Taylor on Increasing Diversity in Environmental Leadership

It occurred to me after I posted some quotes from Dr. Taylor’s work, that some of you might not be familiar with her work on diversity in environmental organizations. I was looking for sociological studies of environmental organizations for my “Finding Common Ground” paper, and found Taylor’s report “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations” which was commissioned by a group called Environment 2.0, “watchdogs for inequality in the environmental sector.” Their website is well worth checking out as Taylor’s report.

Here are two excerpts from the study:

a. Environmental organizations are much less likely to promote ethnic minorities already working in an organization to leadership positions. b. Promotions go primarily to White females. Women of color are still on the outside looking in, along with their male counterparts. c. This results in a narrowing of the gender gap while perpetuating the already wide racial gap in the leadership of environmental organizations.

Ethnic minorities are severely underrepresented in the environmental workforce. ii. Though ethnic minorities are also underrepresented in the science and engineering (S&E) workforce nationwide, they are employed in the S&E workforce to a much greater percentage than they are in the environmental workforce. Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans comprise 29% of the S&E workforce.

Why is this of interest? Perhaps if the goal is to diversify leadership (including political) of federal agencies, it would make it more difficult to select diverse people if you look mainly in ENGOs. And the white female thing.. I did notice that in recently appointed folks in Interior, there seemed to be quite a few white females. Not that there is anything wrong with white females, of course, but our whole community (ENGOs, government agencies, industry, academia) has a long way to go toward diversity, and IMHO the Biden Administration is a good place to make some sizeable gains. In my experience, groups who face similar challenges tend to band together, so while you might hire or promote one person, you may well bring an entire network of possibilities with them.

There may well be a greater proportion of diverse folks working in natural resources than in environmental fields, possibly due to the outreach and support that has been going on, with a great many ups and downs, for at least twenty years. There may be other reasons that would be worth exploring. In my own career with the Forest Service, I worked for three high-level (SES) Black male leaders, Larry Bembry, Jim Reaves, and Brian Ferebee, and I retired about ten years ago.

Good on Secretary Vilsack or whomever picked Randy Moore! Anyway, here’s a piece Taylor wrote in 2020 for Sierra Magazine updating her 2014 study:

When I researched and wrote The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations in 2014, I found that minorities composed just 14.6 percent of the staff of environmental organizations. Most of them worked in entry-level or mid-level positions in human resources, accounting, and community organizing. Meanwhile, people of color make up 38 percent of the US population, and this will be a majority-minority country by the year 2042.

When they were asked why so few people of color worked at their organizations, environmental staff blamed limited job openings, a lack of minority applicants (and not knowing how to find and recruit them), and the absence of a diversity manager. Any existing diversity efforts had mostly benefited white women.

I was moved to write the report because of the painfully slow progress environmental organizations were making. When I talked with environmental leaders, they always asked me for proof that levels of diversity are as low as people of color allude to. The report was an attempt to provide that evidence and document the difficulties that people of color face while working at these organizations.

After the report was released, several major environmental organizations pledged to support the goals outlined in the document. Over five years later, they still have predominantly white workforces and are increasingly reluctant to collect and reveal institutional diversity data. In 2014, only 6 percent reported gender and race data. By 2018, that number had dropped to 3 percent.

Environmental justice advocates want to see more than words to heal the wounds of the past. They want to see full accountability from environmental organizations about the concrete steps they have taken and what they have accomplished in making their organizations diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The future of environmental justice is one in which people of color are recognized as equal partners in environmental affairs, and it is one in which people of color can realize the adage coined at the outset of the environmental justice movement: “We speak for ourselves.”

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