The importance of diverse voices in the sustainability space

7 min read | Paul Gosling | Article | Workplace Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Corporate social responsibility DE&I

sustainability

Sustainability is far from being a diverse sector. In fact, research from the Policy Exchange shows sustainability to be the least diverse occupation after farming. Its workforce is largely dominated by white, middle-class professionals, meaning it doesn’t currently represent the racially diverse communities it’s working to serve.

In our Sustainable Futures: Career Conversations series, Sarah Mukherjee, Chief Executive Officer at the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), speaks about how amplifying diverse voices in sustainability conversations and decision-making processes is an important first step towards adopting a positive, forward-thinking and collaborative approach to tackling the climate crisis.
 

Collaboration is key to tackling climate change

When it comes to adapting organisational processes to respond to climate change, it’s not a case of if these changes need to be made but when. Although restructuring can be complex and sometimes met with resistance, businesses that start implementing sustainable practices now will reap the benefits in the future. Organisations wanting to drive sustainable growth and champion corporate climate action can support and learn from one another. IEMA is an example of a professional body that facilitates collaboration in the sustainability space by bringing together 20,000 individuals and 300 organisations in over 100 countries through its established networks and industry events.

“We all want the same outcome: a clean, healthy and sustainable planet for our children and grandchildren to inhabit.” (Sarah Mukherjee)


Mukherjee emphasises that it isn’t just sustainability professionals that play an important role in tackling climate change: every job has the potential to contribute to the sustainability agenda in some way. Electricians, for example, can receive specific training on fitting electric vehicle chargers and plumbers can help to reduce household emissions by installing heat pumps in homes. As Mukherjee points out, “we all want the same outcome: a clean, healthy and sustainable planet for our children and grandchildren to inhabit”.

Regardless of the sector we’re working in, we all have a responsibility to bring our expertise to sustainability conversations. IEMA’s Green Careers Hub can help individuals acquire green skills and gain an understanding of the role they can play in the greening of the economy.
 

Ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the sustainability sector

“We don’t need people who all think the same way; we need people thinking in very different ways to make sustainability a resilient and successful sector.” (Sarah Mukherjee)


The Black Lives Matter movement, Mukherjee explains, has highlighted how much progress still needs to be made to give voice to ethnic minorities in society. This is especially important for the sustainability sector, where diversity representation is currently 50% lower than in the rest of the UK’s working population (RACE Report). People from ethnic minority communities in low-income households are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, partly due to poorly adapted housing, air pollution and a lack of access to green spaces, so it’s essential that people from these communities have a seat at the table when it comes to sustainability policymaking. Mukherjee emphasises that the sustainability sector needs people thinking in very different ways to make it resilient and successful. IEMA aims to champion diverse voices through its Regional Networks in the UK, Ireland, the Middle East and North Africa, New Zealand and West Africa.

The Diverse Sustainability Initiative, explains Mukherjee, was set up to break down barriers to inclusion that ethnic minorities face in the sustainability sector. Sustainability professionals from minority backgrounds can be more prone to imposter syndrome, in part due to the lack of diverse role models and representation at a senior level, which is why the initiative provides support to current sustainability professionals from minority backgrounds, as well as improves access to sustainability roles for future minority talent.
 

Indigenous knowledge can teach us a lot about protecting the planet

Combatting climate change, tackling pollution and reducing biodiversity loss: these indigenous practices can teach us how to protect the planet for future generations. The world’s indigenous population consists of 476 million people living in 90 countries and there’s a growing realisation among environmental advocates that their traditional techniques for growing food and conserving endangered species could help stop the dramatic decline of the natural world. As caretakers of approximately 25% of the Earth’s land mass, Mukherjee states that we can learn a lot from indigenous populations and we should incorporate their practices, which have been tried and tested over millennia, into sustainability strategies across the world.
 

Sustainability organisations that prioritise diversity are more successful

“Companies that are diverse are more successful, profitable and resilient.” (Sarah Mukherjee)


It’s widely known that innovation stems from diversity – when people with different views and backgrounds work together it can lead to more creative solutions. Mukherjee notes a clear link between businesses that are further ahead on their sustainability journey and those that prioritise diversity: “companies that are diverse are more successful, profitable and resilient”.

For more insights from leading sustainability professionals, keep an eye out for the next episodes of the Sustainable Futures: Career Conversations series. Want to find out more about where a career in sustainability could take you? Check out the Green Careers Hub or speak to one of our expert consultants today. If your organisation is looking to hire more diverse talent to deliver sustainability projects, register a job with us today.

 

About this author

Paul Gosling, National Director for Sustainability Recruitment, Hays

Paul has been a specialist recruiter in environment and sustainability for over 25 years. He started recruiting into the sector in 1995 after finishing his BSc in Environmental Science and he’s worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of companies over the past 20-plus years to support their growth and development in this dynamic and critically important sector.

During this time, Paul has built a wealth of knowledge and he’s recognised as a leading expert on overcoming the unique recruitment challenges facing the environment and sustainability sector.

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