Diversity, equity, and inclusion. Over the past six months, these ideals have become major buzzwords across our country. They’ve been endlessly discussed and debated in our communities as part of a larger national conversation. Companies representing all industries, from fast-casual restaurants to apparel brands, have made a conscious effort to tell consumers where they stand on the issue. They’ve voiced their support via social media, launched major advertising campaigns, and made public pledges all around the promise to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a top priority within their organizations.
But what do these three words really mean? And how can we take actionable steps to turn our well-meaning pledges and promises into a better, more diverse, equitable, and inclusive reality?
As the fitness industry moves forward, ensuring that we lead the way in championing diversity, equity, and inclusion has become, and will continue to be, essential to not only our growth but our survival.
In November, I had the honor of participating in Club Industry’s Future of Fitness global virtual event as the moderator of a panel session titled “The Business Case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” During the session, industry veterans Julian Barnes (co-founder of Boutique Fitness Solutions) and Rodney J. Morris (CEO and founder of Workplace Culture Workout) shared from their combined 60 years of experience advocating for diversity in the fitness industry.
Here, I’ll recap some of the most important learnings from the session, including why the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has never been stronger, how adopting a strong DEI plan can increase your bottom line, and which changes—big and small—fitness businesses should implement today.
History of Diversity in Fitness
When discussing diversity in the fitness industry, historical context plays an important role. Rodney J. Morris points out that a legacy of discrimination in fitness spaces has had a lasting effect on the industry today. For example, social clubs and country clubs, the forefathers of modern-day fitness clubs, were not originally created with people of color in mind. In fact, they were discriminatory and intentionally exclusive of those people groups. As a result, many people of color do not have the same familial background with fitness that their white counterparts do. This has resulted in all people of color, and especially Black and Latinx people, being majorly underrepresented in the health and fitness industry.
The Business Case for Diversity
With the pandemic still rearing its ugly head in America, many health and fitness businesses are deep in survival mode. Julian Barnes says while it’s natural to deprioritize DEI during a time of duress, fitness businesses should actually be doing the opposite. Focusing on DEI, he says, may be the solution that not only helps fitness businesses survive the pandemic, but one that will build a foundation they can thrive upon post pandemic.
The business case for diversity in fitness is two-fold. The biggest benefit fitness businesses stand to gain by investing in diversity is the capturing of a largely untapped market—people of color. The flipside of that coin is that much of the traditional fitness audience is beginning to more deeply evaluate companies based on their values before patronizing them.
This untapped market centers around three major statistics: 1) Only 20% of Americans are members of health clubs, 2) 67% of Americans know they should exercise but don’t do it regularly because they haven’t found a form they like, and 3) roughly 40% of Americans are people of color.
So, what’s the business case for diversity? People of color make up a massive pool of potential clients who could grow your fitness business membership exponentially. Barnes says instead of chasing the 17% of Americans who love fitness that the industry typically targets, fitness businesses should be focusing on the 67% who don’t. Additionally, now that the many fitness businesses have adopted virtual offerings, client bases aren’t just limited to immediate geography—they can be national and even global, making the untapped market more reachable than ever.
The case for diversity is also about member retention and continuing to attract traditional fitness audiences. For the past decade, researchers and marketers have noted a shift in consumers, and young ones in particular, to place significant importance in evaluating the morals and values of companies they patron. Rodney J. Morris says millennials in particular want to support companies that exhibit the morals they find most important. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is on the minds and hearts of many people fitness businesses are looking to attract today, which means it should be on yours, too.
Turning Ideas into Action
When it comes to making your business more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, your approach should be three-fold. DEI has to infiltrate every aspect of your business from your clients to your staff members to your suppliers and partners.
- Diversify Your Suppliers and Vendors
Making your business more diverse, equitable, and inclusive goes beyond just the people who enter your facility. It is also informed by who your business benefits and supports. Many companies have implemented at 15% program, pledging to spend 15% of their budget for products and services with businesses owned by people of color. Whether you need a new launderer, graphic designer, web developer, or cleaning service, make an effort to seek out businesses owned by people of color to provide to products and services you need.
- Diversify Your Staff
Making your business more equitable and inclusive has a lot to do with diversifying your staff at all levels. It means more than hiring more people of color to entry level positions like group exercise instructors and front desk staff. It also means nurturing, developing, and promoting people of color to leadership positions within your organizations. Your health and fitness business will be stronger and more equipped to serve a diverse membership group with diverse perspectives leading the way.
- Diversify Your Members
As mentioned, diversifying your target member base can have an incredible impact on the growth of your business. Attracting BIPOC members, however, requires innovation and reinvention. If you want to cultivate a more diverse client base, you’ll need to reconsider how your business is structured, as well as how you market and who you market to. Do a quick audit of your website. If all the individuals you feature and advertise with are white, you may be alienating BIPOC who quite literally can’t see themselves as members of your health fitness facility.
When it comes to diversifying your fitness business, all three major players—suppliers, staff, and members—inform each other. To truly transform your fitness business into an inclusive, welcoming place for all, you have to tend to all three groups. More BIPOC members means more BIPOC staff and vice versa. Similarly, potential BIPOC members and employees will be encouraged to join your organization once they know you support vendors owned by BIPOC.
Though the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the fitness industry is certainly strong, the altruistic and moral reasons behind championing DEI are more important to your members. If your business is inauthentic, the public will notice and act accordingly.
Be transparent with your members and staff and communicate with them honestly. Own up to your shortcomings, tell them what you’re doing to reconcile them, and explain why you believe DEI is important to not only the fitness community you’ve built, but to our entire world.
Ultimately, championing diversity, equity, and inclusion in your business is dependent upon the investment you put in, whether through time, effort, or finances. It may mean hiring a consulting firm to evaluate your DEI practices, or paying more to work with a smaller BIPOC-owned supplier instead of a large corporation. It may mean spending extra time to review marketing collateral before sending it out, or talking with BIPOC members to see how your facility can be more welcoming to them.
Creating an inclusive, equitable, and diverse fitness environment is a hard task, and it certainly won’t be complete overnight. However, the investments you make now—both big and small—will pay off in huge dividends and influence the success of your fitness business in the long run.