The environment sector is failing to act on its ambitions to become more inclusive, and new research suggests that only one in 20 organizations enact plans to increase racial diversity.
According to a sector-wide survey, out of 44 environmental charities, 84% had considered or were taking action about non-inclusion, but only 4% said they had an action plan in place consistently.
Three-quarters of executives and trustees of environmental charities believe that increasing diversity will have a positive impact on the sector. But while 86% of leaders agreed that it should be a top priority for the sector, only 22% felt that it really was.
The search was commissioned by Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL), a coalition of environmental charities, to guide a new collective strategy aimed at increasing diversity in the sector.
Members are calling for collective action to implement sector-wide unconscious bias training, in-depth research on racism, and programs to recruit more people of color for leadership roles.
“Many people feel excluded from nature and many people still feel excluded from the nature sector,” said Dr. Richard Benwell, CEO of WCL.
“Our research shows that there is a great appetite for change in the environmental movement. People want to be part of an inclusive, diverse and socially progressive movement. They know that saving nature will depend on the talents and energy of everyone working together.
“It also shows that despite this conviction, many organizations are still initially about diversity and inclusion.”
As in many sectors, the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 inspired a new urgency for efforts to diversify the environmental professions, and address systemic biases.
Recent research has also shown how people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be affected by environmental damage, both nationally and globally. As understanding has grown, the narrative around environmental issues has shifted to include racial and social injustice, and a sense of the need to diversify the environmental sector to address them.
But in 2021, only 4.8% of environmental professionals had an ethnic minority heritage, compared to 12.6% of the overall workforce, according to official figures. Only agriculture had a lower representation of ethnic minorities.
WCL’s research – based on a survey of 2,004 environmental professionals, 225 of whom were in senior positions – found that leaders were more optimistic about their organizations’ work on diversity than employees.
While 60% of CEOs believe that increasing racial diversity is a top priority in their organizations, only 38% of employees recognize this in their workplace.
The responses of ethnic minority workers were of particular concern. While only 98 of those surveyed indicated that they came from ethnic minorities, they consistently had lower ratings on the equality, diversity and inclusion policies of their organizations.
Impressively, 11 other ethnic minority environmentalists who were interviewed all said that there is racism in this sector. They said that this was often unconscious prejudice or subtle discrimination rather than outright racism; But behavior with racist connotations was often dismissed, and racist behavior had few repercussions.
Most ethnic minority professionals in this sector said the inability to volunteer or low-paid jobs in order to gain experience was a barrier to entry. They complained of a lack of clear career advancement, of arriving at work to find a white colleague who had been promoted to a vacancy they did not know existed.
To date, 42 organizations have signed on to the WCL strategy, including the RSPB, RSPCA, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.
Bessie Speight, CEO of RSPB, said: “We are in a nature and climate emergency, saving nature through people, all people.
“We need to join with people of all backgrounds in leading, defending, and accessing nature.
“This roadmap highlights inconvenient but essential realities in furthering the critical work required to increase racial diversity and meaningful inclusion across the conservation sector, especially for people of color.”
Development of the roadmap was funded by Natural England, the John Ellerman Foundation, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.