Posted on June 25, 2018

How Green Groups Became So White and What to Do About It

Diane Toomey, YaleEnvironment360, June 21, 2018

In 2014, Dorceta Taylor, a professor of Environmental Sociology at the University of Michigan, {snip} published a study earlier this year that found fewer organizations are now voluntarily reporting their diversity statistics and, of those that are, the percentage of nonwhites on their staff and boards remains low.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Taylor offered this advice to green groups: “Stop being so afraid of people of color. Meet them, interact with them, cultivate them, identify students early, and start recruiting them. If all the people I talked to, and knew, and interacted with were black, no one would take me particularly seriously — I have to engage multi-culturally. That burden of proof should be on everybody.”

Taylor — whose latest book, The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection, examines how race, class, and gender influenced the U.S. conservation movement — says that as an African American woman she still experiences professional marginalization. {snip}

Yale Environment 360: In 2014, Green 2.0 [a nonprofit diversity initiative] released your report, “Diversity in Environmental Institutions.” Your findings were pretty dismal. Of the NGOs that responded to your survey, 88 percent of staff and 95 percent of boards were white. What followed was an agreement that provided for reporting of diversity data. What was your hope for that voluntary system?

Taylor: We’ve seen in government and in corporations that when diversity data is released, it holds the organizations a bit more accountable for their actions. {snip}

This is where diversity comes in, because if environmental organizations continue to ignore 35 percent to 40 percent of the population, they’re going to be in a world of hurt in terms of finding talent as we move toward a majority minority country. This is going to happen by 2042, so we’re not that far off. {snip}

e360: In January, you released another major study. This one looked at more than 2,000 environmental organizations and how many were reporting their diversity data and diversity activities. What did you find?

Taylor: We found that the reporting was very low. We found that size matters. The larger organizations were more likely to report data than medium-sized organizations with budgets like, say, under $4 million. Once you get into really small budgets, the percentage of those organizations that are reporting diversity data is really, really low.

e360: Talk about the overall number, and what the trend has been since 2014 when your report made a big splash.

Taylor: For any type of diversity reporting at all, it was around 14 percent [of the organizations responding]. When you got to reporting about the staff, that fell off to about 6 percent. What we’re seeing, again, {snip} many nonprofits actually don’t collect that data.


e360: You mentioned some, as you put it, charitable reasons why organizations are not reporting. Are some of them not reporting because they’re just simply too embarrassed to report their statistics?

Taylor: {snip} It’s hard to tell how much of the non-reporting is resistance to the idea of reporting, how much it’s embarrassment for lack of progress, {snip}.

E360: Of the organizations that did report, the mean percent of white board members reported was 83 perecent. {snip} What are organizations not doing that they need to start doing to end up with staff and boards that look like the population of the U.S.?

Taylor: One of the things they should be doing is stop being so afraid of people of color, and meet them, interact with them, cultivate them, and start recruiting them. {snip}

Homogeneity, 150 years of it, has cost a lot of money. These organizations are not looking the way they look by total randomness. There’s an investment in the board, the staff, the volunteers, the members, to look the way they look. Therefore, to change that is going to require money to hire staff, to hire recruiters, to pay to place your [job] ad. When you’re advertising for new staff, you need to put it in a place where people of different backgrounds can see it. {snip}

Boards have to go out and recruit, look for folks, and they have to give up the idea that we’re bringing people into an organization to just do what the organization wants them to do. {snip}

e360: {snip} What were your findings regarding minority students’ academic preparation for the environmental work force, and their interest in those jobs, compared to white students?

Taylor: When you look at something like biology, as a matter of fact, students of color had a higher rate of taking bio than white students. {snip}


{snip} Yet, for someone like myself, I’m automatically suspect, because people are looking at skin color and gender, and I’m automatically suspect as not being qualified to work in the field.


Taylor: For millennials in general, including white students, they’re looking for diversity on the staff, and students of color especially are looking for opportunities to be promoted and opportunities to take on leadership roles.


Organizations “have to be open and honest and say, ‘We’re at the beginning of a journey. Can you come be a part of this journey with us?’”