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Joint route map launched to boost ethnic diversity in the environment sector

5 October 2022

  • Sector-wide research and engagement has led to the development of a route map which environment groups will use to boost ethnic diversity over the next 5 years

  • 42 organisations have committed to delivering key actions between 2023-2027

  • Research has revealed huge appetite for change within the sector, but ongoing issues with lack of action, experience of racism for staff and continued barriers to entry

Wildlife and Countryside Link is today launching a route map of key steps for environment charities to take over the next 5 years, in order to help the sector to become more ethnically diverse. 42 organisations have already pledged to deliver change, with further charities expected to commit to the route map aims in coming months. [1]

The innovative route map has been devised by diversity and leadership experts Full Colour. It was produced based on research on attitudes and perceptions on ethnic diversity and inclusion with more than 2000 environment professionals in 2021, and an extensive consultation process with staff across a breadth of environment charities in 2022. Staff who were consulted with to develop the route map, included people of colour, CEOs and Board members, and equality and diversity specialists.[2]

The environment sector has long been aware of, and keen to address, its lack of ethnic diversity. Only 4.81% of environment professionals are people of colour, compared to 12.64% of the workforce overall.[3] Some charities have already made significant progress on becoming more diverse - please see notes to editors for some examples.[4] However change in the wider sector is slow, and many organisations, particularly those that are smaller and less well-resourced, are still struggling with how to deliver change. The new route map, along with an accompanying guidebook, is intended to give direction and advice to help organisations to overcome some of the barriers they are facing around taking action on diversity.

The development of the route map has been funded by Natural England, John Ellerman Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “Too many people feel excluded from nature and too many people still feel excluded from the nature sector.

"Our research shows that there's a great appetite for change in the environment movement. People want to be part of an inclusive, diverse and socially progressive movement. They know that saving nature will depend on the talents and energy of everyone working together. It also shows that despite this conviction, many organisations are still in the starting blocks on diversity and inclusion.

"The aim of the route map is to empower the movement to change and to hold ourselves to account to ensure that it happens.”

Beccy Speight, CEO of RSPB, said: We are in a nature and climate emergency and we save nature through people, all people. We need to be joining with people from all backgrounds in leading, championing, and accessing nature. This route map highlights uncomfortable truths but is essential in reinforcing the crucial work needed to increase ethnic diversity and meaningful inclusion across the conservation sector, especially for people of colour.

“As an organisation we are on a journey to building a truly inclusive RSPB where everyone can thrive but we still have a long way to go. We are taking steps to identify and break down barriers faced by marginalised communities in conservation and our involvement in this report is a welcome addition to our ongoing work in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

“Strengthening our commitment to this important work, this route map brings us together as a movement for change; supporting one another, sharing best practice and holding the sector accountable. We have already started to embed recommendations from the route map in the RSPB and will continue to listen, learn and commit to this ongoing journey. We are determined to get this right because it will take all of us to turn the tide for nature.”

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts said: “We have known for a while that wide-ranging and urgent action is needed to ensure that we change our ways in order to increase the number of people from minority ethnic communities who would like to make their career in nature conservation. This new report marks a serious benchmark for green groups – we must all reassess the way we operate and act now to become more inclusive.

“The Wildlife Trusts have made steady progress since the survey leading to the report was undertaken and we’ve made good strides to become more diverse – but substantial work still needs to be done. We need to offer young people the right opportunities to connect with nature and we must make sure that our trainee schemes are accessible, and that we recruit in a way which encourages people to want to stay with us. The status quo is not acceptable. Everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from nature and it’s important that The Wildlife Trusts represent everyone, including people from minority ethnic communities.”

Full Colour CEO and founder Srabani Sen OBE, said: “Our research has offered a unique insight into what is helping and hindering the environment sector from becoming more diverse. It’s clear that the will to change is there, but organisations were unclear where to start and what action to take to create change. There is still a huge mountain to climb in removing the barriers to entry and career progression that people of colour face, and in making these organisations truly welcoming and inclusive places to work. 

"The route map provides a clear framework to create consistent change in the sector, and common aims and milestones for environment charities to work towards together, to achieve a more diverse and representative nature sector within 5 years. The guidebook provides practical, step by step guidance which  can be tailored to each organisation so they can move from ambition to action.”

Marian Spain, Chief Executive of Natural England said:
“As we work to address the huge challenge of nature’s recovery in England, we must ensure all voices are represented and the benefits of accessing and spending time in nature are equally shared.

“At Natural England we know that change needs to be sector wide and built from the ground up. We are pleased to support the publication of this route map and are committed to taking a leading role in increasing the ethnic diversity of our organisation. Alongside this, we are working hard to ensure Natural England is an inclusive place to work, where all staff feel welcome and able to reach their full potential.”

The research conducted last year showed high appetite for change, but low overall levels of action on diversity. Of the 44 environment organisations surveyed, 84% had considered the issues or taken some action, but did not have a specific diversity action plan, with only 4% having an action plan that they consistently implemented. 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.

The 2021 research also revealed concerning findings, in particular that all people of colour surveyed said that there was overt or covert racism and unconscious bias in the sector. The findings also demonstrated a big perception gap between senior leaders and staff in how well their organisations are doing on diversity.[5]

The route map launched today sets out action for collective work in four core areas of improving culture, transparency, action on racism, and organisational plans and practices. The measures outlined for individual organisations in the route map range from basic actions, such as incorporating ethnic diversity terms and definitions routinely and establishing internal responsibilities on diversity, through to more ambitious moves such as enhancing racism monitoring, reporting and enforcement.

