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Environmental NGOs inch forward on racial and ethnic diversity

New findings by Green 2.0 also underscore a huge gap in funding for people-of-color-led organizations.

Green 2.0 graphic

Green 2.0 was established in 2014 as a watchdog on diversity in the environmental sector. The organization works to diversify the racial and ethnic face of the movement by providing research, data and education to environmental organizations, foundations and other stakeholders.

One way Green 2.0 measures diversity is through the release of its annual Transparency Report Card, which reflects demographic data of staff, leadership and boards from participating environmental NGOs and foundations. The latest report card was released this week and includes information collected from nearly 90 organizations.

Raviya Ismail, communications manager for Green 2.0, spoke with the organization’s executive director, Andres Jimenez, about big takeaways from this year’s report.

Raviya Ismail: What type of progress is the environmental sector making in terms of diversity and inclusion?

Andres Jimenez: Of the NGOs that participated this year, we found that the proportions of staff of color are increasing across all levels, although the average percentage of staff of color remains around 30 percent for full-time staff, senior staff and board members. We saw significant progress in the numbers of people of color senior staff, with a 25.2 percent increase from 2020 to 2021 and a 28 percent increase in people of color board members in that same time period. 

Additionally, this was the first year we collected demographic data for heads of NGOs. Our reporting found that 25.3 percent of organizations are led by people of color and 73.1 percent are white. This is only one year’s worth of data, so we don’t have a comparison to conclude if this is an upward trend; however, these percentages of people of color leading organizations are similar to the demographics of staff across all levels of organizations. 

Another factor we must take into consideration when looking at this data is that according to the 2019 census, the United States population is 60.1 percent white, so reporting organizations are markedly more white than even the general population. Progress is happening, yes, but to keep up with our country’s changing demographics, NGOs must accelerate their diversity efforts. 

Ismail: What are the findings from the foundation side?  

Jimenez: One of the biggest changes we made this year was to look at whether foundations are funding white-led groups and people of color-led groups equally. The short answer is: No, they are absolutely not.

Of the foundations that participated this year, on average they are funding white-led organizations at nearly 40 percent more annually than organizations led by people of color. That disparity is even more egregious when you take a look at multiyear funding. We found that groups led by people of color received less than 1 percent of multiyear funding, with white-led groups receiving more than 99 percent of multiyear funding.

When companies partner with other organizations, you are essentially co-signing the policies and practices of said company.

But what is more troubling is that this is anonymous data from foundations that volunteered to participate, and many foundations do not collect this funding data at all. This is the first year Green 2.0 decided to approach the data differently with environmental foundations, by looking at where the money goes, to ensure foundations are funding organizations that are led by people of color and not continuing to funnel most of their money toward causes and organizations led by white leaders. The data indicates that the sector has a lot of work to do on that front. 

Ismail: What demographic data do you have from foundations?

Jimenez: On average, board members of foundations’ grantee organizations are 34 percent people of color in comparison to 50 percent who are white. Senior staff reflected similar percentages, with 37 percent people of color and 55 percent white. The only way we will see these numbers change — from funding streams to the demographic makeup of boards and senior staff — is if more foundations are willing to engage in the uncomfortable conversations and be transparent in their policies and practices. We encourage more foundations to participate and disclose more transparency in the future. 

Andres Jimenez

Andres Jimenez, Green 2.0

Ismail: Overall, how is the green movement doing in comparison to last year?

Jimenez: Let us look back at key findings from our last report card for comparison purposes. The data that was collected between 2017 and 2020 found that in 2020, the proportion of staff of color across organizations was 26.3 percent and in 2021 the findings indicate that it is around 30 percent. Yes, we can say that progress is happening, albeit in small increments. 

Ismail: Many large companies in the GreenBiz audience engage with environmental organizations through their climate initiatives. Why should this data matter to these businesses? 

Jimenez: When companies partner with other organizations, you are essentially co-signing the policies and practices of said company. Diversity and inclusion policies are integral to ensure organizations of all types function better and most importantly,  that they serve the needs of everyone. Green 2.0 is a watchdog on diversity in the environmental space, but all you need to do is read the headlines and talk to people to recognize that workplaces that do not prioritize diversity and inclusion practices are struggling. That’s why the importance of data transparency cannot be overstated.

Environmental organizations that are doing it right take it a step further by reviewing and analyzing data regularly and incorporating these policies into all aspects of their work. Businesses should care about diversity and inclusion policies because it’s 2021, and if they are not on course to care about such policies, then essentially they are excluding an entire segment of the population. 

Ismail: What else would you like to share about the transparency report card process?

Jimenez: Data for this report was voluntarily submitted and self-reported by individual organizations. We rely on this data to hold the sector accountable, but it’s beneficial for organizations to participate because it’s an immediate signal that shows, "Hey, I care about diversity and inclusion, and here is my data to back up my words." The numbers aren’t always pretty but I’m proud of the many changes we made this year, making it the most comprehensive report we have released since its inception.

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