Diversity among Some Environmental Organizations

A review of board members and executives at several large and well known environmental organizations finds little diversity in leadership positions.
African American Hiker Photo by Mark Shepherd

If the biological world exhibited a similar diversity in the number of species present that several environmental organizations do with regard to minorities in positions of leadership, it would be an extremely impoverished world.   I reviewed the online list of board members and executives at several large and well known environmental organizations, and was very surprised to find that there is very little diversity in leadership positions, and almost no African Americans.  There were only a few Hispanics, Asians, and at one prestigious environmental organization, there were no African Americans.  That’s right, not one!

Diversity Review

To be fair, there are limited positions, though several environmental organizations’ list of board members is long – very long.  You would think that in an organization with a list of nearly 50 board members and executive staff, there would be at least one African American.  Perhaps that is just an artifact of my online survey, which only included active board members in 2016, but I have my doubts.  I am sure that every organization seeks to recruit dedicated talent to their senior level positions, and who wants to be included in an organization solely for the purpose of helping to attain the semblance of diversity.  It was, however, rather odd to see positions such as Managing Director of continents such as Africa, that were no more diverse than, say, a Managing Director of Europe.

Reasons for Low Diversity Among Environmental Organizations

Several reasons have been proffered to account for the lack of diversity among environmentalist, and environmental organizations, including the lack of minority participation as environmental volunteers, the shortage of minorities pursuing science degrees or attaining the skills and experience necessary to make attractive candidates.  I, however, think the issue is much deeper than opportunities.  Marshall Shepherd wrote an excellent piece in Forbes, “Why Do Many Minorities Avoid Science?”   While the issue I am discussing is not specifically about minorities in science, I think the reasons mentioned in the article are related to minority representation in environmental organizations.  In his article, Marshall Shepherd quoted several minority professors and scientists who opined on the lack of minorities in science.  Several opinions focused on lack of exposure to science at an early age, the lack of minority scientists as role models, a low connection of minorities to science, and even a distrust of the system.  All of which seem reasonable, but only deal with one side of the issue, that of the availability of qualified minority professionals.  Only a couple dealt with the other potential issue: perceptions of minorities by the predominantly white leaders of environmental organizations, and in particular perceptions of African Americans.  A quote by Calvin Mackie, President and founder of STEM NOLA (Science, Technology Engineering, and Math – New Orleans, Louisiana) discusses the issue of perceptions.

“It’s a problem because no one sees it as one. Think about it, STEM people are taught to solve problems. ..if the problem exist. .. in their eyes, it’s our problem, own it and solve …without accepting any responsibility that they are the barriers.  It’s mind over matter, we don’t matter because they (the professions) don’t mind!

Involving the Next Generation

To be sure, this is more than an academic issue to me.  I have two children, both of whom are, of course, minorities.  My daughter stands second in her very academically rigorous high school class of nearly 500 plus students, and my son has just finished his second year of college with a 3.9 GPA , while double majoring in Biology and Biochemistry.  I certainly have involved them in my environmental research and they have had numerous experiences with environmental issues, especially during the time period when I was Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety at a fairly large power company.  I also recently decided to volunteer more in a few environmental organizations, something I have done before, though once again in fairness, not for these organizations.  I feel I am doing my part to assure there are well qualified minorities available.  I hope environmental organizations, some of which have finally recognized the issue, will also do the very best they can to be more inclusive.


Shepherd, M. (2016, January 18). Why do many minorities avoid science? Forbes Science.


Link to the article below:



Photo by Mark Shepherd:  African American hiker in Big Bend National Park

About Mark Shepherd

I work in the environmental movement helping to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land that sustains us and the natural and biological resources we depend on.

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