Winnebago’s Jil Littlejohn Bostick Connects More People to the Outdoors

The vice president of corporate responsibility and inclusion uses her calling to open doors for more diversity in RVing and camping.

You often hear people say that the United States is a “melting pot.”

However, Jil Littlejohn Bostick, vice president of corporate responsibility and inclusion at Winnebago Industries, prefers to think of the country as a salad.

“Some people say melting pot –it means it all blends together,” says Bostick, who is also the executive director of the Winnebago Industries Foundation. “But if you have a salad, you have different pieces that individually and uniquely make the
salad great.”

Bostick, who lives in Greenville, South Carolina, with her husband Dejr Bostick, grew up in Atlanta. Living in the city where civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived and fought for equality was inspiring to her from a young age.

“I went to a number of different schools and moved around quite a bit, which always exposed me to different people from different cultures,” she says.

Bostick earned a Bachelor of Arts from Wofford College and a Master’s of Business Administration from Webster University. Starting her career as a plant accountant and controller for Milliken & Co., she spent a lot of time talking to people on the manufacturing floor.

“When you’re doing inventory and trying to account for the different goods, you’re still talking to people and you’re building relationships to understand the flow of goods that came through the building,” she says.

Being connected to people was always in her heart.

“I knew I wanted to be more on the people side from the very beginning. But I believe my financial background has been super helpful throughout my career and in my current role. The RV and marine industry revolves around profit and I am able to apply the financial lens. I have the people aspect, but I also understand the financial side.”

With the understanding that her calling and purpose in life was to connect to people, Bostick made her next career move to the YWCA in Greenville, where she became executive director.

“Their mission was eliminating racism and empowering women,” she says. “It was a perfect fit.”

It was an interesting time at the nonprofit because they had recently changed their name to the YWCA, instead of Young Women’s Christian Association, and Bostick says people were skeptical.

“What does that mean? How do we make that happen? I was trying to, as a nonprofit, raise funds to make the organization move forward. I started looking at corporations that support the YWCA and connecting the dots to their return on investment,” she says. “At the time, a lot of companies didn’t have full-time DE&I [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] team members or teams.

I was able to offer, as a member of the YWCA, a general DE&I analysis and baseline. That allowed me to dig in
and learn more about DE&I, learn about the issues and the challenges
that organizations were dealing with, come up with solutions and frameworks and help chart a path to begin to move the needle.”

Following the YWCA, in 2015, Bostick moved the needle in a big way by becoming the first female president and CEO of the Urban League of the Upstate.

“I was able to continue the work and show an example of what it looks like to provide opportunities for people,” she says. “Because I was the first African American female to lead the YWCA, I was also the first African American female to lead the Urban League of the Upstate. It was saying, ‘We’re providing a pathway for organizations to show what it looks like to open doors and opening the doors for other people to come afterwards.’ Through both of those positions, I was able to work with Fortune 1000 companies and large private organizations to understand the inner workings of DE&I in the workplace.”

Bostick says it’s important to her to “walk the walk” in the RVing lifestyle and enjoy the outdoors with her family.

Launching a New Role & Initiative

Bostick’s role at Winnebago Industries is a brand-new role in terms of having a full-time, person-lead DE&I strategy.

“The executive leadership team started doing the work in terms of having an analysis done, figuring out where they stood, and trying to understand the direction they needed to move in. Their initial work led to creating a full-time position to lead the work,” Bostick says. “I tell people that Winnebago Industries was an unexpected gift.”

When Winnebago came knocking
on her door, Bostick says she was pleased to find the understanding and commitment from the different corners of the company – from Winnebago, Grand Design and Newmar, to Chris-Craft and Barletta.

“I didn’t blindly come into this role thinking that we’re going to change things overnight. I didn’t come into this role as a figurehead and to only check the box. I came into this role to understand the RV and marine industry, understand what currently exists, what’s being done, what some of the pain points are, how people feel, what people want to know more about, what people are afraid to talk about…Now that we know and understand where we are, how do we begin to A, move forward internally, and B, move forward externally and connect the dots.”

