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The Huffington Post Black Voices: Lack of Diversity Within the Environmental Movement Continues to Persist

September 12, 2014

September 12, 2014

Green 2.0 Team

A recent study of environmental organizations cast a spotlight on some real problems at the top of the environmental movement.

“The current state of racial diversity in environmental organizations is troubling,” concludes the report by Professor Dorceta Taylor, who works at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment.

“Despite the growth in the ethnic minority population in the U.S., the percentage of minorities on the boards or general staff of environmental organizations does not exceed 16 percent,” the report notes.

The findings are not surprising to those of us who have been involved in the movement for some time.

They are something that environmental justice activists have been aware for many decades. The mainstream environmental groups do not hire or promote enough minorities into leadership positions.

Therefore, a group of community leaders, myself included, decided to create the California Latino Environmental Advocacy Network — CLEAN. It is the first Latino-founded statewide environmental nonprofit. CLEAN will help to bring awareness and consciousness regarding important environmental issues throughout California.

CLEAN is needed because the areas most impacted by air, water and toxics contamination are in poor minority communities that do not have enough money or political clout to fight back. Many of these community members do not realize that they are being poisoned on a daily basis. Many are getting asthma, cancer and other illnesses due to contamination.

A case in point is the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon, where tens of thousands of residents have been exposed to pollutants for over three decades. CLEAN has formally asked both the California Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. EPA for this polluter to be shut down. A grand jury will determine the fate of Exide.

Our concern is that the top national environmental groups have virtually no Latinos, African Americans or Asians as CEO, president or executive director. Many of these environmental groups claim diversity by having one or two minorities on their board of directors. Some have hired a few minorities to be on staff.

But, as the report notes, “Once hired, ethnic minorities are concentrated in the lower ranks.”

The environmental movement needs to catch up with the demographic changes that have taken place throughout the United States. Too often, environmental groups base their hiring on insider contacts and friendships. Many times, the human resources directors or the hiring committees already know the person they want to hire. Many times, the interviews are a sham. They are just to check off the box that minorities were interviewed but did not meet the qualifications.

The environmental movement needs to be held accountable. Foundations and philanthropists that fund green groups must push them to diversify.

Many minorities are highly qualified. They have the academic and life and work experience to lead these major environmental groups.

The insider mentality needs to change.

No more excuses.