Diversity in Environmental Organizations

Diversity report"The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations", which was published by Dorceta E. Taylor, Ph.D, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, highlights the racial, gender, class and cultural disparities among environmental organizations throughout the nation. The report examines the discrepancies within 293 environmental organizations nationwide, and is comprised of data from 191 conservation and preservation organizations, 74 government environmental agencies and 28 environmental organizations.

The report, which was prepared for Green 2.0, an establishment dedicated to the diversification of environmental organizations, was made, coordinated and supported by the Green 2.0 Working Group. The Sierra Club and Earthjustice donated funding. Leslie Fields, director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program, and EarthJustice director Micheal Dorsey were members of the Green 2.0 Working Group with the Raben Group (a majority-minority progressive policy and law lobbying firm.)

In a society where the ethnic demographic of the nation is constantly changing, the minority population in environmental organizations is at a standstill. Minorities account for 36 percent of the population nationwide, but that figure is expected to increase dramatically over the next few decades. Researchers have determined that the minority population for individuals under the age of 18 will reach a majority by the year 2018. By 2027, this population will reach a majority in the 18-29 age bracket. Environmental agencies within the nation include a much lower minority population of 12-16 percent, which is significantly lower than the nation's minority population as a whole.

In 1967, Sydney Howe, a pioneer for the environmentalist movement, commented that environmental advocacy is an institution that has not been racially accepting.

Among various environmental foundations, government agencies, and NGOs that were surveyed, it was discovered that the volunteer base of these organizations was 98 percent white.

The unvaried racial makeup of these organizations can be attributed to early research and the stereotypes associated with minorities during the 1960s and 1970s. Biased reports during this era portrayed the minority population as one that did not participate in outdoor activities as much as their white counterparts. In 1970, minority and Native American social justice groups disrupted Earth Day proceedings in protest against a national park being designated on sacred lands. Many environmental organizations misconstrued the protest as disregard for the environmental movement.

Fast forward more than three decades after this research was performed, and among 38 environmental organizations that were studied, minorities only made up 15.4 percent of the workforce.

The number of minorities who have been placed in leadership roles among these organizations is alarmingly low. In conservation and preservation organizations, whites make up 99.1 percent of presidential roles, while minorities account for a measly 0.9 percent of these roles. Minorities make up 10 percent of the individuals who are presidents within grant-making foundations, while they account for 19 percent of presidential roles within government agencies.

Coincidentally, white women have infiltrated leadership positions at an alarmingly faster rate than minorities. The study discovered that women held half of the 1,714 leadership positions within the conservation and preservation organizations that were observed. White women also account for approximately 60 percent of the intern and new hire positions within these organizations.

So why are minorities not infiltrating the minority workforce as quickly as women or as rapidly as they are increasing in overall population within the nation? "The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations" attributes this disparity to a number of factors.

Many of the NGOs, environmental foundations and government organizations reported that the most significant reason for the absence of minorities was the lack of job opportunities available. The strategies used within these organizations have a tendency to be largely exclusive to the present demographic. Organizations tend to recruit within foundation networks and by word of mouth. More often than not, this leaves little room for recruitment efforts that target minority environmental professional organizations and educational institutions. The study also made an observation that many organizations were devoid of a diversity manager. Studies show that having a diversity manager on staff makes it more probable that an organization will have more minority paid staff and interns.

In the near future the United States will experience a significant increase in the minority demographic, which should be translated to the demographic of environmental organizations. In order to obtain an increased minority demographic, organizations must make job and internship opportunities more accessible to by going out into racially diverse communities and institutions. Diversity within these organizations will not be achieved unless action is taken.  

- Ciara Young-Thomas