Cedric Bryant, the president and chief science officer of ACE, discusses the organization’s EDI efforts, addressing inequity in fitness, making impactful change and more.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many gyms have been pivoting their focus away from their typical gym members, and prioritizing reaching the 80% of the population who don’t have a gym membership. However, before attempting to attract new members, it’s vital for gyms to know the health and health care disparities facing our society.
Although the term disparities is implied to mean racial or ethnic disparities, many dimensions of disparity exist in the U.S., especially when it comes to health. According to Healthy People 2020, “If a health outcome is seen to a greater or lesser extent between populations, there is disparity. Race or ethnicity, sex, sexual identity, age, disability, socioeconomic status, and geographic location all contribute to an individual’s ability to achieve good health.”
Addressing health disparities requires a broad range of efforts both systemically and socially, but the fitness industry can play an instrumental role in advancing equality, and in return, improve the overall health in the U.S.
Here, Cedric Bryant, the president and chief science officer of ACE, shares how the organization is paving the way and how other fitness organizations can help make impactful change.
Tell us a bit about ACE’s recent work in addressing inequity in the fitness industry — what are your initiatives/what do you hope to achieve?
CB: The work ACE has been doing in this area falls into two broad categories, the first of which is education. We have hosted a number of webinars and Facebook Live events covering everything from weight bias to racial microaggressions, and we offer a free course entitled “Taking Action with ACE: Practicing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as an Exercise Professional,” which includes practical steps that pros can take to help build a more inclusive fitness industry.
The second category involves effective collaboration. ACE has partnered with like-minded organizations, including SELF magazine, the Women in Fitness Association, Sports Backers and Balm in Gilead, to offer education and scholarships, as we know that improving inclusivity in the fitness industry is something we can’t do on our own.
One more thing that ACE has done is to utilize person-first and gender-neutral language across all of our content, from our website to our textbooks. We’ve also added closed captioning on some of our personal trainer and EDI-related videos, with plans to increase this option for more courseware. The goal is to allow all of our customers to have equal access, to feel welcomed and to see themselves reflected in our content.
Why is this issue so important? What do fitness operators need to understand about this issue?
CB: What is sometimes lost in this often-politicized conversation is how issues of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are directly related to health and wellness. For example, if members of a community are unable to be physically active, whether it’s because of a lack of access to safe parks, a facility offering classes at times that conflict with religious observations or a facility not having a safe locker room area for transgender members, that directly impacts access to physical activity. So, it’s not just a matter of political correctness or using new lingo. Addressing EDI concerns in a facility or community can help reduce health disparities that exist across lines of gender, sexual identity, age, disability, socioeconomic status and geographic location.
How can clubs go about addressing inequity in fitness within their organizations?
CB: It begins with an open and honest assessment of your organization. Does the leadership of your organization or facility mirror the people in your community? Does your advertising and signage feature people of various identities and backgrounds? To take things a step further, are your hiring and promotion practices fair and equitable? Are people receiving equitable service when they enter your facility? Answering these types of questions can be difficult, but the ultimate goal is to have a club that feels welcoming to all members of the community it serves — and that sometimes requires honest self-reflection and policy changes.
What would you say to organizations who may be wary/afraid to tackle this issue?
CB: Let’s be honest, this can be a touchy subject. People get nervous about saying the wrong thing and upsetting people of different ethnicities or sexualities than themselves, for example. It’s important to acknowledge that reality before any discussion of topics related to EDI and to ensure that the conversation is happening in a safe space. If someone stumbles over the use of a person’s preferred pronouns, for example, they should not be attacked or ridiculed. Instead, take such moments as learning opportunities. If comfortable, share about how and why using the right pronoun is so important. So, my advice is to overcome those fears and encourage an honest and open dialogue — and then take action based on what is learned.
What’s the best piece of advice you could share with operators who are seeking to tackle inequality?
CB: My biggest piece of advice is to recognize this work is ongoing and will likely be needed for quite some time. This isn’t a matter of holding a few meetings or adding people of color to your social media posts and thinking you’ve done your part. Making real change when it comes to EDI and its impact on the health disparities of various communities is going to require coordinated and long-term efforts from individual exercise professionals and health coaches, club managers and owners, and organizations like ACE.
Is there anything else you’d like to share on this topic?
CB: I would like to highlight the fact that ACE is also doing work in-house on these same topics, so this isn’t just a matter of us telling the industry it needs to change; we recognize that we need to educate ourselves and do some careful reflection as well. We’ve hired an EDI consultant to lead us through internal workshops and to provide resources at all levels of ACE, from the Board of Directors to the executive team and all staff members. Our goal is to practice and celebrate EDI in all of our work, education and personal interactions. This will remain an ongoing and high-priority initiative for the organization for the foreseeable future.
For more insight into inequity in fitness and community health, check out Episode 38 of the Club Solutions Magazine podcast with Victoria Tolbert-Ashley.