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Diversity: Game Changer for Conservation

Green Guard Stewards exploring nature and learning about the landscape and history at Rocky Point Glade with land manager, Bill Fessler.

The natural world needs groundbreaking and adaptable conservation more than ever as extinctions occur at a rate of three species per hour and there is projected to be 200-250 million climate refugees by 2050 (1, 2). Though not the solution to stopping mass extinction in itself, diversifying the conservation community could be pivotal. Conservationists should be as diverse as the biodiversity they work to protect for the sake of both equality and the environment; yet, only 16% of staff positions in environmental organizations are filled by people of color. Iterations of this impasse, known as the “green ceiling”, have been acknowledged by many and acted upon by few. All types of organizations have acknowledged steps toward a more inclusive workplace “should be done”, but consistently fewer organizations reported that they were “likely or very likely to support” these needs both internally and externally (3). At the same time, minorities face the brunt of environmental injustice issues ranging from living closer to hazardous waste sites to experiencing a disproportionate impact of climate change. Minorities deserve to have a voice in bringing justice to their own communities (4). Increasing diversity in conservation works to combat these injustices. Diversifying conservation gives a voice to minorities and the ecosystems they live in. While women have made strides, now composing more than half the environmental workforce, this has been primarily white women and men still hold the most powerful positions within organizations. This is perpetuated because of unconscious biases and the trend within environmental organizations to hire insularly, rather than recruiting at institutions and gatherings of talented minority individuals (3). Furthermore, individuals are reluctant to disrupt the societal structures or in this case, environmental organizational structures, that have enabled them to attain success they experience due to the mental discomfort or psychological stress because their desires and beliefs are in conflict. This is seen in the dismissal of human-caused climate change by many white American men (5). In the case of climate change, the dramatic effects are not as visible in affluent America than they are in Syria where drought has led to the displacement of 1,500 farmers, and extreme poverty (6, 7, 8). In the case of lacking diversity in conservation, it is not apparent to conservationists that a white workforce is inhibiting progress. Conservation organizations can take the first step toward diversifying with creating and adopting a diversity statement, alongside accountability, transparency, and goals towards diversifying recruitment and retention (3). When people engage with their communities, and converse face-to-face, empathy can foster engagement. Organizations such as Earth Justice have created reports to assess their progress in creating a diverse workplace with plans for future improvements (3, 9). At Heartland Conservation Alliance we have a long-standing goal to make our organization more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. To highlight the importance of such a goal for our organization and our partners, this year’s Partnership Summit, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Conservation”, is being held in conjunction with a two-day Leadership Training Workshop on Diversity. See our full diversity and inclusion statement to learn more about our efforts towards equality. As the human population grows, so do extinction rates, but so does the potential for human-innovation to our problems. Increasing diversity is a time-intensive, enduring process and an activity that is reliant upon intentions. Human innovation will not solve humanity’s problems fighting climate change if the same thoughts and perspectives are maintained within the field and the process of diversifying the field is not embarked upon. Conservation must represent the cultures and ideas of diverse societies and ecosystems in order to be effective in an ever-growing Anthropocene. All sources cited here.

Community members honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a nature walk, hosted by Heartland Conservation Alliance.

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