MEC CEO addresses lack of diversity, inclusion in advertising

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is addressing the lack of diversity in its advertisements, promising to better represent the Canadian outdoor community. Credit: MEC

One of Canada’s major outdoor gear retailers is addressing the lack of diversity in its advertisements, promising to better represent people of various ethnicities who are active in the outdoor community going forward.

The CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) published a letter on the store’s blog Monday entitled “Do white people dominate the outdoors?”

In it, David Labistour said MEC branding has not represented the diversity of its five-million members and 2,500 employees.

“If you consider every advertisement you’ve ever seen for skiing, hiking, climbing and camping, you might think that’s the case,” Labistour said. “It isn’t true at all and it’s part of a bigger problem.”

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In a statement issued to Global News, MEC said it did not consciously cast all white models but acknowledged that unconscious bias may have played a part.

“Diversity and inclusiveness go hand in hand,” said Nahal Yousefian with MEC’s People Experience team. “Yet to be truly inclusive, it involves addressing unconscious biases, creating opportunities for advancement and celebrating the contributions and perspectives each individual is uniquely able to provide.”

Labistour’s letter echoed that acknowledgement.

“Historically, the models we’ve used in our catalogues and campaigns and on have been predominantly white,” Labistour’s letter said. “And this imagery has perpetuated the vastly incorrect notion that people of colour in Canada don’t ski, hike, climb or camp. This letter is about recognizing the role we’ve played in underrepresenting people of colour in the outdoors, and committing to change. It’s not OK.”

Recent member and staff feedback about diversity prompted MEC to address ad homogeneity, according to the retailer. Credit: MEC

Recent member and staff feedback about diversity prompted MEC to address ad homogeneity, according to the retailer.

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A 2017 Environics study commissioned by MEC found that outdoor activity levels of people of colour are just as high as, if not higher, than those of white people.

READ MORE: MEC drops U.S. brands linked to gunmaker in wake of Florida school shooting

Environics’ research found:

  • outdoor activity participation among people of colour is 8 per cent higher than white people.
  • diverse Canadian populations spend an average of three more hours per week partaking in outdoor activities compared to white people.
  • people of colour are 13 per cent more likely than white people to participate in climbing and 7 per cent more likely in snow sports.
  • three in 10 people of colour jog compared to two in 10 white people.
  • other activities showed parity or near parity in participation.


WATCH: In March 2018, MEC member Judith Kasiama called the company out for underrepresenting people of colour. 


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MEC signed the Outdoor Industry CEO Diversity Pledge in September. It outlines principles like hiring diverse people and reflecting a wide array of athletes in its branding.

READ MORE: MEC and Vancouver Aquarium researchers team up to study apparel-linked microplastic pollution

The retailer said it still has work to do with its marketing imagery in order to represent different body types, ages, abilities and genders because advertising can skew perceptions.

“By updating our approach to imagery to be more inclusive, we hope that more people will see themselves as part of the co-op and feel welcome at MEC,” the statement to Global News said.

People can provide feedback about MEC’s diversity strategy on the co-op’s website.

“This initiative isn’t about patting ourselves on the back,” Labistour wrote. “It’s also not about me, another straight white male with a voice in the outdoor industry. This is a conscious decision to change, and to challenge our industry partners to do the same. We know we’ve been part of the problem, and we’re committed to learning from our mistakes and changing the way we represent the outdoor community.”

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