Teresa Baker is a force for change.
The founder of African American Nature & Parks Experience, Baker is an advocate for diversity, working tirelessly to ensure that not only the country’s national parks are more diverse in their staff and visitors, but also the outdoor industry as a whole. Together with Chris Perkins, she also created the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge, focused on improving representation across the industry, from marketing teams to ambassadors and athletes.
Baker offers an important voice to helping shape the future of the outdoor industry, and here at JAM Collective, we are constantly inspired by her work. On April 22, we are partnering with Teresa to bring together women executives from outdoor brands in San Francisco’s Presidio, a special gathering to help us learn from each other and collaborate on how we work together to address the concerns faced by women in the outdoors. "We draw so much inspiration from other women working in the outdoor industry, so events like these help us to gather together and collaborate on how we can move the industry forward,” says Julie Atherton, founder of JAM Collective.
We are also excited about Hike Like a Girl, another initiative of Baker’s, which this year will take place on May 4th and 5th, inspiring first time hikers to get out on the trail.
We caught up with Baker to learn a little bit more about her and her work.
Who is Teresa Baker?
A lover of nature, an aunt, Warriors addict and most importantly, a diversity advocate for the outdoor industry. I think all these roles define me and drive me daily to be better and wiser in how I lend my abilities to each.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My commitment to the work of environmental protection, which includes making sure underrepresented communities have a voice in how we move forward in protecting our outdoor spaces. Every outdoor agency needs to do a better job at who they bring to the table in conversation and conservation efforts.
What is your earliest memory of being outside?
I don’t recall a time when the outdoors wasn’t a part of my life. Growing up, if I wasn’t outside with the neighborhood kids playing, I was at our family ranch in Salinas or the ranch that belonged to an after-school organization my brothers and I were part of.
For a lot of us, nature can be a force for healing. How has nature helped you to heal?
Whenever I find myself stressed or overwhelmed with deadlines and the needs of folks around me, I take to nature, nature is my respite and it has been that way for most of my life. It provides me with a sense of belonging, nothing beats a long walk through the redwoods.
What are some of the things that you have worked on in the last year that you feel the proudest of?
Over the past year I have worked on several projects that I’m proud of. The We R More project I worked on with Sandy Hernandez and Jose Gonzalez. A project that Yosemite invited us to do around matters of diversity and inclusion in the park. At the conclusion of this project, the President of the Yosemite Conservancy, Frank Dean agreed to cover the cost to have park brochures printed in Spanish. This will be a huge benefit for Spanish speaking visitors to Yosemite.
I also created the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge, where we ask outdoor brands to commitment to the work of diversity and inclusion within their company. I’ve felt for a while that a huge disconnect with the work around DEI (diversity, equity and Inclusion), was the absence of POC (people of color) in marketing campaigns over social media platforms. This is one of the elements the pledge addresses. Making meaningful connections with brands such as Marmot, has given me a great deal of satisfaction, knowing as a collective, we are making a difference.
The Hike Like a Girl campaign, which encourages women and girls to get outdoor on hiking trails, over a specific weekend in May. This past year I partnered up with The American Hiking Society, Vasque and Patagonia on the campaign and we won the “Together We Are A Force Award” through the Outdoor Retailer Show.
Over the course of your time in the outdoor industry, what are some of the changes you have seen take place? Where do you see opportunities for change moving forward?
When I first started to take notice of issues around lack of diversity and inclusion in the outdoors, I was really shocked at just how absence POC were, now it’s not so shocking, now I better understand why. And I am determined to make a difference in how the outdoor industry is represented. I can honestly say that over the past 3 years, I’ve seen changes in our national park sites. I’m seeing better representation in the make up of their staff, I’m seeing more programs in place to encourage visitation by underrepresented groups and I think the overall approach parks are taking is that they need to do more in order to stay relevant for future generations.
I think the outdoor industry as a whole needs to understand that in order to sustain itself, it needs to find ways to connect with communities that are not connecting with them. The demographics in this country are shifting, people of color are becoming the dominant group, thus we are becoming the new hikers, skiers, climbers, cyclist, etc and if the outdoor industry does not adapt at a faster rate, this industry will take a hit that will be impossible to rebound from. This is where I see opportunities for collaborations and partnership. We must find ways to work together on matters such as environmental protection. We need all hands-on deck when it comes to protecting these outdoor spaces and right now, communities of color are being left out of the conversations and the work on environmental protection. We need to change this immediately.
Can you share a little bit more about the inspiration behind the Presidio gathering on April 22?
After meeting with Julie [Atherton] and talking over some of the issues the outdoor industry faces, such as lack of racial diversity, we thought this was a larger conversation that should be had with other women in the industry. We talked about the Women's Outdoor Summit for Empowerment I pulled together a couple of years back at the Presidio and how remarkable it was to have over 100 women from across the country attend and talk over some of the concerns women in the outdoors face. I mentioned how I would like to do something similar, but on a smaller scale, that's when we came up with the idea to bring women execs from outdoor brands together and have a conversation while walking the grounds of the Presidio.
It will simply give us the opportunity to gather and talk about some of the issues the industry faces and come up with possible solutions we can take back to our perspective companies and apply them within and if they work with one company, perhaps as a collective voice, find a way to apply them across the industry as a whole. We'll see how adventurous our ideas are, with the ultimate goal being to unify the entire outdoor industry.