New Research Shows a Glaring Lack of Transparency in Environmental Organizations

Originally published: 
October, 2019

(Ann Arbor, MI) – New research conducted by University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) professor, Dorceta E. Taylor, finds that environmental organizations are still reticent to release data reporting on the gender, race, and sexual orientation of their staff. Taylor published an article “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Salience of Public Disclosing Demographic Data in American Environmental Nonprofits” in Sustainability revealing results from a recently completed study. This is, to date, the most extensive study of its kind, and it reveals that the push for environmental organizations to disclose more diversity data has yielded limited results.

Taylor and her team studied 12,054 nonprofit environmental organizations of varying sizes in all U.S. states and territories to find out whether they reported information about the demographic characteristics of their staff and leadership on public platforms such as GuideStar. When Taylor released the groundbreaking report, The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations, and Government Agencies, in 2014, she and Green 2.0 called for increased transparency about and reporting on the demographic characteristics of environmental organizations. Green 2.0 collaborated with GuideStar to make such reporting a part of the profile that environmental nonprofits put on the GuideStar platform.

Speaking to the continued importance of this work Dr. Taylor said, “Increasing diversity in the environmental movement is a goal that many share.  We can only achieve this goal if we are willing to track our progress and share information with each other.  The growth of the environmental movement depends on it.”

Findings of the 2019 study, presented in the Sustainability article include:

  • Only 3.7% of the environmental organizations studied release any demographic data at all.
  • Environmental organizations are more likely to reveal gender diversity data than racial diversity data.
    • 3.7% of the organizations studied report the gender demographics for their board and/or staff.
    • 2.7% of the organizations report the racial characteristics of their board and/or staff.
  • The 2014 report also called on environmental organizations to collect and share data on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) composition of their staff and boards.
    • While the number of environmental nonprofits collecting data on sexual orientation is increasing, only 0.3% of the organizations studied report this kind of data.
    • However, GuideStar has a policy of not releasing this data for organizations with fewer than 15 employees so the real percentage may be higher.
  • There are regional differences when it comes to reporting.
    • The region with the highest level of reporting is the Mid-Atlantic.
    • The lowest level of reporting occurs in the South.
    • The states with the most reporting are California, New York, Washington D.C., Colorado, and Pennsylvania.
    • No organizations in Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, or the US Virgin Islands report any diversity data.
    • Organizations located in urban areas are more likely to report diversity data than organizations in suburban or rural areas.
  • This research indicates that some types of organizations reported at much higher rates than others.
    • The research team divided environmental organizations into 34 types.
    • The types of organizations most likely to report some diversity data are environmental justice organizations (13.4% reporting) and environmental health organizations (10.4% reporting).
    • The types of organizations least likely to report any demographic data are garden clubs/horticultural programs (0.8% reporting) and management and technical assistance organizations (0.0% reporting).
  • According to this research, larger organizations are more likely to report diversity data than smaller organizations.
    • Organization size was approximated using amount of annual revenue, number of staff, and size of board. Across all these metrics larger organizations are more likely to report diversity data than small organizations.
  • The data show that organizational leadership has an impact on likelihood of reporting.
    • Organizations where the top executive is a woman are more likely to report some type of diversity data than organizations where the top executive is a man.
    • Organizations where the top executive is a person of color are more likely to report diversity data than organizations where the top executive is white.
  • The research also examines whether the practice of revealing diversity data has increased since the 2014 Green 2.0 and GuideStar collaboration.
    • The study finds that reporting on the demographic characteristics of the staff of environmental nonprofits was virtually nonexistent before 2014.
    • Between 2014 and 2016, there was a sharp increase in the reporting of demographic data.
    • Since 2017, there has been a steep decline in the number of organizations revealing their demographic data.

Further findings from this research will be available throughout the fall, including a paper on racial and gender wage gaps in environmental nonprofits.

For more information on this research and for media interviews, please contact Dr. Taylor at (734) 763-5327 or dorceta@umich.edu. Alternatively, contact Carole Love at (734) 647-3050 or calove@umich.edu.

This research was funded by The JPB Foundation, the C.S. Mott Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.