Improving diversity in the environment sector – a toolkit for today

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Logo: Lottery Heritage Fund

Drew Bennellick, Head of Land and Nature Policy, National Lottery Heritage Fund

It is clear that organisations in the environment sector want to increase the diversity of their workforce, but many are unsure how to achieve it. Staff from minority ethnic backgrounds make up just 3.1% of the environment sector workforce and the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic on young people’s employment prospects has further widened existing skills gaps and shortages in the UK.

The River Meon in the South Downs National Park
River Meon in South Downs National Park (Daniel Greenwood)

In response, we created a toolkit to help natural heritage organisations be more inclusive and equitable in recruiting young people from minority ethnic backgrounds at the start of their careers. This simple toolkit offers positive solutions and advice to attract more young people from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

We wanted to look at the barriers that prevent these young people from applying, and offer employers easy, straightforward ways to encourage them to apply. One of our Windsor Fellows led the creation of the guide and we spoke to organisations who are actively working to improve access to the environment sector and have been successful in doing so.

As Earth Scientist Dr Anjana Khatwa, who advised the Heritage Fund on creating the toolkit, says, we are all affected by the global challenges of climate change and it’s important we have a diverse range of voices involved and represented in the environment sector workforce to create a fairer and more sustainable future for everyone.

We carried out several virtual interviews with a number of environmental projects, organisations and partners to develop the toolkit. It contains practical tips and advice, including advertising and outreach, writing job descriptions, shortlisting and selecting candidates and support for staff. We also included advice on reducing unconscious bias, and how to be a better ally. It helps employers to know where to look for candidates, the right channels to use and how to be more effective in reaching them, particularly for those based in rural and less racially diverse areas of the UK.

Some of our top tips are:

  • Social media: Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn and Twitter are effective platforms to use for advertising new vacancies and specifically in maintaining engagement with young people. Advice includes going beyond recruitment to post wider diversity and inclusion content, such as celebrating cultural awareness days and months such South Asian Heritage Month.
  • Advertising on specialist diversity jobs board sites, specifically targeted at early career candidates and/or those from under-served communities.
  • Encouraging organisations look at how they can ‘attract’ prospective candidates to the organisation so that they are actively sought as employers.
  • Increasing the visibility of role models through success stories and ambassadors, as done by Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
  • Building strong relationships with youth partners and other community or equality focused organisations to successfully connect candidates with work placements and other job opportunities.

Specific recruitment advice includes considering the job description – for example, does an entry-level candidate really needs specific qualifications or work experience to demonstrate suitability for a role? Instead, organisations can try taking a strengths-based approach and focus on ‘soft skills’.

Young apprentices at work in the field
Young apprentices Mia Frances, Samuel Gibson, Billy Hunt highlight £2 m investment in paid placements in nature (Mark Waugh)

We also suggest ‘dropping the jargon’ - job adverts with excessive requirements and unnecessary jargon reinforce perceptions of the sector as an exclusive place. It also perpetuates a certain image of the ‘right’ type of candidate, which can disadvantage candidates from ethnically diverse communities in particular. Changing the wording in recruitment materials is key to writing an effective job description that is easy to understand for a non-specialist audience.

Shortlisting and selection is also important, as it is key to take the time to reflect and take practical steps to address any implicit biases at each stage of the recruitment process – for example removing an applicant’s name and other identifying factors such as age, school and university name may help.

Mentoring can also be an effective tool. While inclusive recruitment is vital in improving workplace diversity, approaches to staff retention and progression are just as key. Organisations need to actively work to build a workplace environment that is receptive to all staff, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, class or disability to attract and retain diverse talent. Mentoring is widely acknowledged as a powerful tool that helps create more inclusive workplaces.

And reverse mentoring can work well too, if an organisation provides an opportunity for senior leadership to be mentored by a junior colleague. This can be an effective way to facilitate knowledge exchange between colleagues at different stages in their careers and help to build trust with senior leadership, which might be particularly beneficial for staff from ethnically diverse communities.

The toolkit has been well received across the sector, particularly on social media, and is already being used to strengthen recruitment for our pioneering £2 million project New to Nature, which will offer 70 paid placements for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in the natural heritage sector, to mark the Queen's Platinum Jubilee year. This project, being delivered by Groundwork UK in partnership with others, will see young people aged 18-25 given new, full-time, temporary jobs in nature and landscape organisations across the UK, increasing diversity and representation. Recruitment begins in October.

The toolkit is hosted on the National Lottery Heritage Fund website: Racial equity in nature toolkit | The National Lottery Heritage Fund

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Posted On: 14/10/2022

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