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Diversity progress slows at environmental groups, survey finds

December 14, 2022

December 14, 2022

Green 2.0 Team

By Maxine Joselow. Read at Washington Post.

Environmental groups have modestly increased the number of people of color among full-time staff over the past six years, but White people still account for the vast majority of employees, especially among senior management and top executive roles, according to an annual survey released Tuesday.

The report from Green 2.0, an independent campaign working to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the environmental movement, underscores the challenges facing green groups as they seek to recruit and retain diverse staffs that look like the communities they serve.

It comes as many groups focus their advocacy on assisting communities of color and low-income neighborhoods that have historically borne the brunt of environmental hazards, including extreme weather events fueled by climate change.

The details: Environmental groups on average have 100 people of color among full-time staff, up from 75 people in 2017, when Green 2.0 started collecting this data.

  • Roughly 36.5 percent of full-time employees at environmental groups now identify as people of color, up from 25 percent in 2017.
  • However, diversity progress has slowed when it comes to senior positions. Each group added an average of two people of color among senior staff over the past year, while the number of non-White board members was unchanged.
  • Overall, White workers still account for 59.5 percent of full-time staff, followed by 11 percent of workers identifying as Hispanic or Latino, 9.9 percent Black or African American, and 7.2 percent Asian.
  • Among senior staff, 61.8 percent of workers identify as White, while among chief executives, 69 percent are White.

“It’s really important that as environmental groups, we’re not just looking at communities of color and saying, ‘This is what they need,’ ” said Andres Jimenez, executive director of Green 2.0. “We really need to make sure that our organizations are as diverse as possible so that we’re bringing their voices to the table to speak about how climate change is impacting their communities.”

Green 2.0 asked 80 nongovernmental organizations to submit data for the survey, although 16 of these groups declined to participate, while an additional four groups volunteered data without being asked. Only 20 of 50 foundations surveyed responded.

  • Participating groups include the Environmental Defense FundNatural Resources Defense CouncilLeague of Conservation Voters and Union of Concerned Scientists.
  • The foundations surveyed include the Barr FoundationDavid and Lucile Packard Foundation and Walton Family Foundation.

In search of solutions

About 90 percent of the participating groups have included diversity, equity and inclusion goals in their strategic plans and have established protocols for addressing racial discrimination, harassment and microaggressions.

However, fewer groups have implemented initiatives that could help retain a more diverse staff, such as a transparent salary pay scale (54 percent) or mentoring programs (43 percent).

Johanna Chao Kreilick, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the group has sought to increase retention and create a culture of inclusion by “clarifying decision-making authority” over the past year.

“Decisions were being made in willy-nilly ways all over the organization, and it was contributing to a lot of stress and strife, and it was taking racial forms,” she said during a panel discussion about the report at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

Manish Bapna, president and chief executive of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview after the event that the group has “tried to be more intentional about reaching out to spaces where there are more diverse candidates,” such as historically Black colleges and universities.

“Making sure we have a diverse applicant pool before proceeding with interviews and making final decisions is incredibly important,” Bapna said.

And Leslie Hinkson, chief officer for racial justice and inclusion at the League of Conservation Voters, said in an interview that the group has launched a mentorship program geared toward junior staff of color, while three of its four new board members are women of color.

Hinkson added that after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, sparking protests across the country, several groups asked her to serve on their boards.

“I had to ask myself which if any of those boards actually cared about my experience and expertise or if they just needed a Black body,”
 she said. “The one board I said yes to made me believe it was the former. I hope and I believe that we have been really intentional in ensuring that every member of our board feels needed and wanted.”

The groups that did not participate in the survey include the American Conservation Coalition, a conservative environmental group, and the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank that focuses on multiple policy areas, including the environment.

ACC spokeswoman Karly Matthews declined to comment, while CAP spokesman Sam Hananel said in an email that the group publicly posts diversity data on its website and “would be happy to be included in future surveys.”