Dec 14, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Anti-DEI efforts apparently hurting environmental sector

Illustration of two silhouetted cut-outs of people of color back-to-back in front of a collage of maps, polluting industrial towers, and a work lanyard.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The dwindling diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) movement appears to be slowing the diversifying of environmental organizations and foundations, according to an analysis of a new report.

Why it matters: People of color in the U.S. are disproportionately affected by climate change and more likely to live in areas with higher pollution, yet white people lead most major non-governmental organizations and foundations focused on solving these issues.

Details: Green 2.0, a watchdog organization that tracks diversity in the environmental sector, published its annual report based on data from 73 NGOs and 25 foundations on Wednesday. This year:

  • Only 7.6% of NGO board members and 5.3% of heads or organizations were Hispanic, according to self-reported data.
  • About 68% of heads of organizations were white, 10.5% were Asian and 9.2% were Black.
  • Of all full-time staff, nearly 12% were Hispanic, 58% white, 12.3% Black and 6.6% Asian.
  • Key takeaway: There was no increase in the number of people of color in senior staff and board positions at NGOs from 2022 to 2023. There were actually small declines in diverse employees within some racial or ethnic groups, the report found.

What they're saying: Environmental organizations have failed to build strong pipelines of diverse workers to leadership positions, says Andres Jimenez, Green 2.0's executive director.

  • "One of the biggest problems is not only is it hard to get people of color into the environmental sector, but it's even harder to retain them," Jimenez says.
  • "They'll come into an organization and not see anybody who looks like them. That's very discouraging."

Between the lines: Businesses and universities are cutting diversity programs after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning affirmative action and amid political backlash. Lawmakers in red states have also pushed back on such programs.

  • All of this has "definitely played a role" in a slowdown of diverse hires in the environmental sector, Jimenez says.

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