Leadership of environmental groups is still mostly white and male.

Environmental organizations have made significant progress on gender diversity in their ranks, but fall far short on racial diversity, a new study has found.

Green 2.0, a diversity advocacy group, commissioned the report that examined three types of institutions: 191 conservation and preservation organizations, 74 government environmental agencies and 28 environmental grant-making foundations.

The report found that the percentage of women in leadership positions and on the staff of environmental groups had increased over time, though white women were the chief beneficiaries of these gains.

Women dominated executive director’s positions in environmental grant-making foundations, and they had the greatest likelihood of becoming chair of the board in these foundations.

However, men were still more likely than women to occupy the most powerful positions in environmental organizations, the report found.

More than 70% of the presidents and chairs of the board of conservation/preservation organizations studied were male, and at the largest groups, the proportion rose to 90%.

Men dominated the executive director positions in government environmental agencies, and were far more likely than women to be on the staff of government environmental agencies.

They also occupied the majority of the top leadership positions in environmental grant-making organizations.


The report called the current state of racial diversity in environmental organizations “troubling,” and said it lagged far behind gender diversity.

Despite the growth in the ethnic minority population in the U.S. — currently 38% — the percentage of minorities on the boards or general staff of environmental organizations did not exceed 16% in the three types of institutions studied.

Once hired in environmental organizations, the report said, ethnic minorities were concentrated in the lower ranks. As a result, they occupied less than 12% of the leadership positions in the groups studied.

Hiring practices militate against improvement.

The report said environmental jobs were still advertised and new employees recruited in ways that introduced unconscious biases and facilitated the replication of the current work force.

Recruitment for new staff frequently occurs through word-of-mouth and informal networks, leaving ethnic minorities, the working class or anyone outside of traditional environmental networks at a disadvantage in finding out about job openings and applying for them.

Nor do environmental organizations recruit from places where they are most likely to find new and talented ethnic minority candidates.

Moreover, the report found, environmental organizations do not use the internship pipeline effectively to find ethnic minority workers.

The organizations studied expressed a desire to diversify their boards and staff. Yet few were found to have a diversity manager or to have formed a diversity committee.

Diversity managers were more often found in governmental agencies, the report said.

None of the grant-making foundations in the study had a diversity manager.

The report found that the most popular diversity initiative at environmental organizations was the promotion of women from within to leadership positions. These groups were much less likely, however, to promote ethnic minorities already working in an organization to leadership positions.

“Promotions go primarily to white females,” the report said. “Women of color are still on the outside looking in, along with their male counterparts.”

Work to Be Done

The report’s researchers interviewed 21 environmental professionals about what they thought needed to be done. Their views:

  • Significant work has to be done to make the workplace more inclusive and welcoming to a broader range of people.
  • The dominant culture of the organizations is alienating to ethnic minorities, the poor, the LGBTQ community and others outside the mainstream.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion should be core values included in environmental organizations’ mission statements.
  • Increasing racial diversity in the organizations should be a high priority.
  • Discriminatory hiring practices prevent talented ethnic minorities willing and able to work from obtaining jobs in environmental organizations.
  • The environmental discourse has to encompass a wider range of people and the issues they are concerned with.
  • Greater effort should be made to facilitate the emergence of a more multicultural generation of leaders.
  • Diversity data should be collected and tracked in environmental organizations, particularly nongovernmental ones.

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