Making Room at the Table for Diverse Leaders

About the Author: Whitney Tome is the Executive Director of Green 2.0. 

Diversity Stats

Infographic produced by Green 2.0 with information obtained during inquiry for “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations” report.

While working in oceans, fisheries and national parks for a decade, I noticed a pattern – I was often the only women of color. I often found it hard to offer any solutions because I, like many others, had to overcome implicit and often explicit barriers where people may think I am less qualified, less knowledgeable and less able to provide insight.

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2014 Green 2.0 Launch

Over the years, I found a bevy of colleagues of color with similar experiences.

In the summer of 2014, Green 2.0’s released a report titled “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations,” which studied workplace diversity amongst 223 organizations in the environmental movement. The results showed that while people of color make up 36 percent of the U.S. population, the racial composition of staff hovers at from 12 to 16 percent in environmental organizations and government agencies. Following the release of the report, a conversation was ignited, and many of these organizations started taking substantive actions.

But why does this matter?

Lack of diversity among environmental leaders is an issue because environmental hazards disproportionately impact communities of color.  Without people of color in positions with policy-making capacity, it means that the perspectives of people of color are less likely to be included in the deliberations or outcomes. This is an environmental justice concern because if we are not including the people most directly impacted by environmental inequity, then the best interests of their communities will not be represented.

Diversity Stats2

Infographic produced by Green 2.0 with information obtained during inquiry for “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations” report.

With this in mind, my work with Green 2.0 has a simple mission: increase the racial diversity of the mainstream environmental movement.

Green 2.0 engages with environmental NGOs and foundations by calling on them to share their diversity data annually. Many NGOs and foundations are improving their hiring practices, assessing and addressing their work culture, and engaging diverse communities.

So where does EPA fit in?

AOB_0080 (1)At Green 2.0’s launch in 2014, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke about the importance of accountability and measuring diversity in government by explaining that “operating without a diverse workplace is like having our arms tied behind our backs.”

EPA has historically acknowledged diversity as an important issue for the agency. You can learn more about what the agency is doing to support a diverse workforce.

And you – no matter where you work – can ask what your organization or agency is doing on diversity. Depending on the answer, you can start a conversation about the diversity data, what diversity means to the organization, and how to create an inclusive culture for all.

Diversity matters, and as we continue to face increasingly complex environmental challenges, we will need diverse perspectives to create innovation solutions to these mounting concerns.

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