Why The Health and Fitness Industry Needs to Focus on Diversity

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The Health and Fitness Industry Needs To Focus on Diversity

I have been to several fitness classes and gyms over the years, spending a big chunk of my discretionary income on health and wellness. Yet one thing has become evident through this time of awakening. Many of my favorite companies and fitness providers lack diversity. According to a Nielson report, “At 47.8 million strong and a buying power that’s on par with many countries’ gross domestic products, African Americans continue to outpace spending nationally.” So why are you ignoring us?

Many of the classes promote a healthy lifestyle to improve the mind and body. They preach about being vulnerable and letting go of the stress of your life during class. They make you feel like they are your friends and care about your wellbeing, but do they only care about your wellbeing just for that hour? What happens when someone like me walks out of the door in the real world facing real-world issues? As a patron of your business, do you care about what happens to me?

How Can You Promote Health, But be Silent on Racism?

Addressing uncomfortable conversations is important. How can you take a holistic approach to wellness and not address the health and wellness of racism? By choosing not to discuss the stress your clients feel, you’re essentially dismissing the emotional and physical health they suffer from the effects of racism. That, in turn, goes against everything you promote. Ignoring the issues of today feels like your catering only to one segment of your client population, and deliberately ignoring the other.

Focusing on positivity and vulnerability is the central theme. How can you expect your clients to be vulnerable with you if you cannot be vulnerable to them? Choosing to gloss over serious issues that affect your client’s mental health, minimizes their trauma. You have to remember; your clients are of all races and backgrounds. It is hard enough to deal with the daily pressures of racism, but when a place of “wellness” chooses to ignore an issue that directly affects me, I wonder if I even feel welcome there.

What Message Are You Sending?

I encourage all instructors, fitness studios, health and wellness companies, and gyms to sit back and have a conversation with yourself. Are you serving the total population of your client base, or are you catering to one group? Take a look at your social feeds, in-class material, and marketing. Does it represent all people or just one group of people? Having uncomfortable conversations with your clients helps them open up to improving their fitness goals. By getting to know and understand your client’s full self, you can break down the barriers they face from achieving their goals. You can better understand where they are and meet them where they’re at. This leads to trust and loyalty.

But we Have a Black Employee!

Do not rely on your single black employee as the expert of diversity or your one token of diversity. It is your responsibility to educate yourself on how to cater to a diverse population. If you only have one African American employee as a display of diversity, this is nothing to brag about.

Your black employees are not a statement piece, and being the only black employee is lonely. Black employees are often excluded from social activities, advertisements, and their ideas are overlooked or not taken seriously. I have several colleagues in fitness who have told me their ideas are often brushed off and passed on to other white employees to execute without acknowledgment. Many of the fitness industry benefits from black culture through music and dance inspiration. Yet, black instructors are often criticized for being too black with their music choice with a mixed audience. It is a very stressful environment to be in when they cannot be themselves, but they are supposed to be your pillar of diversity.

Companies, whether you realize it or not you could be fostering a racist environment. Implicit bias is a real issue that occurs in all business areas, leading to microaggressions in the workplace. This translates to your client base, so its time to address these issues internally to better serve a diverse population.

Why You Should Care About Diversity

According to Nielson, black buying power is 1.2 trillion dollars, so why are you NOT focusing on it? If you sprinkle images of black and brown people only during certain events or holidays, it is not genuine. Work to be diverse, instead of appearing diverse. You can do this by engaging with colleagues in your industry that are different than you. Develop relationships with your community to broaden your reach with people of diverse backgrounds. The next time you have a campaign for charity, look for charities that support diverse causes. This is a genuine attempt and not just a checkbox off your list. When you learn about the population around you, you show your clients you want to be part of their lives.

If you have an event for your fitness studio, invite someone from a diverse background instead of uplifting the same people. When you highlight members or businesses, find a black or brown one. If you do bring more diversity, do not use the same one over and over. Many studios cross-promote with complementary businesses. Hire more diverse fitness influencers or companies to promote, and show that you’re supporting the whole community. If you are selling a product, feature people of all shades instead of just one. We grow tired of seeing the same types of women promoted in your advertising and studios.

Don’t Just Talk About It, Take action

Mckinsey and Company states, “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” If the outrage over George Floyd’s death was the first time you took a look at your diversity, then you have a lot of work to do. The good news is, you’re on the right track. Don’t let it end with just a post or a statement to your costumers. Take action. Show them you are listening to them and actually care about their wellbeing. Doing the work to make a more diverse environment is a return on investment. Just look at the numbers, they do not lie.


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