Dismantling systems as a female POC founder in the outdoor industry with Gloria HwangPosted On March 1, 2023
As a first generation Asian-American female founder and CEO in the outdoor industry, I know how it feels to be “the odd one out.” When I first tried to launch Thousand, many industry folks didn’t seem to take me seriously because of the “niche” and “non-traditional” company and brand I was building. When I first raised capital, everyone would turn to my male counterpart in the room for answers, until they realized I was the CEO.
In fact, I had never intended to be a part of the cycling industry. Originally, my professional background is rooted in social impact work, and I cut my teeth at organizations like TOMS and Habitat for Humanity. I started Thousand after I lost a mentor to a bike accident — a crash in which he was not wearing a helmet. I realized that if I could make a helmet that riders would want to wear, more people would be empowered to move safely and sustainably through their cities. It’s why I named the company Thousand — as a constant reminder and reference to our goal to help save a thousand lives by making better, more inclusive gear that makes safety seamless — not inconvenient or an afterthought.
Having witnessed the lack of diversity in the cycling and outdoor industries myself, I decided to make it a priority from the beginning for Thousand to purposefully hire people with diversity in backgrounds and in thought. My goal was to use my company to build a bigger tent — to include those who are traditionally excluded from the bike industry.
As a woman of color who has experienced discrimination in both my personal and professional life, I assumed that approaching DEI would come naturally to me. I went with the first solution I could think of: to commit to diversifying my own organization. I thought I was making progress in DEI simply by hiring people of diverse backgrounds at Thousand — but after the murder of George Floyd, I realized I was very wrong.
Like many brands at that time, Thousand went through a bit of an internal reckoning. We were a diverse team on paper, but when I sent out an anonymous survey to all of our employees to get their opinions on how Thousand was doing to foster a diverse, equity, and inclusive culture, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Per our survey results, while we may have had many diverse voices on the team, we had fallen way behind at building an equitable, and inclusive culture where they could thrive.
I was crushed and left with a harsh realization — addressing Thousand’s DEI shortcomings centered around my need to do self-work, reflection, and to collaborate with experts in the field including Camber Outdoors and other experienced HR professionals and DEI consultants. To create true, meaningful progress, I needed to broaden my understanding; dismantle inequitable systems that Thousand was operating within; and rebuild new, strong, more equitable systems into the organization.
Ultimately, that meant starting to rebuild our hiring process and reconstructing the system that Thousand’s current employees operated within.
For our hiring pool, at least 1 of our 3 final candidates must be a person of a diverse background (for us, this encompasses race, gender, and sexual orientation). Additionally, we have actively worked to remove bias from our hiring process by basing our hiring decision off of each candidate’s case study work, not their interviews, so the best candidate wins.
For our current team, we added training, skill building workshops, and mentoring programs for our junior employees to help give them the skills they need to move up the managerial ladder. Additionally, we also benchmarked every person’s salary to ensure they were in line with the market to ensure our team was operating within an equitable system.
These days, everyone is talking about diversity, and many focus on making more women or BIPOC hires in order to check the boxes. And while they may be well intentioned, that is not a holistic solution.
Systemic change looks like understanding the value of diverse teams, so they are more reflective of the real world, and in a better position to make a positive impact on real people. It means actively trying to attract diverse talent and removing bias from your hiring process, so the best candidates can win. And It’s investing in your current employees of color, of different genders, of different sexual orientations so that they have the same opportunities for upward mobility as everyone else.
From my journey so far, I’ve learned that with DEI, there is no final, achievable end goal — and our work will never be, and is far from perfect. But lasting change doesn’t come quickly or easily. There’s constant pruning, progress is always more complex than it appears. Change is hard fought and rebuilding the system, instead of addressing the symptoms, is mentally and emotionally taxing. But I believe it will make a difference.
Thousand and I are up for the challenge. Will you join us?