Scroll through the leadership team on most national environmental organizations’ websites and a certain trend emerges: the majority of staff members are white. Racial discrimination and environmental challenges are inexorably connected, yet seem to be isolated when it comes to organizations employing a diverse workforce in the environmental sector. People of color (POC) hold very few leadership positions at top environmental advocacy organizations, and yet are far more likely to be directly affected by the environmental and climate crises in their communities.
Green 2.0, a national group that tracks the diversity of influential organizations and foundations involved in the environmental movement in the hopes of facilitating more equality and inclusion, recently released its 2020 Transparency Report Card. It is a statistical analysis of data collected from the 40 largest NGO’s and 40 foundations in the United States, reporting the number of POC and women being recruited and hired on as staff members, board members or executive members, and the rate at which this is happening.
“We have more work that needs to be done in terms of diversifying representation on boards and in executive positions,” says Dr. Stefanie Johnson, associate professor at CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, who provided the statistical analysis for this year’s report and executive summary. “That’s where having a voice matters, where you can have influence and make sure communities of color are considered in big environmental decisions.”
The lack of diversity we’re facing within the environmental movement affects everyone, as Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, asserted during the report presentation on Jan. 13. “When it comes to our collective survival and the issues of conservation, climate change and long-term sustainability, we are dependent on the participation and leadership that POC, the young population and Urban America provide to successfully approach these subjects. It is vital to the health and life of every living thing on this earth.”
The 2020 Green 2.0 report shows a generally positive trend of diversification, as many organizations have hired more POC, but large-scale changes are still lacking. POC and women are still more likely to hold lower-paying jobs at these organizations rather than leadership positions. They are also more likely to leave their jobs and the environmental movement as a whole. As organizations continue to spend time, effort and money recruiting POC, Johnson urges that they need to be mindful; when these people are quickly leaving, it points to the need for a larger internal culture shift.
In congruence with 2020’s profound racial and social justice movement, Green 2.0 has seen many of these big environmental organizations reaching out with an increased interest in implementing diversity training.
“The interest is there,” says Green 2.0’s communications director, Daniel Herrera. “Now it’s really about the follow-through.”
One concern raised by Johnson is that diversity training will take the place of facilitating real, tangible change, ultimately serving as the proverbial band-aid for a bullet wound.
“The training is good,” Johnson says, “but if it’s going to take the place of action, it’s not good. If organizations are doing trainings but aren’t changing things, then it becomes detrimental. Companies often conduct the training and then feel like, ‘OK, we checked the box, we’re good, we can go back to normal now.’ They must commit to making other structural changes that actually matter.”
It’s action, after all, that really makes a difference, and not words and pledges. Best practices for companies succeeding in diversity inclusion include implementing unconscious bias and inclusion training. When not done well, however, studies have shown that trainings can increase bias between marginalized groups or cause backlash; trainings can reinforce stereotypes, or in some cases anger some people who may ultimately double down on their resentment.
“It’s frustrating when you have organizations doing trainings and studying equity gaps without taking action on diversity,” says Mark Magaña, founder and CEO of GreenLatinos, a national non-profit confronting environmental issues within the Latino community. “It’s one of the easiest things we can do when it comes to inclusion and equity. If we can’t achieve diversity, which is a basic metric, how do we hope to even begin to make an inclusive environmental sector we need in order to see the environmental wins we need in Colorado?”
Ean Tafoya, a Colorado field advocate with GreenLatinos, also expresses concern that diversity training, ironically, isn’t as inclusive for POC. “These organizations need more advanced and individualized trainings, because the training itself is not a one-size-fits-all situation,” he says. “If you see POC attending equity training, the subject matter can potentially be re-traumatizing or triggering for many of them. We (POC) aren’t provided the opportunity for advanced diversity work. We often are engaged in planning, but that’s it. We need opportunities to grow as well, and by continually moving through introductory work we are forced to relive trauma, aggression and denial by our colleagues in working through introductory concepts.”
While diversity training can be an important tool, and is a step in the right direction when conducted properly, diverse representation within environmental organizations is still sorely lacking. Green 2.0’s Transparency Report shows that much more work still needs to be done, and that it’s direct and powerful action that is needed to fill the equity gap.
“This is not about altruism,” Magaña says. “The bottom line is that we will not succeed until we include everyone at the decision-making table. The time for bold action is now, and there are no excuses.”