Interviewing on a pier at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal doesn’t seem like a fitting backdrop for two cofounders of a tech start up. But Egli and McMullen Bushman specifically—and enthusiastically—requested to meet outdoors.
Prior to founding their company, McMullen Bushman worked as the vice president of community engagement, education and inclusion at the Butterfly Pavilion and Egli worked as a video production specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
But their anxiety-inducing experiences in the outdoors as Black women was what pushed them to create Inclusive Journeys and the Inclusive Guide.
“I would go out filming hunting and fishing and outdoor activities. And I ended up taking up hunting. And when I was on my first deer hunt, I started getting a little scared of, not necessarily that I thought the places I was traveling to were racist or had racist folks in them or that I would experience direct racism, but it was that I didn't know…I had a great time on that specific trip, but the anxiety was still there,” recalled Egli.
McMullen Bushman further explained how uncertainty permeates all facets of her life: “I'm never sure when I walk into a business, whether or not someone's bias—conscious or unconscious—is going to affect the way that they serve me.”
Egli started to think about her experiences and remembered "The Green Book", a guidebook published by Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1966 containing services and places that were safer for Black Americans during the Jim Crow era.
She wondered, “what if we could make a digital version of that?”
Egli reached out to McMullen Bushman with her idea and eventually the two founded Inclusive Journeys and began their work on the Inclusive Guide.
While the original idea was based on "The Green Book", the two co-founders decided: why not make it for everyone?
“Now we have these concepts of intersectionality. Black folks aren't just Black folks, right? There are Black women. There are Black folks in the disability community. There are Black folks in the queer community,” explained Egli.
But the Inclusive Guide isn’t simply Yelp for inclusivity. It’s much more than that. In addition to collecting data on businesses, the guide will also provide resources for those businesses that need some work because, as Egli put it, “No one is perfect.”
Based on the specific data they collect for a given business, the guide can provide opportunities for the select business to learn and grow; this could include staff training or instructions on how to make a part of the business more physically accessible. Egli believes that the “true character is from not just being perfect, but from what you do when it's pointed out that you could be better.”
McMullen Bushman also wants to celebrate those businesses that are doing the work to make sure they are welcoming to all people. That way, people will want to support that work and other businesses will see the benefit of being inclusive. “People are kind of voting with their dollar,” she explained.
But while they received immense encouragement from friends, family, and random volunteers, Egli and McMullen Bushman also experienced a lack of support.
“Parker and I don't have tech backgrounds,” Egli said. “And we find it hard to find other Black women who look like us, who we can aspire to…that we can go to for mentorship, leadership…that lack of representation also reflects on how people perceive us as well. And so, I'm really used to being underestimated.”
In February for Black History Month, 21 grant writers volunteered to write applications for 11 grants, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Everybody said, ‘You are a shoo-in for this one, you’re a shoo-in for that one.’ We checked all the boxes for these grants, and we didn't get a single one,” said Egli.
McMullen Bushman added that people tended to get very sensitive when they talked about quantifying data around inclusion. “It has to do with identity, right? It has to do with the skin that we were born in that we can't change, right? No one can change that. But I think that we have to start thinking about how we can quantify that in an innovative way…We all seem very comfortable with giving a rating for customer service. And we want to do the same thing.”
And Egli and McMullen Bushman are doing that. The beta version of the Inclusive Guide is available to try now and will be tested for several months. But they need some help.
“We really need white allies to help out. We need anyone who doesn't feel like they experience discrimination regularly to help us establish a baseline,” explained Egli.
To help, you can follow Inclusive Guide on Instagram and Twitter, or recommend the guide to anyone that might want to partner with Inclusive Journeys, or simply donate to Inclusive Guide’s GoFundMe.
Clarissa Guy is a multimedia journalist for Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.