Back in November, I started my job at a small progressive advocacy group in Maryland. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had a lot in common with the other new hire, who started on the same day. Not the least of which was that we were the only people of color in the office, effectively increasing the office population of folks like us from 0 to, well, 2.
My job is to coordinate a campaign for an affordable, socially just and environmentally responsible transition to clean energy in Maryland. So I meet frequently with the leaders of groups that work on climate action, clean energy, public health, green jobs and social justice. I admit that I’m still learning the ropes, but it surprises me — and increasingly worries me — that the majority of the leaders I meet are white.
I’ve been comforted to find that I’m not the only one who noticed. A group called Green2.0 first called attention to this phenomenon in 2013 with the release of their seminal survey-based report, “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations.” The results revealed an overwhelmingly white “Green Insiders’ Club,” where racial diversity among staff hadn’t broken 16 percent — the so-called “green ceiling.”
Results were no better at the leadership level. Green 2.0’s April 2017 diversity scorecard likewise showed that, among the top 40 environmental NGOs, people of color represented only 14 percent of senior staff. Despite their socially progressive reputations, these groups clearly need to do a better job of putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to diversity.
A similar phenomenon is happening on the industry side. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a directly comparable investigation into diversity in the clean energy industry, but several industry leaders have highlighted the reality.