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Diversifying the Environment Sector: Improving Impact

By Emma Gibson, Emma Gibson Consulting, 25th February 2019

Running a race with one hand tied behind your back reduces your chances of winning. Similarly, running a campaign that only appeals to a fraction of the country will take you longer to succeed. But that’s what many environmental campaign groups are currently doing, without even realising it.

Environmental problems are some of the most complex and difficult problems to solve. They are often ignored by political short-termism and pushed to one side by ordinary people who are worried about having to change their lifestyles to deal with them.

Complex and difficult problems require both creative approaches and the ability to engage and mobilise large swathes of people to advocate for the solutions needed to solve them.

But a lot of environmental campaigning in the UK is hampered in its effectiveness because campaigning organisations are not embracing the full diversity of the UK population.

Go into the office of any major environmental NGO and you’ll see a largely homogenous group of people in terms of race, ethnicity and class. So why is this a problem?

To put it simply: teams of mixed gender, ethnicity, physical ability, age and sexual orientation are more representative of the people we are trying to reach. They offer a variety of viewpoints and a wider range of experience, which improves decision-making and problem-solving.

Diversity fosters innovation and creativity through a greater variety of problem-solving approaches, perspectives, and ideas. Research has shown that diverse groups often outperform more homogenous groups. What’s more, diversity of thinking is now gaining prominence as a disruptive force to break through the status quo. Exactly what’s needed to make headway on an issue like climate change.

If the staff and volunteers in our environmental campaign groups come from a narrow range of the population then it’s quite likely that they will only reach a narrow section of the population in their communications. And that’s a problem if we’re going to engage the numbers of people we need to create large-scale change.

Funders can play a crucial role in helping to drive the change that’s needed in the environment sector. Here are 10 questions you can ask the organisations that you fund to see how seriously they are taking this issue:

  1. Are you collecting your data? Do you know how many women you have in leadership positions? How many people from BAME backgrounds are on your board? How many people with disabilities work for you? Or identify as LGBTQi+? What, if anything, is your gender pay gap? Finding out how you’re doing is key to deciding on your starting point for improvement.
  2. Have you asked your staff how they think you are doing on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I)? Do you ask any questions in  your staff survey or have you held focus groups of staff? Have you conducted an external Equality Audit to help you to get an independent answer to the question?
  3. Do you have a D&I group made up of people from across your organisation? Not only are they a great source of intelligence, they can also propose ideas and help you to develop and deliver the changes needed.
  4. Do you have a senior member of staff leading the initiative to improve D&I? How many days a week are they working on it?
  5. Harassment and bullying: Are your polices and complaints procedures accessible and up to date? Do your staff have confidence in them?
  6. Are you looking after women returning from parental leave? It’s one of the secrets to reducing the gender pay gap. Have you considered providing career coaching, reimbursing childcare expenses for out of hours meetings, reviewing your flexible work policy? Do you tell women about promotion opportunities while they are away?
  7. Have you set targets for where you want to be in 3 years time? How many BAME people do you want to see in leadership roles? How many women do you want to see on your Board?
  8. Are internal meetings conducted in an inclusive way? Does everyone’s voice get heard? Have you considered offering training on how to facilitate meetings in an inclusive way?
  9. Are you addressing unconscious bias in your recruitment practices? Do you have a fair and transparent hiring policy? Have you considered taking personal details like where you went to university off your application form? Have you run training for recruiting managers? Have you thought about recruiting paid interns via a specialist agency like Creative Access?
  10. Do you have a plan for improving? Is there a written-down plan that is being systematically worked through?

If you start to ask these questions then you can make sure that every pound you give is contributing to more effective environmental campaigns.

Emma Gibson is a former Programme Director for Greenpeace and has also worked for Friends of the Earth and ZSL. She’s currently a freelance consultant specialising in Campaigning Impact and Diversity and Inclusion.

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