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Six Enviros Pledge to Go Public on Diversity

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Investment & Markets

North American environmental groups have been admitting it for years: The movement needs diversity in its representation. Organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club and others have come forward over the years to admit, often at the nudging of critics, that honoring diversity in the global environment starts with reflecting diversity in its numbers -- including its management.

The problem is: Until recently there hasn't been much of a global roadmap on how to attain that goal. Tracking diversity numbers has largely been left up to organizations with little public transparency.

But that changes next year, say six of the world's largest environmental organizations. The Sierra Club, NRDC, Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, Resources Media and EarthJustice have pledged to release their diversity numbers by February 2015. The announcement was made by Green 2.0 at the Breaking the Green Ceiling forum, which it and New Media hosted on Dec. 9 in Washington D.C. Environmental groups will submit their numbers to their Guidestar profiles.

Last July Green 2.0 released its seminal report, The State of Diversity in the Mainstream Environmental Sector. The report, which was led by University of Michigan professor Dorceta Taylor, provides an insightful, if not concerning, view of the lack of diversity and multiculturalism in global environmental organizations.  Some of the highlights most include:

  • People of color represent only 12.4 percent of staff in nongovernmental organizations.

  • Only 12.8 percent of the people hired in NGOs in the last three years have been people of color.

  • When polled on whether there should be mechanisms set up to increase the numbers of minorities and low-income residents in activities and organizational boards: 74 percent of managers agreed that "it should be done." Fifty percent said they would be "likely or very likely to support"

By encouraging environmental organizations to post their diversity numbers as part of their Guidestar profiles, diversity advocates hope to prompt changes in the hiring of staff and encourage a more diverse cross-section of members to run for board positions.

NRDC's incoming President Rhea Suh, who was on hand to speak at the forum, embraced the announcement, stating that the new step would "accelerate the drive to improve diversity in our ranks, especially at senior leadership levels." Suh is the first woman of color to lead a major environmental organization. "But while greater transparency is a key driver of change, we also must significantly broaden this conversation so that Americans from all walks of life, embrace our efforts and goals as their own," added Suh.

And as Suh's statement notes, one point that was acknowledged in the report, but wasn't really addressed in the press releases and discussions about these upcoming changes, was the definition of diversity.

Taylor et al were careful to mention that "there are many other aspects of diversity such as religion, disability, etc. that are not covered in this report, and that should be the focus of future studies." It's a point that doesn't appear to have been factored into the new statistics for GuideStar.

In  the 1960s, '70s and '80s, when the definition of diversity in environmentalism was eventually stretched to include white women and women's perspectives, it was no less a cataclysmic shift than what is going on today. But the true definition of such multiculturalism, by its own description, holds no boundary. I can't help but wonder why Green 2.0, New America Media and their supporters did not seize the opportunity to address the fact that diversity in its truest meaning includes many who aren't yet mentioned -- and those that should be.

Disability issues should figure largely in any discussion of diversity in the environmental movement, particularly since so much has been done -- and still must be done -- to ensure that all individuals have the same ability to appreciate and access those resources being protected. And disability here doesn't mean only those in wheelchairs or with obvious limitations, but also those individuals whose disabilities aren't apparent and may lack the same courage to step forward because of fear of rejection or dismissal.

Putting diversity on an inclusive level is the only way to erase the challenge that every generation faces in battling for its new definition. Green 2.0 and its proponents have hopefully helped to fracture the green ceiling for many, and they can do even more by extending the understanding of what true diversity, in its unencumbered form, could bring to the environmental movement.

Image: Oregon Department of Transportation

Image: StevenMitchell

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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