Skip to content
Stay informed and join our newsletter
You'll get updates on our latest events and news around diversity, equity, and inclusion in the environmental movement
Sign Up

Progress on Diversity in the Green Workforce May Be Stalling, Annual Report Shows

December 15, 2023

December 15, 2023


By Kayla Benjamin. Read at The Washington Informer.

Speaking on a panel with other environmental activists, nature education advocate Pinar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd talked about the process of familiarizing oneself with a natural setting’s “baseline.” The environmental educator and activist offered an exercise: simply sit in a park or forest, and watch and listen to find out what it sounds like without disturbance.

A similar lack of disruption, Sinopoulos-Lloyd explained, is what has allowed the environmental sector to stall in its efforts to increase diversity in leadership and achieve truly inclusive outcomes. An annual report card from Green 2.0, released Thursday, found that green organizations’ progress on hiring people of color in senior roles has stagnated in the last year. 

“The baseline of white supremacy is coming back to the surface because of who is in executive leadership,” Sinopoulos-Lloyd said during the release event, held at the National Press Club in D.C. “How can we shift baselines so that we can actually create spaces, not only where people of color feel welcome, but where we’re actually empowered to thrive and create?”

The 2023 NGO & Foundation Transparency Report Card showed that environmental organizations reported hiring an average of 22 new people of color between 2017 and 2023 — averaging more than three per year. But over the last 12 months, that pace had slowed to just one person of color hired on average. No people of color were added at the senior level in the 2022-2023 reporting period for the 73 nongovernmental organizations surveyed.

“The 2023 Green 2.0 Transparency Report Card showed that historically marginalized communities across the board — including people of color, people with gender expansive identities, and people with disabilities — have hit the green ceiling,” said Green 2.0’s executive director, Andres Jimenez, in an interview. “Unfortunately, what we’re seeing is that… the higher up you go in an organization, the less people of color are actually in those important roles.”

Jimenez said that equity and inclusion in hiring became a central issue for many organizations in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, but that some groups have not maintained that focus. But climate and environmental justice leaders argue that fixing inequitable hiring and leadership practices within the green sector is crucial to solving climate and pollution crises, which disproportionately impact marginalized communities.

“You’re asking the world to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy,” the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., who heads the climate justice group Hip Hop Caucus, said in closing remarks at the report’s release event. “But this movement still refuses to transition from a white, cis, patriarchal movement that will in the long run kill us all.” 

The report also examined disability workforce data in the green sector for the first time, finding that — as with many industries — people who self-identify as having a disability are far underrepresented. While almost 13% of the U.S. working-age population has a disability, only 3% of workers at nongovernmental organizations and 1.6% of those at foundations self-identified that way in Green 2.0’s study. However, most groups surveyed did not track disability data at all, which causes major gaps in understanding disability representation. 

The report card also illustrates continued challenges with workplace transparency among environmental organizations and foundations. More groups participated this year than in previous years, with 73 nongovernmental organizations and 25 foundations submitting data. 

However, out of the 50 foundations Green 2.0 initially requested to join the survey, more than half declined — including big names like the Ford Foundation and the Coca-Cola Foundation. 

“I’m not here to do a ‘gotcha’ moment — I’m here to show that it’s possible to be transparent,” Jimenez said. “It’s better to stumble and try than not to try at all. What frustrates me the most is when an organization is like ‘well, hands in the air, we’re not going to do this.’… Those organizations need to understand that this isn’t an issue that’s going away.”