Priyanka Bawa & Dan Ward
24 February 2021

A plan for systemic change to improve diversity in the sector

The environmental profession was ranked the second least ethnically diverse sector in the UK in 2017, with just 3.1% of environment professionals identifying as any ethnicity that is not White British versus 19.9% in all other occupations. 

Nationally, there is still an attainment gap between ethnic minority pupils and their counterparts from white ethnic groups, where ethnic minority students are less likely to gain a first or 2:1 degree. Additionally, there is continued growth of evidence suggesting disparity pertaining to nature/green space access and environmental education opportunities that correlate with culture, race and ethnicity. These, amongst others, may all be potential factors resulting in lower diversity in the profession. 

There is a disconnect between those driving solutions forward to combat environmental problems and those most impacted by them. A wider array of backgrounds and experiences can help generate the ideas, solutions and outputs the environmental sector needs. The desire and the motivations to join the environmental sector and tackling the issues we all face are evident across all ethnic groups, but is the environmental sector doing enough to be inclusive and comparable with other professions and sectors? What are the true barriers, how deep do these lie and how can we, as a sector, increase access to our profession?

What is the role of the IES in tackling the diversity gap?

There is a clear need for research, education and reform to identify and address the key barriers which result in low ethnic diversity across the sector. Work needs to be done towards widening inclusivity and accessibility for those from ethnic minority backgrounds to equip them to pursue a career in the environmental profession.

Systems change is difficult, and we don't pretend we have all the answers. As the professional body for the environmental sciences, we represent all environmental scientists and all future environmental professionals. It is our duty to amplify the voices of those who aren’t being heard, to make our sector open to those who want access to it, and to support environmental professionals in their development and progression.

We have been collecting and monitoring diversity data since 2017. We categorise ethnicity using UK Government guidance for analysis purposes, but we recognise that ethnicity is a multi-faceted, self-identification process, which is reflected in the way we gather these data.

Our current statistics demonstrate that 9.7% of our UK membership is comprised of individuals who self-identify as an ethnicity within the wider categories of Black, Asian, Mixed/Multiple or any other ethnicity other than White (see page 10 of our 2020 annual report). This is closer to pre-COVID ethnic diversity in general UK employment, 11.3%, calculated in February 2021 from Labour Force Survey data. There is more for us to do in this space, however, and data is generally not being publicised across the sector. We have an opportunity here to address the ethnic diversity gap, and do so in a truly representative, informed and impactful way.

Understand - Inspire - Enable

To achieve this, the IES has developed and will lead on a series of projects that will collectively be known as the Diversity Initiatives. In these, we address three key themes:

  1. Building on our understanding of the underlying causes of the low ethnic diversity;
  2. Inspiring more consideration for diversity and more opportunities for inclusion; and
  3. Enabling more individuals from all ethnicities to access, progress and excel in the environmental profession

As with all good science, we need robust data and evidence to create the foundations of our next steps. This first Diversity Initiative falls under the key theme of understanding and will consist of a research project with the aims to:

  • conduct a status study of the environmental sector vis-à-vis ethnic diversity to identify positive and negative trends within the environmental sector;  

  • explore, understand and analyse the existing opportunities and problems for professional from ethnic minorities in the sector 

Our partners

The IES is proud to announce official partnerships with Delta-Simons Environmental Consultancy, Environment Agency and Bureau Veritas UK, all of whom are jointly funding the first 12-month Diversity Initiative. In partnership with the IES, the four organisations have created a diverse steering group to push forward with the first key theme of the Diversity Initiatives and develop this research project.

Delta-Simons are environmental and sustainability consultancy providing geo-environmental, EHS, environmental planning, ecology, sustainability and wellbeing services at a regional and national level within the UK and internationally.
The Environment Agency is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by DEFRA, responsible for regulation and management of the UK’s environment including fisheries, contaminated land, flooding, rivers and ecology.
Bureau Veritas UK are a world leading testing, inspection and certification company, reducing risk, improving performance and assuring quality, health, protection and social responsibility.

The reach and influence of our these organisations combined with the IES is substantial - now is the time to act!

    How can I get involved?

    Over the coming months, we will be calling on organisations to anonymously take part in a survey to let us know if they monitor diversity, and if so, to provide data on ethnic diversity within their employment. The more organisations participating in this project, the more robust our data will be and the bigger impact we can have.

    We will also be inviting practitioners and professionals who identify as an ethnic minority within the sector to participate in a one-to-one informal interview to anonymously inform us of their experiences (positive, neutral or negative) in the environmental sector, as well as how they perceive their ethnicity impacts their daily interaction with the sector. 

    Once this first phase is done, we will be looking to interview EDI Champions and organisational leaders to hear their vision, perspectives and challenges. We want to hear your honest thoughts, opinions and experiences. We actively encourage you to consider contributing towards this important body of work when the time comes, but we will provide ample detail and information to allow you to make a truly informed decision.

    If you would like further information about the project, or for support on messaging to distribute within your organisation, please contact our Programme Lead (