person. Describing a candidate as “diverse” when really we mean something more specific, such as a candidate is another race than other candidates, can dilute the term. There is also a danger of thinking diversity only means race, which can lead to not actually talking about race as its own important topic in the outdoor world. As the presenters say in the webinar, "Focusing only on race does not actually build a diverse environment. If you're thinking about building an inclusive environment at your organization or engaging different types of communities, think about all the other identities people hold, especially marginalized identities.”

The word “inclusion” is defined as "fostering a sense of belonging." Expanding on the definition the presenters go on to say, “We define inclusion as focusing on those in the margins, focusing on folks who are not centered in what we usually see." Marginalized groups are those who culturally, economically, socially, or in some other way do not fit into the average, or mainstream, groups the majority fit into. Examples would be those who are LGBTQ, racial or cultural minorities, and individuals with disabilities. It is important to look at who is getting rewarded within your organization, and where marginalized groups fit into that reward system. Reward in your organization internally most likely looks like "who gets promoted, who gets into leadership, who gets positive evaluations." Are those in the margins reflected in this, and is there a real culture of inclusivity for those in the margins within your organization? (Read more about the marginalized groups here.)

The reason it is important to think of inclusion from the standpoint of "who is in the margins?" is so the focus stays on the appropriate place. The presenters use the example of someone in an organization saying they are uncomfortable sitting next to a gay person. It could be possible to make the mistake of thinking inclusion means you have to accommodate this person, but when you keep the focus on "who is in the margins?" it is clear that you don't have to accommodate every view point to be inclusive, but rather you have to make sure that voices of those in the margins are being heard.

The definitions of "equality and justice" are tied together. The definition of equality is “allocating resources to make sure everyone has access to the resources and opportunities.” The definition of justice is “directly dismantling barriers to resources and opportunities in society so that all individuals in communities can live a full and dignified life.” With these definitions in mind, equity for an outdoors organization could be something like a scholarship that is specifically for marginalized individuals, which would be part of working towards justice as a whole. Thinking big picture, your organization can ask itself, "how we, as an organization, can make sure our industry as a whole, as well our entire organization, is more equitable."

Why is JEDI Important for Your Organization?

Given all of this, why should JEDI be important to an organization? The presenters point out that there is a lot of enthusiasm for this topic in the outdoors field, but when you ask people to be precise about the importance, it is often difficult for people to articulate exactly why it matters. One danger with this is unfocused ideas can lead to scattered work and slow progress. According to the presenters there are two reasons internally this is important to an organization:

  • Organizations that embrace JEDI perform better because they're more innovative and quicker to problem-solve.
  • Staff and volunteers are more likely to stay if there's a diversity of people and an inclusive workplace or volunteer culture.

These ideas build on each other, and together they show an organization that is well put together and innovative. The presenters point out that there are numerous studies that back up these assertions, but it is also self-evident that people who are more excited about a project or a work place give more. People are more excited when diversity and inclusion are reflected, and they feel they are giving towards an innovative and receptive company or organization.

Moving past the “internal” whys of the importance of JEDI, there are five “extrenal” whys of why JEDI is important for an organization to embrace:

  • Everyone should have an opportunity to care and advocate for trails. They should be able to do so in a culturally relevant way, and we should be able to recognize that all the ways of caring for these spaces is valid and should be heard.
  • Everyone should have access to public trails and inclusive experiences within them.
  • It’s important for us to have an equity lens, otherwise we risk furthering inequities.
  • All people should have the opportunity to access the outdoors in order to improve their health and wellness.
  • Engaging in JEDI work allows you all to strengthen community and grassroots partnerships.

Check Your Motivations

Lastly in Part 1 of JEDI training the presenters went over the idea of "reactionary whys." Every organization should ask itself why it is focusing on JEDI. If the reason has to do with outside pressure, such as wanting to stay relevant or securing more funding, those reasons could be classified as reactionary. They are not coming from within the organization, or upholding organizational values, but rather from an outside pressure source. For this reason the presenters suggest doing self-reflection, because when an organization is working from a reactionary standpoint it is hard for that organization to achieve true inclusion and diversity.

Attend the Webinars

To learn more about all of these ideas, as well as to delve further into JEDI strategies for your organization, please sign up for Part 2 of the JEDI webinar series (JEDI Strategies For Your Organization).

Also, download Part 1 of the JEDI webinar series (The What and Why of JEDI).

About the Author

Taylor Goodrich started with American Trails in January 2018 as Communication and Media Specialist. Taylor currently lives in Dallas, Texas, which is also where she grew up and where she attended the University of North Texas receiving her degree in History. While in college she started doing freelance work editing and writing, and also got into graphic design and discovered she loves the creativity and craft of digital arts. After college she traveled quite a bit, and lived in both the Pacific Northwest and in New Mexico, and while in both of those places took full advantage of what the outdoors had to offer. After moving back to Texas she started moving towards doing graphic design, social media, and communications work full time, and she has contracted with several companies from tech startups, to music festivals, to law firms, to grow their social media and digital communications presence. Taylor loves hiking and kayaking especially, and is glad to be working with an organization that fights for further accessibility and stewardship of our nation’s trails. She feels very lucky that in this position she will be able to use her professional skills and passion for something she is also very personally passionate about, and in helping to grow American Trails.

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