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Increasing Employee Diversity and Inclusion

How hiring diverse staff benefits your fitness business.

As the health and fitness industry continues to evolve and grow, staff diversity and inclusion efforts are becoming increasingly important. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission mandates that job applicants and employees cannot be discriminated against “because of their race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information” (EEOC n.d.). However, making a conscious effort to diversify goes above and beyond following the law.

Discover what diversity means and what you should consider as you put together a diverse staff.

What Is Diversity?

Diversity is defined as “the presence of socially meaningful differences among members of a group”; to put it another way, diversity is “the characteristics we use to differentiate people”(Weinberg & Gould 2019). When we think of a diverse set of characteristics, the EEOC list above is generally what comes to mind. However, further expanding your mindset to recognize and include an even larger subset of individualities can assist you in fully progressing your organization’s capabilities and competencies. Such characteristics could be, but are not limited to, socioeconomic background; generation grouping; bilingualism; training, teaching, and educational specializations; locale variations; and even personal experiences.

That being said, the effort doesn’t stop after the hiring process. Once you’ve brought together a dynamically diverse staff, strive to provide an inclusionary workplace environment. Inclusion is “the degree that people feel free to express their individual self and have a sense of connectedness and belonging to a group” (Weinberg & Gould 2019). Truly inclusionary settings offer continual mutual respect to employees by embracing and using personal differences as strengths that ultimately bring more success to the organization.

Benefits of Welcoming Diverse Staff

The bottom line is that diversity and inclusion practices are not only lawfully and ethically correct, but also extremely valuable to organizational success. Here’s why.


A diverse staff has an increased ability to meet the needs of a diverse customer base. Envision a personal trainer who has struggled with weight loss in the past and can relate to a potential client who’s going through a similar situation. Or think about a membership sales representative who can converse fluently with a Spanish-speaking family that comes into your facility seeking information. Connecting to your customers through commonalities advances trust, and it enhances satisfaction and retention.

In addition, employing individuals with varying specializations, education types and life experiences enables your team to satisfy the needs of a wide variety of members and clients. One client may want to be pushed to her limits, the next client may have just been cleared after cardiac rehab, and yet another may feel totally intimidated in the gym. Although many fitness professionals can work with all three scenarios, trainer knowledge, demeanor and preference are variables to consider. Even if you own a boutique yoga studio where you hire only certified yoga instructors, you will want a variety of backgrounds, personalities, teaching styles and expertise to help build relationships with your members.


Innovation is a key factor in maintaining and progressing your company’s position in the marketplace. Whether you’re focusing on innovative exercise programming, on member retention strategies, or on facility updates and design, unconventional or “out-of-the-box” thinking can peak when knowledgeable and skilled employees with varying strengths and experiences come together. Brainstorming reaches an even wider level when each team member feels included and free to express ideas without judgment.

In fact, researchers found that the following inclusive behaviors encourage superior workplace innovation: “ensuring that everyone is heard; making it safe to propose novel ideas; giving team members decision-making authority; sharing credit for success; giving actionable feedback; and implementing feedback from the team” (Hewlett, Marshall & Sherbin 2013). Furthermore, people with varying backgrounds and perspectives often contribute creative solutions by seeing the same issue in a different way.

I’m sure we can all agree that problem-solving is a continual and often-daily function of our job, whether we’re covering a Saturday morning Pilates class, dealing with a disgruntled member who’s upset about a temporary pool closing or, on a larger scale, decreasing the personal trainer turnover rate.


Reaching new markets is a must if you want to acquire members and generate revenue. Tapping into the mindset of employees who are familiar with the values of a potential market plays an important role in creating advertising images as well as selecting marketing channels. Let’s use millennials as an example. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that “millennials outnumber baby boomers” and “represent more than one quarter of the nation’s population.” Millennials are also “more diverse than the generations that preceded them, with 44.2 percent being part of a minority race or group” (U.S. Census Bureau 2015).

This group seems like a smart market segment to attract. Therefore, who better to assist with creating and developing a marketing campaign than a multicultural group of millennials? Using a social media platform that is primarily accessed by their parents isn’t going to cut it; nor is selecting images of members who all look the same. You won’t  connect effectively with the market you are trying to reach. Other market segments you can influence if you have a diverse set of employees are individuals with disabilities, families with young children, active older adults and individuals using English as a second language.


An inclusive environment is one where employees feel free to be themselves, regardless of personal characteristics or background. An inclusive organizational culture thrives on differences to increase performance, collaboration and loyalty—allowing you to discover all talents, potentially hidden, because people won’t feel they need to suppress who they are. When employees are content with their surroundings and feel valued and included, staff satisfaction and retention increase. This positively affects performance, because quality staff will stay.

As we know, retaining staff lowers the cost and time investment of the hiring process and gives an organization continuity and the uninterrupted opportunity to leverage its potential. Plus, diverse companies tend to attract a variety of job candidates, opening the door to a much wider talent pool when you’re hiring for open positions.


Corporations, franchisees and facilities that are perceived to be culturally competent and inclusionary tend to be viewed as ethically and morally correct—which leads back to increasing trust between the organization and the consumer. In turn, the expectation is that the organization becomes more appealing to current and future consumers.

Fitness is not—has never been—a one-size-fits-all industry. Each facility, instructor, trainer, client, potential customer and locale is unique, and therefore your staff should be, as well. Of course, it’s impossible to have a staff member on the bench for every scenario, and any candidate has to meet minimum organizational requirements. However, being mindful of diversity and implementing inclusionary practices will be well worth your time and efforts. Reaping the benefits of stronger customer and staff relationships, superior organizational innovation, creative programming and an enhanced reputation in the marketplace will ultimately boost overall performance for continual long-term success.


EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). n.d. Overview. Accessed Aug. 2019: eeoc.gov/eeoc.

Hewlett, S.A., Marshall, M., & Sherbin, L. 2013. How diversity can drive innovation. Harvard Business Review. Accessed Aug. 4, 2019: hbr.org/2013/12/how-diversity-can-drive-innovation.

Weinberg, R.S., & Gould, D. 2019. Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology (7th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2015. Millennials outnumber baby boomers and are far more diverse. Accessed Sept. 4, 2019: census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2015/cb15-113.html.


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Stephanie Vlach, MS

Stephanie Vlach, MS, is a certified fitness professional with 17 years of experience. She has held numerous roles and positions within the industry. Currently, she is a group exercise instructor and freelance writer in the Chicago area. She can be reached at [email protected]

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