The report by University of Michigan professor, Dorceta Taylor, was the most exhaustive survey to date on the state of diversity among the nearly 300 independent groups and government agencies making up America’s environmental movement.
The report found:
• More than 70% of the presidents and board chairs of environmental groups were male. At the richest organisations – those with annual budgets over $1m – 90% were male.
• None of the $1m and over environmental groups had a minority president. Overall, ethnic minorities occupy fewer than 12% of leadership positions.
• Outside government, few of the organisations have diversity managers.
• Few of the organisations actively collaborate with minority groups or low-income groups.
• Just 12% of of jobs at non-governmental environmental groups were held by ethnic minorities – a recruiting rate below that for minorities in science and engineering jobs.
• White women were far more likely to be promoted than minority men and women, and just 4% of board members of environmental groups were ethnic minorities, Taylor found. Membership of mass organisations also skews white and male, with very few minorities members or volunteer at environmental groups.
The dismal findings amplify long-standing complaints from women and minorities that the groups which have taken it on themselves to lead transformational change are resistant to change themselves, and are dominated by white males.
“This jives with what we have heard from many in our field,” said Danielle Deane, a principal at the Raben consulting group, which commissioned the study.
“There has been a lot more attention paid to try to figure out how to have more gender balance, but not the same attention and resources to welcome people of colour from all walks of life.”
Minorities and those of mixed race make up 38% of America’s population, and research has shown that the African-American and Latino communities are more deeply concerned about climate change and other environmental issues than whites.
But women and minorities on staff at the mainstream environmental groups say leadership at those groups remains in thrall to an affluent, white male outdoorsy culture – exemplified by the explorer and US president Theodore Roosevelt – that is alien to the experience of more urban, less privileged Latinos and African- Americans.
There was only limited public reaction from the environmental groups placed under the microscope. Spokespeople for the World Wildlife Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists said there was no-one immediately available who would be familiar with the report.
The National Wildlife Federation said: “The report is a reminder that the conservation movement has more work to do when it comes to diversity in hiring.”
The 350.org campaign group said the report had drawn attention to an important issue. “Until these issues are addressed, the environmental movement will continue to be stuck in our silo while the planet and its people suffer. The findings on cross-race and cross-class collaboration are ones we’re paying particular attention to at 350.org, and where we’re seeing a lot of positive changes,” May Boeve, the group’s executive director, said in an email.
The League of Conservation Voters said it agreed with the report and applauded the effort. “We are proud of the steps we are taking to increase diversity within the movement, and have recently expanded our Latino outreach programme specifically with new offices and campaigns,” the group said.
But the findings reiterate a failure that was brought to environmental groups’ attention a quarter of a century ago. In 1990, civil rights leaders wrote to the eight largest environmental groups, including NWF, complaining of racism in their hiring practices.The leaders at the time denied racism and said they were trying to correct hiring practices.
Deanne said the report was the first step in a new initiative, Green 2.0, that is working to open up environmental groups. She said the initiative aimed to track hiring and other practices to make the groups more accountable.
Many of the environmental groups have diversity statements on their websites, or have held workshops on diversity, but this rarely translates into policies that would result in fair hiring and promotion practices, the report found.
That leaves environmental groups out of step with campaign group on other issues and even more progressive companies that put policies in place years ago to ensure fairer internal policies, and expand their outreach.
A few groups have begun to move in the right direction. Deanne pointed to Earth Justice, whose board had signed a diversity plan, and the Sierra Club’s work on environmental justice.
But she said immigration and education campaign groups had done a much better job at diversity – and so had some companies.
“This is one area where it looks like the corporations who usually get lectured to by the environmental community – the best of them anyway – may have a thing or two to teach mainstream environmental leaders about diversity,” Deanne said. “You have corporations like Coca Cola which support many of these mainstream environmental organisations that are known to be very pro-active for diversity.”