Take Two®

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Study: 'Green ceiling' keeps minorities from advancing in environmental organizations

by Take Two®

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A bottle of Dasani water sits on the floor inside the Recology recycling facility on March 15, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The multi-million dollar bottled water industry continues to prosper despite outrage from environmentalists who point out that at least half of the empty bottles end up in landfills instead of being recycled. Environmental groups are encouraging people to use reusable containers and get their water from the tap which is safe to drink in over 90 percent of the United States. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

We're all familiar with the glass ceiling, the one that keeps women from advancing to the highest echelons of the workplace.

What about a green ceiling?

A report released by the University of Michigan states that minorities are woefully underrepresented in the ranks of environmental organizations, despite the fact that people of color tend to outnumber whites when it comes to supporting environmental issues. The study says green organizations tend to be overwhelmingly white. 

"Some of the reasons are cultural, they are really based on stereotypes rather than reality," said Dorceta Taylor, who authored the study, to Take Two this morning. "For instance, there is an ongoing perception that people of color, particularly African-Americans, are not qualified to work in the environmental organizations. There's a sense that if minorities are hired, they won't stay long within the organization."

Taylor also mentioned the lack of good mentoring within environmental organizations, so even when people from diverse walks of life get in the door, they still face a closed, informal culture. That leads to a feeling of alienation, Taylor said, and therefore they leave.

Sierra Club board member Michael Dorsey, who was part of the group who commissioned Taylor's study, said he wasn't surprised about the results of the study, which built on two decades' worth of data.

"We've known for many, many years that the environmental movement, the environmental professional field, is lacking tremendously when it comes to diversity, when it comes to promotion of non-white men in the ranks," he said. "There's much less commitment to diversity than even the military, or many for-profit corporations."

Dorsey said there's more than enough empirical evidence to counter the stereotype mentioned in Taylor's study that people of color lack the commitment to excel in the environmental field.

"Not only are people of color committed to the environment, but people of all walks and ilks of race and faith and class are overwhelmingly committed to the environment," he said. "The data has been bearing this out for decades."


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