7 April 2022

New research shows lack of diversity

Data released today has revealed that just 4.8% of environment professionals identify as black, asian or minority ethnic, compared with a 12.6% average across all professions. Some areas within the environmental sector, such as ‘conservation professionals’ are classified as being 100% white in their makeup, based on the latest Office for National Statistics data.

Despite the efforts of a range of recent initiatives, people of colour remain significantly underrepresented across the environmental sector, according to new research from Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS-UK).

The researchers also looked at Higher Education Statistics Agency data and found that this issue prevails before people enter the workforce. Black, asian and minority ethnic individuals are underrepresented in the ‘feeder subjects’ for environmental careers. Only 6% of those studying biodiversity conservation, for example, identify as black, asian or minority ethnic, compared with a 26% average across all higher education subjects. 

The research, and the subsequent report, includes three elements:.

1. Racial and ethnic diversity in UK professions
The research interrogates publicly available datasets from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) to assess diversity across environment professions in comparison with the UK average across all professions. 

The ONS’ Annual Population Survey (which has a sample size of approximately 320,000) from June 2020-July 2021 was used, with ethnicity data provided under 3-digit Standard Occupational Classification codes. Data was provided according to the percentage of White and percentage of all Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups. The researchers intend to re-run this aspect of the research every five years to review sector-level progress.

2. Diversity in the environment sector pipeline
This includes analysis of data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency for 2020-21 on students taking courses closely associated with environment professions.

3. Student career perspectives on the environment sector
This includes findings from a student-facing survey which looked broadly into course and career aspirations, and then specifically into how these translate to the environment sector. The survey secured 758 respondents from students studying in higher and further education across the UK

Read the research report

Creation of the Race Report
This new data has been the impetus for the creation of a brand new UK-wide racial reporting initiative, which launches today, which has been designed to encourage UK environmental charities, and their funders, to tackle the ongoing lack of racial diversity in their workforce and governing bodies. 

The campaign, called the RACE Report (which stands for Racial Action for the Climate Emergency), is being led by a diverse partnership comprising Nature Youth Connection and Education, Hindu Climate Action, South Asians for Sustainability and SOS-UK. The RACE Report seeks to replicate the success of Green 2.0, a seminal annual transparency report of staff diversity in the top 40 environmental not-for-profits and environmental foundations in the USA. 

The RACE Report will establish a standardised data collection methodology for the UK’s environmental charities, and their funders, and they will be asked to assess and report on the racial diversity of their workforce and trustees each year. The organisers hope that it will bring more transparency to the sector, enable peer learning, and boost efforts to make the charities more inclusive and diverse. Over 30 charities and funders have already pledged to take part.

Manu Maunganidze, from the RACE Report team, said:
The latest evidence for representation in the environment sector is, at best, sobering. According to the new data the sector continues to have less than 5% of its workforce who come from minority backgrounds. This suggests there has been a very modest improvement since the last time we looked at this data in 2017, but few would say it’s anywhere near good enough. At the current rate, it would take the sector over 20 years to get to a point of representation matching the reality of racial diversity of other professions.

We urgently need transparency on the racial diversity of individual organisations’ trustee boards and staff teams, and we plan to deliver that through the RACE Report. Without comparative data and evidence, the improvements will continue to be incremental and the sector and its funders will continue to fall behind in their stated aims to fight for social and environmental justice.