WASHINGTON, D.C. — EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday that the nation’s leading environmental institutions would be more effective at protecting public health if they were more diverse.
“We know that as we look at issues like clean water, clean air and climate change, the low-income communities and communities of color are always the worst affected by pollution,” McCarthy told a group of environmentalists, nonprofit and community leaders during a briefing organized by Green 2.0 and New America Media. “We have to bring the benefits of clean air and clean water to those who need them the most, to those who need their voices be heard…That is what diversity means to me.”
The EPA administrator made her remarks to more than 100 people, including about 20 reporters from ethnic media, at the National Press Club. She rallied leaders from different sectors to “reflect the communities that they serve and engage a broader constituency” to make sure ethnic minorities are well represented in the environmental world.
“It means that not only [should we] get our workforce diverse,” McCarthy said, “but [we should] also make sure everyone in our workforce has an opportunity to become a leader in those [environmental] agencies.”
McCarthy’s message is part of an effort by Green 2.0, an initiative dedicated to increasing racial diversity across environmental NGOs, foundations and government agencies, after a report released last summer highlighted the failure of environmental organizations and agencies to increase recruitment and retention of people of color, especially at the executive and board levels.
People of color now account for more than a third of the U.S. population, and they poll higher than whites in support of environmental issues. Yet the report commissioned by Green 2.0 — which surveyed 191 environmental nonprofits, 74 government environmental agencies, and 28 leading environmental foundations — found that they have not broken the “green ceiling” in the mainstream environmental movement.
In the past three years, people of color account for only 12.4 percent of the staff hired at environmental NGOs, 15 percent hired in government agencies; and 12 percent hired by foundations, according to the report. And of the organizations studied, the report shows, very few of the largest budget organizations had a president, vice president, or assistant director who was a person of color.
This lack of diversity can have repercussions on environmental groups’ ability to address the needs of those communities, noted McCarthy.
It is much easier to address the issues of public health and environmental protection when there are workers who understand the vulnerabilities in their own communities, she said, whether it is the “dangerous smog that causes asthma for one out of five kids in some communities, or the toxic chemicals that are shutting down our water supplies.”
Operating without a diverse workplace, McCarthy said, is like “having our arms tied behind our backs.”
Over the last several years, the administrator says that the civil rights movement has made significant progress in promoting access to equal opportunity and employment. But in order to sustain it, she says, everyone should be held accountable.
“We need to be unafraid to talk to our staff about how they’re doing, about getting more diversity into the hiring that they have, and about talking about how to become a more inclusive agency,” McCarthy said.