We sometimes forget that equine assisted services are part of the wider picture of outdoor education and activity. Mike Wardle, Director of Shadwell Basin Outdoor Centre, recently undertook a small-scale exploratory case study investigating the experiences of people of colour in outdoor leadership which can be found in the latest edition of Horizons magazine.
The article gives lots of food for thought for equine assisted organisations as well as those providing nature-based therapies or outdoor learning experiences. In the field of outdoor education, documentation and evidence show that there is a lack of representation of people of colour, which extends right up to the leadership level. Three primary themes were identified: lack of diversity, 'self-limiting actions' and access to the environment. Findings prompted exploration of 3 further themes: good role models, access to workplace and employment and awareness. Focus group members were quoted as saying:
"Lack of diversity is first (in importance) as everything else stems from this."
"Even when you are on programmes for diversity, it still feels like it is up to you because the facilitators are still all white."
"Some centres are in urban areas next to diverse populations, and they are not reaching them."
"I feel societal attitudes are what dictate access to the environment and other areas."
"Knowing people who look like you are doing these things, leading, then your perceptions change as you see the outdoors as adventurous and not dangerous."
"I do think that most people of colour cannot afford to do outdoor activities".
"If centres are not reaching out this can be a problem of access."
"To have a good role model is your way in, otherwise you will not be interested."
"I think access to workplace and employment is important, as if there are opportunities, then good role models are not so important."
"Most people do not have platforms to assist them to become leaders".
Key conclusions of the study included the need to pay more attention to intersectionality in outdoor settings and study its influence further, that positive role-models and good self-chosen mentors are valuable. It was also identified that there is a need for equal opportunities and targeted positive action measures through access to networks and employment and there is a need for change to be driven from grassroots level upwards.
And, "Finally, for those wanting to make a difference or those in positions of responsibility, they need to ask some specific questions: whose voice is (and is not) being heard, how that voice is being heard and ultimately why is it being heard?"
Some very good questions to ask ourselves when we think about equality, diversity and leadership in the equine assisted industry.