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How green organizations can hire more people of color

Here is what green organizations can do to accelerate diversity, equity, inclusion and justice efforts.

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I am deputy director of Green 2.0 and a Latina. I am also an exception to the rule. 

From 2017 to 2020, major environmental organizations added just two people of color and two women to their senior teams, according to Green 2.0's recent Transparency Report findings. 

Green 2.0 works to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the environmental movement. We have found that while the environmental sector is working toward achieving diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) in its staffing practices, this progress is not happening fast enough.

More people like me deserve opportunities to become leaders in the movement. 

My trajectory to Green 2.0 started at a congressional office in D.C. and shaped the work I do today. I worked for Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who made U.S. history in 2008 as the first African-American woman to serve as speaker of any state legislature.

Working for Bass imparted on me this wisdom: As the only woman of color in many rooms, people underestimated her everywhere she went. She used this to her benefit by surprising people with what she could do. She thrived and flourished in settings that were not meant for her. She also harnessed her personal life experiences into her work and used that perspective to make an impact.

Many young people of color interested in conservation or climate work see that most of the movement looks nothing like them.

Seeing a woman of color of her stature accomplishing all that she did allowed me to realize my own goals and dreams. It was a transformative experience for me that led to the social justice work I do now.

My next experience was at Mentor National, where I advocated for policy changes for young people but specifically focused my work on increasing opportunities for young people of color.

I soon realized how lucky I was to have worked alongside Bass. As I worked in the mentoring movement and saw mentees with mentors, I realized how pervasive whiteness was. The lack of mentors of color created a wide gap in understanding mentees' cultural and background experiences. It was clear that the youth development field that was also mostly white-led needed to be more diverse and inclusive. 

This disconnect between communities served and staff and leadership demographics is also a common occurrence in environmental and conservation organizations today, plaguing many big-name groups. My experiences in predominantly white nonprofits made me realize how crucial it was to center DEIJ into the foundational work of all green organizations. 

Here is what green organizations can do to accelerate DEIJ efforts. These suggestions also apply to the sustainability teams within corporations:  

  1. Write intentional job descriptions. Organizations must be intentional and address built-in biases that manifest during the hiring and recruitment process. One first and essential step is to be mindful of how organizations write job descriptions to be holistic and evaluate the whole person's experiences.  
  2. Diversify hiring committees. When interviewing candidates, this process shouldn't always be led by a predominantly white senior leadership team. There are definitely biases in place when people are interviewing individuals who don't look like them. To mitigate this, pull folks from all areas of an organization — entry and mid-level up to senior positions — to ensure a diverse array of perspectives are considered. 
  3. Mentorship. If you are in a senior or leadership role at a green organization, consider being a mentor to people of color who are starting out or need guidance in their careers. Being mentored by many women of color was instrumental for me. 

Additionally, here are tips for people of color looking for career opportunities at green organizations or in the sustainability profession:  

  1. Ask about advancement opportunities. Too often, organizations hire people of color to fill some quota system and are not integrating these voices, perspectives and experiences into all staffing levels. People of color are often the first ones to leave due to this lack of career development. That's why it's important to ask prospective employers about their promotion and development opportunities during the interviewing process.
  2. Talk to existing staff of color about their experiences. Many employers are integrating panel-style interviews. Be sure to use that opportunity to ask questions about work culture and attitudes on diversity and inclusion. 
  3. Are people of color reflected in staff and leadership positions? If not, ask why not. 

People of color are disproportionately more affected by the effects of climate change, breathing polluted air and drinking contaminated water. And while the environmental sector is supposed to be inclusive of the people most affected, most green organizations are white-led. Many young people of color interested in conservation or climate work see that most of the movement looks nothing like them. This lack of representation dissuades many young people of color from becoming active participants in important environmental work. Those focused on climate action cannot afford to leave these vital voices out of the dialogue. 

We have to do better. Green organizations focused on sustainability and conservation work must bring many more diverse voices to the table. Only then can we in the movement create the change that we seek on a deep, structural level.

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