Hear Our Voices: Stop Contemplating And Start Your Diversity Efforts

(Photo by fstop123/Getty Images Plus.) Whether or not you have already created a welcoming culture at your fitness facility for all people, every business can do more to be inclusive. But if you are still contemplating the benefits of diversity to your business, these fitness professionals share why you need to stop contemplating and start acting.

This series on diversity, equity and inclusion is brought to you in collaboration with BLAQUE. For more on this series, read our introduction story here

You may be contemplating whether spending the time on diversifying your workforce is worth the effort of looking in new places for employees, changing your culture to be more welcoming to all and creating mentorship programs to help people of color move into management roles in your business. You may feel that it's too late and you will be ridiculed for just now starting these efforts. But few things are ever too late when doing nothing is even worse for the success of your business and its image in your community, not to mention that a more diverse workforce can help you attract a more diverse membership base—something that is of growing importance as this country's racial makeup changes. 

This week, Black fitness professionals share advice for those considering why they should diversify. 

Q: Many fitness facility owners may contemplate the benefits of having a more diverse workforce and membership base. What do you say to them? 

Ianthe Mellors, Head of Fitness and Dance, FitXR

A: The world is a diverse place. If your workforce and membership base do not reflect this, then you have failed as a company. Did you set out to only appeal to one type of person? Has this been a wake-up call? Own it, acknowledge it and grow. Diversify in both areas, but make sure you provide support, fully understand that your company culture needs to change and change it and celebrate everyone’s differences. Don’t do it to tick a box. Don’t do it for optics. Don’t do it to tokenize. Don’t do it to exploit people and their voices. Do it and be part of the solution.

David Rachal III, Founder and CEO, HEALTHEFIT

A: Most financial advisors would advocate a diverse portfolio of stock options for the best return on investment. Take that same mindset and apply it to your workforce.

Dr. Antonio Williams, Associate Professor and Associate Department Chair, Indiana University School of Public Health

A: I encourage them to go for it. Our industry has the ability change lives. Not only for those who consume our services but also for those who deliver our services. With proper access, knowledge and acceptance, the industry can make a large impact on future generations of underserved minorities. I urge owners to go about this in a strategic manner. It is of utmost importance that everyone sees themselves in our industry’s family portrait.

Carlos Davila, Adjunct Professor at LIU Brooklyn, John Jay College and Baruch; Diversity Officer and Group Exercise Instructor at the Fhitting Room; and Coach at 5th Ave Gym

A: About damn time. This should not even be a conversation. There are so many aspects of the culture of people of color in many of these spaces—the music used, the oversexualization of Black and brown bodies when given the chance to be a part of marketing, the way that instructors communicate, etc.—that having that same level of diversity in upper management should be a non-negotiable. The fitness industry is not the booming space it was (it is to be determined what it looks like post-COVID) without the inclusion of components of Black and other cultures.

Kurt Gillon, General Manager, LifeStart

A: Hire qualified individuals to work in your club/studio/gym regardless of race or gender, period. There is a human element to hiring as well, but the onus is also on the potential hire on how they apply for jobs, do their research, see if the position they are applying for is a good fit. As a former small fitness boutique owner, it was and still is a challenge for some to get good talent. It is a collaborative effort in this area. Hiring someone because of their race over qualifications is a disservice to the member paying for services of any kind.

If you as a business owner have to contemplate the benefits of a diverse, qualified workforce, then you are likely not successful or will never meet your full level of success. The product you present is one of the best representations you can have as members will respect any staff they see in place.

There will be members who refuse to frequent an establishment because of people of color. I have been a victim of members not wanting to see a non-white face, not wanting to speak to me and going out of their way to make me feel uncomfortable. As a business owner, you should have a mission, vision and culture statement regardless.

It will be difficult to adopt diversity in fitness. Some business owners will not hire, not diversify, not promote or be a part of a diverse experience. To them, I would hope they are still successful, regardless of their hiring practices. Does that make it right? No, but who is going to be the moral police in this case? Use your moral compass in hiring, promoting from within good team members and rewarding those who exemplify the standards you have set as a business establishment.

(Photo by ByM/Getty Images Plus.)

Jessica, Personal Trainer, Equinox (last name withheld upon request)

A: Make sure you are not just trying to fill a quota. Yes, it’s important to have a diverse workforce, but are you addressing the real issue? Why did you not have a diverse workforce to begin with? Examine those issues. Otherwise, just hiring BIPOC workers will be a temporary Band-Aid. 

Understand that you are not hiring people of color to do them a favor. What you need to do is strive to also give opportunities to people of color instead of just sticking with the status quo because it’s easy and makes you comfortable. Black people and other people of color have not been left behind because they are less deserving or less capable. They simply were shut out of the opportunities that white people have had for centuries. It is not possible for us to play catchup in a system that was designed to support white people at our expense. That system is still in place. Simply hiring people of color will not change the system. White people need to dismantle the system they benefit from if they are sincere about making changes.

In terms of attracting a more diverse clientele, one of the things gyms need to pay attention to is the beauty and grooming products they offer in their locker rooms. At my gym, the products available are made for white people. Someone with Afro-textured hair is not going to feel welcome when the locker room is filled with products designed for white skin and hair.

Jana Stewart, Health And Lifestyle Accountability Coach And Lifestyle Consultant

A: It's silly and not good for business. Unless they are located somewhere that it's not safe for people of color to go to, they need to diversify.

Mike Z. Robinson, Owner, MZR Fitness

A: I would say to stop contemplating it and just make it happen by being intentional with your job search and with your marketing. It’s not rocket science. Companies just need to make it happen and not just rely on word of mouth referrals from their current employees or customers who are often going to refer people who are just like them.

Venus Davis, Founder, The Strong Academy

A: There is no benefit in maintaining a monolithic cookie-cutter workforce or membership base. Any apprehension about welcoming more people of color, more women, more individuals with various backgrounds is rooted in bias or oppressive ideology. Owners literally cannot afford to be complicit in maintaining racial structures that benefit oppressive power structures. Division is and has been this nation’s problem since 1619. If this continues to be the toxic mindset of any business owner, then they are choosing to be a part of the problem.

Cheryl McCarver, Executive Director, Cooper Street YMCA

A: Go for it!  Learn from it! Grow with us and celebrate us!

Ariana Stowe, Personal Trainer and 305 Fitness Instructor

A: In my business, I like to follow a simple model called “let your market tell you what they want.” Giving your clients exactly what they want will keep them coming back. In my opinion, it would be okay to ask if a client has a preference of race with who they’d want to work with one on one in a personal training setting or what kind of classes they like to do. Then offer a variety of class options that match the clientele and even some that don’t. The longer we continue to be afraid to break barriers, the more the barriers will continue to grow and divide us all. It might be bumpy at first, but I personally believe that the fitness industry has an opportunity to set the new standard for other industries to follow.

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