The report also outlines joint actions that the sector should take to bridge gaps in capacity and experience, particularly for smaller organisations with less resource. These include sector-wide delivery of: training to debias recruitment and development; in-depth research on racism in the sector; diversity and anti-racism training; an empowerment programme to bring more people of colour into leadership roles, and peer learning circles on best and emerging practice. The report also recommends regular monitoring and benchmarking of diversity in the sector, which is already underway through the Race Report which is being widely supported by the environment movement.

These joint actions, alongside actions by individual organisations, could help to speed up change in the sector by boosting knowledge and resource. While these joint measures are as yet unfunded, Wildlife and Countryside Link is in discussions with several funding bodies.


Notes to editors:

1. Organisations that have committed to deliver the route map actions over the next 5 years include: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Born Free, British Ecological Society, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Campaign For National Parks, ChemTrust, CIEEM, Client Earth, CPRE the countryside charity, Earthwatch, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Greenpeace, Institute of Fisheries Management, John Muir Trust, League Against Cruel Sports, National Trust, Natural England, On the Edge Conservation, People’s Trust For Endangered Species, Plantlife, The Rivers Trust, RSPB, RSPCA, Soil Association, Surfers Against Sewage, Sustain, The Conservation Volunteers, Waterwise, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, WildFish, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), Wildlife and Countryside Link, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, Youth Hostel Association, and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL)

2. Please see details of the methodology for the consultation and engagement towards the production of our ‘Route map towards greater ethnic diversity’ on p33. Also on p36 is the methodology and key findings from our quantitative and qualitative research from 2021, our ‘Changing the World from Within’ report.

3. Source: Office of National Statistics, Annual Population Survey 2020-21

4. Below are brief details of just some of the action within the environment sector to increase diversity:

Recent joint schemes include:

Race4nature, co-ordinated by SOS-UK, Voyage, Action for Conservation, and Generation Success, placed 125 young people from predominantly underrepresented backgrounds in new Kickstart work placements with 30 organisations within the environmental sector between 2020-2022.

- The New to Nature scheme, will provide paid work placements for at least 70 young people from diverse backgrounds to undertake a range of environmental roles. This is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee, and will run until May 2024. It will be delivered through a partnership of Groundwork, The Prince’s Trust, Disability Rights UK, and Mission Diverse.

- The Race Report, is a new UK-wide racial reporting initiative for the environment sector. Data is currently being collected for the first report, to be released in early 2023. The 2023 report will be anonymised and will set a robust benchmark to be built on, with further detail to be published in annual reports from 2024. See press release for more detail.

Individual organisations have also been making improvements on diversity, examples include:

- CPRE, the countryside charity, has undertaken multiple measures to boost the organisation’s diversity following a diversity audit in 2020. This includes the ‘Green Shoots’ scheme which reimagined their graduate scheme to help bring in more diverse candidates.

This sought to learn from other external schemes and was created with advice from an EDI consultant. Promotion of the scheme was targeted at colleges in South and East London with high proportions of students from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, and low-income communities.

The scheme removed off-putting degree-level requirements and delivered open days to help familiarise potential applicants with the organisation, CPRE also implemented a detailed mentoring scheme to ensure the successful candidates were well-supported. CPRE has now secured external funding to widen the scheme further.

- The Woodland Trust has taken a holistic approach by growing understanding of diversity and inclusion and how it supports their cause focusing on race and ethnicity, improving transparency and internal training on tackling non-inclusive behaviours. The charity has also anonymised recruitment, improved data and insight to help identify the priority areas and continues to work collaboratively within the environment sector on action-focused initiatives.

- The Wildlife Trusts have committed to creating a diverse and inclusive movement in their new strategy. Their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion framework ensures that they embrace the challenge of increasing our diversity and further developing an inclusive culture. Alongside a commitment to be actively anti-racist, the framework establishes five main goals: to have diverse and inclusive leadership, to increase our diversity, to cultivate an inclusive movement, to communicate inclusively, and to provide access and engagement for everyone. These goals are supported and established in Wildlife Trusts across the federation, alongside the inclusion and diversity goals that are specific for the local communities of individual Wildlife Trusts.

To enable the to reach these goals, they have, for example, stopped using CVs, and have anonymised job application forms to remove all personal data to reduce the impact of unconscious bias. They are moving along their anti-racism journey by delivering training on unconscious bias and introducing the concept of anti-racism. All federation staff also have access to EDI podcasts and other learning. They are sharing best practice across our movement of 46 Wildlife Trusts so those more diverse Trusts can support other Trusts that have noted underrepresentation.

5. On racism in the sector: Minority ethnic participants were asked whether there is racism in the sector. All participants said yes. A small number gave examples of overt racism, most gave examples of unconscious bias and covert racism. By covert racism we mean racism which is subtle but where the person exhibiting this behaviour is aware of what they are doing, even though they may not admit this. Concerns were outlined about behaviour with racist undertones being dismissed by those to whom it was reported, and there being a lack of repercussions for those who behaved in overtly or covertly racist ways.

On the perception gap between leaders and staff: 85% of CEOs say ethnic diversity should be a top or high priority organisationally; with 60% saying it currently is prioritised. 75% of staff say ethnic diversity should be a top or high priority for their organisation; 38% say it currently is a top or high priority.

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