July 1, 2020
When we say “climbing is for everyone,” we are taking a stance. We are saying that we believe in everyone’s right to access our sport…and that we know we haven’t gotten there yet.
Supporting the communities in which we operate has been a core value of Touchstone since its opening in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1995. Over the years we have brought the climbing experience to over 50,000 marginalized youth; in 2019 alone we worked with over 60 groups, 3,300 individuals, and made contributions of over $60,000 to organizations that support underrepresented or underserved communities in climbing. We offer free or discounted access to the gyms through meetup groups, schools, and nonprofit organizations, and give a thousand donation certificates to schools every year.
Nevertheless, climbing remains a privileged sport and our gyms fail to properly represent the diversity of the communities they are in. We are just beginning to understand the extent of our inability to create emotionally and psychologically safe environments for Black folks and people of color. Our gyms reflect this inequity, both in terms of member base and visitor use as well as employee demographics. Making our gyms and our company safe, uplifting spaces for all is a critical priority, and though we have a strong record of creating access for underprivileged youth, it is clear that we have not done enough. We have seen this failure for some time, but as we listen to feedback from members and staff it has become clear that our biases and ignorance have been key barriers. We are new to the equity, diversity, and inclusion work necessary for us to break down those barriers, but we are excited to embrace it.
Collectively, we are at our strongest when the lives of our underrepresented, underserved, and marginalized community members are valued and their voices are included in the conversation. It is our priority to collaborate with others, particularly Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), to help us diversify our culture and make our spaces and our sport authentically accessible to all. We will renew our efforts to cultivate a vibrant, accessible, and equitable climbing community we can all feel safe in and proud to be a part of.
Anti-racism work is a crucial part of our vision for a more inclusive and equitable sport. We make the following commitments to stand with our BIPOC community:
1. EDI Training
We commit to indefinite holistic, company-wide EDI training, from desk staff to the CEO. EDI training for us does not mean checking a box. It means ingraining the work into every aspect of our company culture, and recognizing that the work is personal, emotional, and necessary. We commit to an ongoing professional engagement with BIPOC-led EDI training organizations and consultants so that we can continue to grow and support this work into the future.
2. Diversity in Hiring
We will rework our hiring practices with the help of BIPOC organization consultation to make them more diverse at all levels. But it is not enough to simply hire diverse staff—we will also develop the structures to support them, including mentorship and ongoing training to encourage long-term employment.
3. Remove the Cost Barrier
Race and socioeconomics are bound up in the anti-Black schema of the United States. We will expand our assistance programs in scope and magnitude to minimize the cost barrier present to those of lesser means, particularly for our Black communities.
4. Community Youth Programs
We will continue to build bridges for community collaborations through schools, local organizations, and member initiatives to ensure that our gyms represent and serve their neighborhoods. Many of our gyms are located in neighborhoods that are diverse but deeply segregated. We want our gyms to be places where everyone in our communities can come together and climb, connect, work out, and be seen. Using our relationship with the Boyle Heights Boys & Girls Club in Los Angeles as a template, we will expand our partnership with BGC to an additional location and look to expand this program even further in the future.
5. Youth Membership and Competition Programs
It is clear that Black children have not experienced the full depth of support, joy, and celebration of other youth climbers. We will change this through continued development of programs with BIPOC community involvement to ensure Black climbers are a part of our youth programs, from our after school recreational groups to Team Touchstone. We will also provide scholarships and develop additional forms of financial aid to ensure that all can afford the program.
6. BIPOC and Gender Identity Meetup Groups
Though our ultimate goal is to make our gyms safe, diverse, and inclusive spaces at all times, affinity groups continue to provide important pathways and community bonds in climbing. We will continue to support our meetup groups by making changes to increase participation and to ensure that all participants feel welcome. We will put particular focus on creating greater accessibility for first time climbers.
7. BIPOC Groups Further Afield
We commit to financially supporting groups and causes working to increase diversity in climbing outdoors and throughout the country, like Brown Girls Climb and The Brown Ascenders, and continue our sponsorship of the annual Color the Crag event. We will continue to provide opportunities for our staff to attend sponsored events so that they can build community, represent us, and return with knowledge and ideas for us to implement at our gyms.
8. Competition and Event Sponsorship
We want our big annual events to reflect the full climbing community and to be a safe and uplifting experience for all. We will establish grant programs to help financially support BIPOC participation in our large annual climbing competitions like Woman Up and Battle of the Bay.
9. Diversity in Touchstone Athletics
It is time we celebrate diversity on our athlete roster. It is important that we amplify stories and accomplishments from climbers of color, and especially Black climbers. We will be expanding the athletes we support and feature on our social media accounts to better represent our diverse communities.
January 18, 2021
As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy, we wanted to share updates on our ongoing EDI work and commitments. Those following our journey will note that we have moved from using the DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) acronym to EDI (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion)—this shift is meant to indicate that we recognize that equity is the first and leading practice of this work, and that diversity and inclusion follow only after equity values are prioritized.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the deep, slow nature of EDI work, many of our updates below are merely presenting seeds for now, but we at Touchstone are reiterating our commitment to seeing them bear fruit.
1. EDI Training – We have been consulting regularly with SOMA Integrative Wellness since June 2020 and began our first guided multi-week introduction to EDI training with senior management, gym managers, and office staff through SOMA’s curriculum in October 2020. After a brief hiatus for the holidays, we will begin our next set of training sessions with SOMA in February 2021.
2. Diversity in Hiring – We are in consultation with SOMA on developing more equitable hiring practices, however our work together has shown us that we still need to develop a more supportive foundation to our potential hires. While we are keeping and eye towards hiring diverse staff in the future, our priority is to first work on making Touchstone an uplifting workplace for all staff through ongoing EDI training and culture-shifting.
3. Remove the Cost Barrier – While our gyms are closed and we have an opportunity to put new programs in place, we are excited to be working on membership options for lower income climbers. The program is not ready to roll out just yet, but we expect to have an announcement on this front soon.
4. Community Youth Programs – COVID-19 has continued to slow our progress here, but Verdigo Boulders and The Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena have been in conversation about how to launch our climbing partnership as soon as it is safe to do so. The climbing wall has been built and set, and while we can’t yet climb we are talking about how to make our future climbing program successful for the kids.
5. Youth Membership and Competition Programs – Unfortunately, this commitment is on hold until we know what our youth programs can look like again post-COVID. Team Touchstone and all of our youth programs have been suspended for now.
6. BIPOC and Gender Identity Meetup Groups – We have stayed in touch with many of our affinity group leaders during the pandemic, and once our gyms reopen we will continue our work together of making climbing more approachable and accessible for all.
7. BIPOC Groups Further Afield – While our financial situation is much more tenuous now than it has been, we are still committed to supporting BIPOC climbing events and Color the Crag whenever they start up again.
8. Competition and Event Sponsorship – Given that we do not know when we will be able to have competitions or events again, this commitment is also on hiatus until then. As soon as we can start thinking about climbing events again, a grant program will be a part of the conversation.
9. Diversity in Touchstone Athletics – Climbing itself has been pretty quiet these days, but we are continuing to seek out ways to amplify the voices and accomplishments of climbers of color.