DEI for Small Business: How Affinity Groups Create Community

Affinity Groups at Mind & Mountain

One of the core values in running our small business is belonging and inclusion in our community spaces. We want every single Mind & Mountain client to feel welcomed, seen, and able to bring their full selves into their experience.

We exist in a world that values some identities over others. For example: male, European heritage, able-bodied, and wealthy identities will be prioritized and thus have more power and control in our society. These are the foundations with which our society was built, and the business, fitness, and outdoor rec worlds are no exception. Understanding and acknowledging these power imbalances enables us to identify what safe spaces are missing and how we can empower more people. 

At Mind & Mountain we use Affinity Groups for our clients to connect with others who share aspects of their identities. While we’re always learning and improving, we’ve seen a ton of success to date with this approach and want to share how affinity groups have helped our business. If you’re a business owner or community leader, maybe something here will help you on your journey, or maybe you’ll want to share your own experiences to help us learn!

This post is part of a series about our team values at Mind & Mountain and the ways that we practice those values within our programs and behind the scenes. Read all the posts in the series right here.

What Are Affinity Groups and Why Do We Have Them?

Our small business focuses on fitness and outdoor recreation, and unfortunately, those spaces have not historically been the most inclusive or welcoming. With that in mind we are on a mission to be a part of the solution and create outdoor spaces where everyone is welcome.

The Mind & Mountain community is full of amazing humans from diverse and beautiful walks of life. This diversity enriches both the M&M community and the outdoor recreation community at large! For folks with identities that aren’t well-represented outdoors, there’s a lot of comfort and encouragement in connecting with others with a similar identity. 

In a space with others who share your identity, folks may be able to drop the walls they have built to feel safe and connect with similar people in a judgment-free space. There is also healing potential in naming the shared experiences of people in an identity group, and the experience of solidifying connections with other people like you may help you feel more able to be your full self in these spaces. Simply put, an affinity group is just an intentional container for these connections & healing to happen!

Each group has a designated peer leader who shares an identity with the community they’re leading (more on group leaders in the next section!). As of this writing, our Mind & Mountain community includes the following affinity groups:

  • Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Athletes
  • LGBTQIA2S+ Athletes
  • Parent Athletes
  • Plus Size Athletes
  • Outdoor Recreation Beginners
  • Aging Outdoor Athletes
  • Athletes Recreating with Mental Health Challenges
  • Athletes Recreating with Chronic Illness

This list is always evolving as the needs in our community change and grow.

**We define an athlete as anyone who spends time recreating outside! We also know that not everyone identifies with this term, but want to create space to expand who we see as athletes. We all can belong in that space if we would like to.

The Mechanics of Our Affinity Groups

Ok, so, we know why we want to have affinity groups, but…now what? There are a lot of details behind making these groups work! Here’s a transparent look at how we put the concept of affinity groups into practice.

Who Leads Our Affinity Groups

We don’t put all the group leadership responsibilities on our small team of employees because our team doesn’t necessarily represent every identity. Instead, we also recruit members from our community to take on peer leadership roles.

When we’ve identified our group leaders, all of them go through training from inclusive leadership expert Dr. Tee Williams. This training gives group leaders the tools and confidence they need to be effective facilitators and leaders within their spaces. It also gives our leaders the language, tools, and cultural competency to be able to hold space for others in our community. Ultimately, by providing formal training, we can create healthier, safer spaces for everyone in our community. We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from our leaders that the training has been a huge asset!

The effort of leading these groups includes both emotional and task-based labor, and we don’t take our community members’ work for granted! We want to emphasize that all our affinity group leaders are paid.

Online Affinity Groups

Our primary Mind & Mountain training programs (Ski Babes & Summer Strong) include access to a private online community, where everyone in the program can interact, provide accountability, and support each other. Once a client gets into the community, they have the option of opting into affinity groups, simply participating in the open community, or even not participating in the community spaces at all.

Group Membership and Size

Community members are never automatically placed in groups, and are never pressured to join an affinity group either. Groups are on a strictly opt-in basis.

With each training round, the identities and total numbers of our general community members fluctuate. Each season to the next is always going to look a little different! So, some of our affinity groups are very small at times. There’s nothing wrong with this! Instead, our definition of success is making these spaces both available and as safe as possible, regardless of the numbers.

More Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about affinity groups, here is some further reading we recommend:


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