Supporting & Expanding Fitness Industry DEI

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is important for any industry. IHRSA members explain DEI initiatives that work for them and how other health clubs can build programs to serve underrepresented groups.

Of the 66.5 million health club members in the U.S., one third of members belong to a racial minority group and half are females, according to the 2022 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report. Although we have a long way to go in terms of creating a beautifully diverse, equitable, and inclusive health and fitness industry, there are encouraging movements happening.

“The fitness industry is about changing the lives of people—all people,” says Michaela Brown, general manager of VIDA Fitness & Aura Spa - Logan Circle and chairwoman of the VIDA Diversity & Inclusion Board. “Being homogenous limits us in this plight, while being diverse and inclusive empowers us.”

In 2023, health clubs, gyms, and studios should make it a priority to create, support, or expand diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and encourage underserved communities to join. Sure, it may help you reach your revenue or sales goals, but it’s so much deeper than that. Discrimination is a human rights issue that spans the length of time itself.

It takes all of us to change the industry. “DEI in the fitness industry means making a commitment to fitness programming and business operations that serves more than just the people we know,” says Michaela.

IHRSA members have taken the lead by sharing steps that other clubs and industry professionals can take to improve DEI at their facility—within their employee culture and amongst members and consumers. They also highlight successful programs and partnerships they’ve formed to advance DEI.

Key Steps to Improve DEI at Your Facility

Step one of implementing DEI is truly understanding its meaning. Michaela hit the nail on the head in part one of her series, 7 Key Steps to Start Implementing DEI in Your Club. Once you can fully comprehend DEI, it’s time to start enacting a plan. Part of the process is aligning leadership with the mission and vision.

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“DEI must be woven into the fabric of the organization; it cannot be a standalone or siloed initiative. Senior leadership's engagement is critical to its success—and should set the tone through support, words, and actions,” urges Erin Rucker Oto, chief people officer of The Bay Club Company. “Associates take cues from their leaders; therefore, senior leadership engagement must be at the forefront—authentic and transparent throughout.”

A main function of diversifying the fitness industry is reevaluating what leadership looks like and building minority representation to change the visual perception of the industry, which has historically been male and white. Companies can play a role in growing diversity by changing their recruitment approach. “Fitness is important to everyone’s health and well-being,” says Ron Lamb, CEO of Club Automation, a division of Daxko. “We need to reach out to communities that are underserved and develop programs to attract and develop female and minority leaders.”

In 2018, Club Automation did exactly that—it changed its methods and processes to attract more minorities and females to join its team. Recruiting at HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and advertising on websites that are frequented by diverse populations has improved the company’s employee diversity by more than 280%.

Although it’s important to have a staff that reflects the diversity of the world around us, the more pressing matter is maintaining a culture and community that actively supports and promotes DEI.

“Build grassroots connections in each community and truly invest time, energy, and effort to educate communities that may not be aware of the opportunities available to them,” says Chuck Runyon, CEO & co-founder of Self Esteem Brands. “We can all do our part to build a local environment that influences health within each community.”

DEI Programs & Initiatives

“DEI is about striving for representation of all backgrounds, characteristics, diverse thoughts, and skill sets. It’s about our efforts to intentionally foster an environment where our associates, members, and communities feel welcomed, valued, respected, and supported,” says Erin.

The Bay Club strives to improve DEI with its program, Bay Club In Action, which focuses on four key areas:

  1. A Diverse & Equitable Workforce: Partnering with Transition Play to provide female athletes with career opportunities within the industry

  2. Community Partnerships: Utilizing its resources, associates, and members to support local communities

  3. Associate Education Series: Providing ongoing education, training, and development for associates

  4. Philanthropic Initiatives: Hosting quarterly programs focused on the greater good of those within its communities

When creating programs and goals, Michaela says it’s important to remember to “be honest about the opportunity for growth, fearless in the face of pushback or adversity, and inclusive in your approach to expand DEI.”

Some efforts that may seem small can make a big impact. Club Automation’s parent website and social media platforms highlight its commitment to DEI and includes DEI-related readings and organizations to get involved with.

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In November 2022, Self Esteem Brands launched a partnership with The J3 Collaboration Project, a unique marketing platform serving business ownership and diversity, to improve DEI representation across its company of brands. Chuck says, “We added a new diversity franchise incentive program to make franchising opportunities more attractive and accessible for BIPOC communities.”

Chuck notes that the company is also investing in local neighborhoods and communities to provide healthy economic and living situations. “This includes building thriving small businesses, and providing access to nature, social, and recreational spaces, as well as wellness and nutrition services that will help people improve their personal health and well-being,” he says.

For more information and tools to expand DEI in your workplace, attend the following sessions at IHRSA 2023:

  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Training Workshop: Escalations & De-Escalations, Monday, March 20, 9 - 10 a.m., presented by Michaela Brown

  • Women’s Leadership Summit, sponsored by Club Automation, Monday, March 20, 5 - 6 p.m., featuring Michele Melkerson-Granryd, Gigliola Aycardi, Andrea Bell, Heather Ruff, and Shadan Al Sagri

  • Celebrating Women Leaders and Impacting the Bottom Line, Tuesday, March 21, 2 - 3 p.m., presented by Alison Flatley, Cher Harris, Ada McKenzie, and Paula Neubert

  • DEI Fireside Chat, sponsored by Club Automation, Wednesday, March 22, 1:30 - 2:30 p.m., presented by Michaela Brown, Carlos Davila, Ron Lamb, and Chuck Runyon

  • (BFS @ IHRSA) DEI: Making Boutique Accessible and Inclusive, Thursday, March 23, 11:30 a.m. - 12:15 p.m., presented by Beth Bishop, Nicole Johnson, and Amira Polack

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Sami Smith

Sami Smith is IHRSA's Senior Manager of Digital Communications, working to shape the organization's image on various digital platforms. On a typical day, she creates content, delivers impactful communications, and executes targeted marketing efforts to keep IHRSA at the forefront of the industry. Outside of the office, you can find her exploring new destinations, indulging in food, or participating in just about any sport.