Last year, as the United States grappled with some hard truths about racial justice and accountability following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others, business leaders were ready to acknowledge longstanding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) challenges and opportunities within their organizations. For Cairn, a small business based in Bend, Oregon offering monthly or quarterly subscriptions to new outdoor products, the time had come to fully engage in an assessment of DEI practices and build strategies for the future.
“The events of 2020 made us ask ourselves, ‘What is our role in this?’ Doing nothing felt wrong,” says Cairn Co-founder Rob Little.
Cairn Co-founders Jared Peterson (left) and Rob Little
Since its founding in 2014, Cairn has been inspiring people to get outside and share their experiences with others. Cairn’s mission and values are centered around belonging and community, and the events of the past year strongly affected the team and forced them to pause, reflect, and examine their intentions. Cairn has always wanted to create a diverse and inclusive environment for their customers and their employees, but the company’s leadership team realized it takes more than good intentions to make real change.
Rob and fellow Co-founder Jared Peterson started with a public commitment, signing the Outdoor Industry CEO Diversity Pledge. But for the internal DEI assessment of Cairn, they knew they needed help from an expert. Luckily, there was someone perfect nearby.
In their search for a consultant, Rob and Jared learned about the launch of the DEI Lab at Oregon State University-Cascades, just a few miles from Cairn headquarters. Rob and Jared connected with Erika McCalpine, the DEI Lab’s founding director. After an introductory meeting, Cairn engaged with the DEI Lab to conduct an organizational assessment and provide a series of training sessions for Cairn leadership and employees in 2021.
“We felt so lucky to have met Erika and that she was here in Bend,” says Jared. “She understands the needs of our business and our industry, all in the context of Central Oregon.”
DEI Lab Founding Director Erika McCalpine
The DEI Lab’s mission is to advance social equity and inclusion in Central Oregon, a region where an estimated 12% of the population is made up of people of color. The Lab provides intensive diversity and inclusivity training for businesses and organizations in all industries, advising employers on hiring practices, unconscious bias, and other DEI-related needs.
“So many people shy away from this work because of our current political climate,” says Erika. “DEI has nothing to do with politics; it is about people.”
The DEI Lab draws on a foundation of deeply researched best practices to support organizations in their progress toward significant, diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. Through a company-wide survey and one-on-one interviews, the DEI Lab develops individual and group goals and progress plans for the duration of their engagement. Based on key findings and insights from the organizational assessment, the DEI Lab tailors a series of training sessions to meet the needs and realities of the organization. As Erika noted, it’s important to meet people where they are and to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this training. For Cairn, she developed three trainings:
Training 1: Implicit Bias
Providing tools and strategies for identifying and interrupting the bias employees encounter day-to-day, from the work setting to what’s happening on social media.
Training 2: Fostering an Inclusive Climate
Helping employees understand what a company climate looks like when it’s inclusive and when it’s not, along with what to do to move toward a more inclusive culture.
Training 3: Bravely Confronting Bias
Offering proven approaches for stepping forward when encountering instances of bias.
The DEI Lab also reviewed company HR policies, including recruiting, hiring, and retention practices, along with marketing materials, providing recommendations to refine or implement practices that can foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.
“Rob and Jared expressed their commitment to this work,” reports Erika. “They put their money where their mouth was. They weren't just saying things for the moment. They really did something tangible in trying to move the organization forward with diversity, equity, and inclusion. I think the employees saw that. Because it's such a small organization, they are able to influence outcomes more quickly than leaders at a large organization would be. And I do believe that Cairn has created a culture where people do feel very comfortable and don't mind using their voices to talk about these issues.”