Environmental Groups Lag Nation in Diversity

Environmental Groups Lag Nation in Diversity

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Mainstream environmental groups are not mirroring the increasing racial diversity in the United States, according to a new report.

While minorities make up 36 percent of the population, they account for no more than 16 percent of the staff of environmental organizations – a figure that hasn’t budged much in several decades.

The report’s author Dorceta E. Taylor, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, says more diverse hiring reflects a real institutional commitment to change.

The report found green groups expressed a high level of interest in diversity initiatives, but cited a lack of job openings and few minority applicants as barriers.

“Ninety percent [of green groups] have made hires. It’s not that they don’t have money to hire staff,” Taylor said, calling the number of minorities that had been hired “miniscule.”

The report findings were based on surveys with more than 300 organizations representing nonprofits, grantmaking foundations and government agencies. It was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Arcus Foundation, Sierra Club, and Earthjustice.

Taylor noted one bright spot in the report: Green groups have made progress in hiring and promoting more, predominantly white, women within the organization.

Women made up half of executive director positions at more than 1,700 green nonprofit groups, and nearly 70 percent of that position at grantmaking foundations.

The report found that the most popular diversity initiative undertaken by mainstream environmental groups was to promote women already working within the company. They were less likely to promote minorities within the company.

As a result, the report cited, ethnic minorities occupy less than 12 percent of the leadership positions in the environmental organizations studied.

Miya Yoshitani, executive director of the Oakland-based Asian Pacific Environmental Network, says the number of minorities in top leadership were “even worse than I thought.”

“Once hired, they are concentrated into lower ranks,” she said. “It looks like there have been attempts to recruit staff, but those staff don’t rise into leadership positions at the same rate as others do.”

Taylor, the report author, says big green groups need to broaden recruiting efforts beyond closed circles and collaborate with low-income and minority groups.

Mark Magaña, the founder and principal of the Hispanic Strategy Group/GreenLatinos, says environmental organizations have another powerful reason to break out of their silos.

It’s increasingly more difficult to win bipartisan support in Congress to pass big environmental initiatives, such as the cap and trade bill five years ago, he says. When green groups failed to win support to push through a climate change plan, it “opened their eyes.”

“We don’t have strength of the base we used to have,” he said. “We need to expand that base to expand our electoral power.”