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Initiatives Underway to Improve Diversity In Environmental Workforce In The UK

12th Apr 2022

Steps are being taken in the UK’s sustainability and environment professions to address the lack of diversity, as it stands less than 5% of professionals in organisations within the sector identify as being from minority ethnic backgrounds.

The steps involve a data drive, asking the UK’s environmental NGOs and charities to annually report on the diversity of their workforce. The data is co-led by Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS-UK), Nature Youth Connection and Education, South Asians For Sustainability and Hindu Climate Action. The aim of the data drive is to improve racial diversity within the organisations of the UK’s environmental profession.

Among the organisations providing support is IEMA, and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation will be funding all of the main initiative.

The US is already deploying a reporting initiative, called the Green 2.0 scheme, in which 40 US-based not-for-profits and foundations have signed up to, normalising the annual reporting of racial diversity statistics within the profession.

By annually reporting the racial diversity statistics within each sector it is hoped all aspects of the organisation, plus its funders can access and analyse information on how diverse their workforces and boards of trustees are. Having access to this information allows for dialogue to open up about how and what improvements can be made, and allows for peer-to-peer learning on best practices. This initiative is called the Racial Action For The Climate Emergency Report in the UK, or RACE for short.

There’re been more than 30 organisations already committed to submitting data to the RACE Report for its inaugural edition, including Ashden, ClientEarth, Global Action Plan, Greepeace, IEMA, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and The Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The data will be reported each year and there will be a league table element added in 2023 once the ‘benchmark’ inaugural report is published.

As well as the league table element, the following year will see anonymised staff surveys, allowing staff from participating organisations to share lived experiences, and report instances of best practice and poor practice.

The initiative is a long time coming.

In 2017 SOS-UK analysed data from the Office For National Statistics and found that environmental sustainability is the UK’s second-least diverse profession in terms of race and ethnicity, second only to farming.

On the 5th of April, SOS-UK published updated data that showed little had improved since then. Only 4.8% of environment professionals identify as Black, Asian, or from another minority ethnic background. This is well below the UK national average of 12.6% across all professions.

By revealing this data it shows that before people even enter the workforce there is a lack of diversity within universities and colleges, demonstrating a failure of these institutions in attracting and supporting racially diverse student cohorts for environmental courses. For example, it revealed that just 6% of students in biodiversity and nature conservation courses identified as Black, Asian or from another minority ethnic background, even though the average across all higher education courses is 26%.

RACE Report team member Manu Maunganidze said this evidence is “sobering at best”, showing “very modest” progress that “few would say is anywhere near good enough”.

“At the current rate, it would take the sector over 20 years to get to a point of representation matching the reality of racial diversity of other professions.”

“We urgently need transparency on the racial diversity of individual organisations’ trustee boards and staff teams, and we plan to deliver that through the RACE Report. Without comparative data and evidence, the improvements will continue to be incremental and the sector and its funders will continue to fall behind in their stated aims to fight for social and environmental justice.”

RACE Report team member Manu Maunganidze

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