Towards greater ethnic diversity in the environment sector
By Ellie Ward, Policy Officer
Nature is and should be for everyone. Yet we know that access to nature is currently not equal – that 1 in 3 of us don’t have access to accessible nature-rich spaces near our homes, that ethnic minorities are twice as likely to live in nature-poor neighbourhoods, and that our most deprived areas often have no green space at all.
But this isn’t just true of access to nature itself. It’s also true that our nature and environment sector is not the representative and diverse place it should be.
The environment sector is one of the least ethnically diverse professions in the UK. Just 4.8% of environmental professionals identify as Black, Asian or from other minority ethnic group compared to 12.6% across all UK professions. Research shows that people of colour face significant barriers to joining environmental organisations in the first place, and then once in the sector experience both overt and covert racism. Change is obviously needed.
In the midst of a nature and climate crisis, it’s vital that we engage with all communities to solve these big environmental challenges. We cannot be a progressive and ethical movement unless everyone is welcome. But whilst some are making brilliant strides, overall progress towards greater ethnic diversity and inclusivity in the sector has been slow. There is uncertainty about how best to make meaningful change, with smaller and less well-resourced organisations in particular facing difficulties.
This is why Wildlife and Countryside Link, in collaboration with Natural England and the diversity and leadership consultancy Full Colour, have developed our Route Map Towards Greater Ethnic Diversity.
Where does the route map come from?
The route map was developed from two years of research and consultation exploring the factors affecting progress towards greater ethnic diversity. This was led by Full Colour, and a project steering group of Link members and collaborators, and was funded by Natural England, John Ellerman Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
The research sought to understand what is helping and hindering minority ethnic people from becoming a greater part of the environment sector, through a quantitative survey of Wildlife and Countryside Link members, and then further qualitative research through semi-structured interviews and focus groups. To enable change from within, the research focused on exploring the actions that organisations had taken so far and the culture within organisations, leaders’ understanding of and approach to equality, diversity and inclusion, and the lived experiences of people from minority ethnic backgrounds currently working in the sector.
Crucially, the research showed that whilst the appetite for change exists within the sector, the direction and drive for meaningful progress is lacking. 84% of organisations surveyed had considered the issues or had taken some action, but did not have a specific action plan. 86% of leaders felt that increasing ethnic diversity should be a top or high priority for the environment sector, but only 22% felt it currently is a priority.
What is the route map? What does it do?
We need to harness the will and appetite for change in the sector, and direct this to drive meaningful action.
The route map intends to do just that – to give direction and advice to help organisations take action on improving ethnic diversity, and to overcome the barriers they face in doing so. It sets out a series of milestones for individual organisations and the sector to work towards across the next five years, and from there to deliver long-term change. It is also a statement of intent, with over 42 organisations so far pledging to commit to and deliver the route map aims over the next five years.
The route map is accompanied by a guidance manual, providing practical advice and guidance for what organisations need to do to implement these recommendations and drive progress. These include actions such as establishing internal definitions and responsibilities for diversity, through to more ambitious moves such as enhancing racism monitoring, reporting and enforcement.
It also details joint sector-wide actions, such as the development of peer learning circles to share best practice across the sector, and an empowerment programme to bring more people of colour into leadership roles. Wildlife and Countryside Link is working with partner organisations to develop the funding and resources to deliver on these goals. Regular monitoring and benchmarking are also recommended, for example through participation in the RACE report.
The route map was launched in October 2022. The responsibility now rests with us to ensure that we deliver it.
Just as nature should be for everyone, so too should the nature sector. The route map alone cannot solve all the issues around racism and the lack of ethnic diversity within the sector. But it can contribute to making things better, recognising that profound change is possible by working together.
We look forward to working with our colleagues across the sector over the next five years and beyond, to implement the route map and to drive real progress towards a more diverse and inclusive environmental movement.
If your organisation would like to get involved, we would love to hear from you – please do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find out more about our ongoing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work on our webpage.
We wish to again extend our thanks to Full Colour, the project steering group, our funders, and to all staff across the Link network who took part in the research and development of the route map.
Web address: www.wcl.org.uk
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