All In: ACE Works to Influence Systemic Change for Greater Diversity

The American Council on Exercise is leveraging its power to increase diversity by influencing its certified professionals, customers of its education offerings, its staff and board of directors as well as the research that it commissions. (Photo by ferrantraite/iStock/Getty Images Plus.)

(Editor's Note: This story is part of Club Industry's series on diversity, equity and inclusion. To see more articles in this series, go here.) 

The current state of racial injustices in our society requires a moment of reckoning on matters of equity. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has taken a hard look at its work as an organization and laid a framework to solidify its commitment to using its influence for much-needed systemic change.

Start at Home

To effect real change and credibly influence the fitness industry, ACE knows that we must tend to our own house first. For us, this work begins at the top, with the ACE Board of Directors. Although our current board is diverse, it does not yet fully reflect the diversity of the population that can benefit most from structured physical-activity experiences. We will strive toward this goal as we identify and ultimately select new board members.

We will also be taking a fresh look at our hiring practices to ensure that candidate pools for jobs at ACE reflect the full diversity of the job markets. Like many organizations, we have a thorough employment nondiscrimination policy, although that is no longer enough. We will be purposeful and intentional in our recruitment efforts to identify and hire individual’s representative of the populations we serve.

In addition, ACE is committed to provide training to employees to ensure we support them in their pursuit of becoming fully informed on matters of equity and justice. We want them confident in their understanding of why and how to embrace diversity and inclusion, and we want to equip them with a level of enlightenment that they can put into practice at work and in their personal lives.

A Source of Needed Education in the Industry

ACE provides ongoing education to exercise professionals every year, delivered through a variety of avenues such as live webinars and courses that allow individuals to specialize in what most piques their interest. This places ACE in a position to influence the fitness industry’s front lines, people who directly interface with the fitness consumer (i.e., general public).  The exercise professionals who take ACE courses should be trusted ambassadors for physical activity in the communities where they work. We will empower them by offering courses and other learning opportunities about how to incorporate diversity, cultural competence, equity and inclusion principles in the communities they serve to fully step into their leadership positions.

The Diversity of ACE Certified Professionals

ACE’s ultimate aim, which will take years and no shortage of strategic effort, is to make the body of ACE certified professionals – today more than 90,000 strong – more diverse in race, background and sexual identity so that it is more reflective of and better situated to reach those communities that need it most. ACE Scientific Advisory Panel member Dr. Antonio Williams, a respected public health expert with roots in the fitness industry, explains that he is often the only Black person in the room when he works in fitness. He writes, “We as an industry must open the doors to a more diverse group of professionals. No one has to lose their seat at the table, but I ask you to be kind enough to bring an extra chair and offer it to someone who historically hasn’t gotten an invitation.”

ACE will begin to evolve how, and to whom, we market our exercise certifications. Due to structural barriers, communities of color experience disproportionately high incidences of preventable chronic disease, a risk that can be mitigated with regular physical activity. When those communities see themselves reflected in the world of fitness, they’ll be more drawn to it. It means ACE and our peer certifiers must do what Williams suggests.

We will underscore our commitment to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion by sharing our promise within and outside of the organization, encouraging our fitness industry peers to join us. Writing this article achieves the goal of making our dedication to this important effort known.

Finally, ACE will evolve our scientific research agenda to build evidence on the cost-effectiveness of lifestyle behavior-change intervention in communities of color.

ACE will focus our efforts in the places we have meaningful influence – with our certified professionals, the customers of our education offerings, our staff and board of directors and the science we commission. Leveraging our influence in these ways is something we see as a responsibility that we’re eager to assume.

We also know we must maintain our humility and sense of curiosity, and we encourage others in the fitness industry to do the same. There is much that fitness industry leaders, including us at ACE, don’t yet fully understand about the systems changes that true diversity, equity and inclusion requires. It’s our responsibility to own that limitation of knowledge. As we pursue the evolutions described above, we will learn along the way. There will be trial and error and valuable learning along this journey. Occasionally, we will misfire. But we will remain committed to what is a crucial cause in service to our mission to get all people moving.

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