Workers at environmental charities have said bold words on inclusion are not being matched with action, as research shows the sector still lags far behind others in racial diversity.
Only about one in 20 workers in the environmental charity sector identified as an ethnic minority last year, according to a survey of organisations, compared with one in eight in the wider UK workforce.
About the same proportion was represented in the senior leadership of organisations, the research found. The findings reveal the environment, climate, sustainability and conservation sector as one of the UK’s least diverse.
One hundred and forty-two environmental organisations, representing almost 13,000 employees, submitted data to the research, carried out by the Race (racial action on the climate emergency) Report campaign, up from 91 the previous year.
In spite of the disappointing findings – one percentage point down on last year’s, although more organisations were now taking part – many organisations said they were intensifying efforts to improve ethnic diversity and inclusion.
One in 10 reported publishing or being in the process of publishing data on their race equity pay gap compared with one in 20 in 2022; two-thirds reported hiring a senior leader with responsibility for equality, diversity and inclusion, up from 44%; and 85% said they were carrying out reviews of the effectiveness of that work.
“It’s encouraging to see how much the sector’s engagement with racial diversity has grown in just one year,” said Manu Maunganidze, of the Race Report. “The more data we have at our disposal, the better equipped we are to shape best practice and ensure we are amplifying underrepresented voices in the fight for social and environmental justice.”
But workers of colour at environmental charities said their employers’ public ambitions on diversity and inclusion were not being matched by concrete steps to broaden their appeal beyond a traditional base of white middle-class supporters.
“There is a broad understanding that we need to broaden our network in order to win,” said one worker at a large campaigning organisation. “But there is a huge disconnect between what is being said [and what is being done].”
After the global Black Lives Matter protests nearly four years ago, many organisations introduced policies to try to improve the diversity of their workforces, workers said.
“But this was back in 2020, and while they have employed some people to do this review and have these discussions, when I spoke to other colleagues of colour within [my] organisation it feels like there is a lot of discussion around these things but not much action,” said a worker at an environmental research organisation.
There was a perception shared among workers that their organisations still did not give issues affecting people of colour – from Israel’s destruction of Gaza, to urban air pollution, and climate migration – as much significance. “The sentiment is there but there is no action, and how they mobilise – there’s just a really big disconnect,” one said.
Another said that even where organisations declared their aim was to tackle environmental racism and address the issues affecting marginalised communities, structural barriers impeded these efforts.
“Broadly in the sector there is more what you would call upward accountability rather than downward accountability,” the worker said. “Your priorities lie with the donors and that’s who you are accountable to, rather than the people you say your work is accountable to, which is more marginalised groups.”
Another added: “The climate sector as a whole has not grasped that climate change is going to impact people in the global south, [the] working class the hardest.
“Relying on rich white people to build a movement is only going to get us so far.”
A survey of staff perceptions included within the Race Report research reflected the disparity of feelings between staff. White-identifying workers were more likely than workers of colour to agree their employer’s policies identified and opposed racism. Similarly, white workers were more likely to feel they had as many opportunities to succeed as their peers, although more than half of non-white workers also agreed.
Three-quarters of workers of colour reported they felt they belonged in their organisation – compared with 84% of white identifying workers.