Although the United States has experienced increased diversity in most fields, environmental organizations and agencies have been at a relative standstill. The racial composition in the green niche has not broken 16% and is referred to as “the green ceiling” — an issue that has endured for several decades.
Although 36% of the U.S. population are people of color — who comprise 29% of the science and engineering workforce — environmental organizations and agencies are lagging behind initiatives to hire more minorities and people of color.
Shattering the Green Ceiling
The low number of individuals of color employed in the environmental field is not for lack of interest. People of color support environmental protection at a higher rate than whites. There are plenty of people and ample interest, so it begs the question: what will shatter the green ceiling and when will it happen?
Recruiting and Hiring Improvements
Despite communities of color experiencing a disproportionate number of environmental hazards, many environmental organizations do not have enough outreach to these communities when recruiting and hiring. Prudent organizations should develop a pipeline that incorporates minority applicants.
One idea would be to create a web portal that caters to minorities while listing open positions and qualifications. In that same vein, developing training programs for those who have experienced environmental disasters, though may not have experience resolving them, can be a great idea as well.
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The Importance of a Mission Statement
With so many green organizations out there, it’s important for each one to have a clear and focused mission statement that states their history, platform and goals. Too often, these resemble cookie-cutter corporate messages. Mission statements that make an actual effort to appeal to people of color will have considerably more appeal.
Whether it’s providing an example of restoring a particular neighborhood after devastation or emphasizing the importance of diversity, expressing a desire for an eclectic workplace is a good thing if an organization is reaching out for more diversity.
Similar to how many mission statements read like a formula, many training protocols among environmental agencies are too closely targeted toward one type of person, generally someone with a higher education and hands-off experience — an educated white guy. Not enough training programs are designed for those who have experienced environmental events of relevance.
Incorporating prospective employee’s knowledge of their own communities can result in a more cohesive hiring process and employees.
Championing a Culture of Inclusion
Merely hiring more people of color isn’t going to shatter this ceiling. An ongoing culture of inclusion in any organization is essential for this change to become truly ingrained in the industry. A way to achieve this is to not rely too much on hierarchy, both regarding the business’ structure and the hiring process.
Making employees of any ethnicity feel unwanted to at-the-bottom can result in them feeling discouraged and unmotivated.
Working With State and Federal Governments
There are many state and government programs that work with businesses to increase their diversity via funding and programs. For example, the Environmental Professionals of Color organization aids people of color seeking opportunities in the environmental fields. Its leaders work with businesses and government to build coalitions that work to address the diversity crisis.
They have chapters available in Seattle, Atlanta, Portland, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., with chapters under development in San Francisco, Boston, Denver and cities across North Carolina.
The precise programs vary from state to state and business to business, though it’s worth it for business owners to see how they can be aided in the hiring process when aiming to diversify the workplace in the environmental niche.
Environmental businesses continue to make progress via hiring improvements, specialized training and championing a culture of inclusion. The hope is that this ceiling — and maybe all the rest — will be shattered in the near future, with it being permanent when it is.