“We’re all connected in one way or another. So, when one RV company does well, all RV companies do well. It’s the industry as a whole. We have goals around what we do internally, but we also have goals around how we influence inclusion across the industry. That’s something that we’re really dedicated to – committed to.”

Traditionally, the RV industry overall has skewed more male and more white, Bostick says.

“Across the board, if you look at the different reports that the RVIA [RV Industry Association] releases, that’s what you see. What I have found is a group of people who understand the industry and the traditional demographic and want to have the best people and know to have the best people, we need diverse people, women and people of color in the industry.

“We’ve seen a slight increase in people of color, and a slight increase in women from our 2021 to 2022 Corporate Responsibility report. I think the more we talk about and highlight different people that are already in these spaces doing the work, the more people will see themselves in the industry. I always tell people it’s hard to be what you can’t see. It’s a challenge across the industry. But I will say, within Winnebago Industries and our brands, we are working really hard to show people the different opportunities that exist. And we’re seeing more people enter into the industry. I think that some of our competitors are working to make the industry more inclusive as well.”

Making the Outdoors Inclusive

At Winnebago Industries, Bostick says the company’s four pillars that they focus on to move the needle are rooted in inclusion, diversity, equity and action. The goal is to “expand the talent pipeline,” she says, bringing in more women and more people of color into open roles – and advancing, developing and retaining the current talent ensures employees see a future with the organization. She says it’s important to examine how the company can enrich the employee experience and create a sense of belonging, and then influence that across the industry.

One way they do that is to work with different organizations such as Latino Outdoors, RV Women’s Alliance, Black Folks Camp Too and more.

Winnebago Industries also partnered with Camber Outdoors to expand the internship pipeline. Last year, there were about 15 interns across the program, and this year Bostick says they’re on track to have up to 30 at Winnebago Industries and other outdoor industry companies.

“Our goal is to continue to grow that program, to provide spaces to show people [what’s possible],” she says. “I started my career through an internship program, and I really think that that helped change my trajectory.”

Another organization that Winnebago Industries works with is called No Boundaries, which focuses on people with disabilities.

“We’ve been able to highlight some of our accessibility-enhanced camper vans and Class A RVs that are specifically for people with disabilities,” she says. “We are trying to focus on doing the work that is sustainable and long term and not just, checking the box.”

Everyone is welcome in the outdoors, Bostick says.

Becoming Personally Invested

Bostick says when she joined Winnebago Industries, it was important for her to not just “talk the talk, but walk the walk.” Recently, she and her husband purchased a Grand Design Imagine
AIM and their goal is to take it out a
few times a year and enjoy living the RVing lifestyle.

“We can’t wait to get out on the road,” she says.

Jil and her husband in the Badlands
Bostick and her husband, Dejr, recently purchased a Grand Design Imagine AIM and are excited for the road trips that lie ahead.

After her first experience camping in an RV, Bostick says she knew RV life was more for her than tent camping.

“This is a house on wheels. I can have all the conveniences that I get at home, and step outdoors and look at the beautiful sky or mountains or water,” she says. “It was never really explained to me this way.”

Bostick says now that she posts about it on social media, she gets a lot of questions about RVing.

“The more we can show and share, it’s like show and tell, adult style.”

This July, Bostick hit her two-year anniversary with Winnebago Industries, two years that she says have been focused on exploration and understanding.

“I see us moving into deeper implementation as we move forward,” she says. “I tell people sometimes it’s OK to go slow to go fast. This industry has been around for a long time, it’s sustainable and there’s some great work being done and as we invite people into the space as employees or RV owners or renters, we want to make sure we’re being authentic and really connected, because at the end of the day, people want to enjoy life and be great outdoors.”

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