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Many environmental organizations lack transparency in demographic reporting, UM study says

The University of Michigan Union
Wikimedia Commons
University of Michigan student union

New research from the University of Michigan shows a lack of transparency when it comes to demographic data within environmental organizations.

This comes from a study of more than 12,000 environmental organizations around the country, ranging in size. The researchers say historically, these kinds of organizations have lacked racial diversity, and little information has been made available to the public regarding the demographic composition of these organizations.

According to the study, 96% of the organizations did not release any demographic data, and fewer than 4% did. For organizations that did report such data, it was almost twice as common to reveal gender diversity data than racial diversity data. Reporting on LGBTQ compositions of staff was almost nonexistent.

Dorceta Taylor is the lead researcher for the study. She says the deficit in reporting could be due to a lack of resources.

“Larger organizations, with very big budgets, tend to have higher rates of reporting than the smaller organizations. So part of it might be capacity. They may not have, for instance, human resources or an HR person to collect this kind of data,” she says.

She says the lack of data could also be due to “a general reluctance, or a sense that this is not particularly important or interesting to report.” She also notes an interesting pattern: in 2014, after initial studies on demographic reporting had been done, environmental organizations began increasing their reporting of such data, but reporting rates rapidly plummeted from 2016 to 2018.

“It is certainly a curious phenomenon. Is it pushback against this idea that diversity is something important? We have national politics that really challenge the idea of diversity [being] something that is valid and should be pursued. We don’t know if that’s something that could be playing a role in this decline,” she says. 


Taylor says work in environmental fields is a growing part of the workforce, and having demographic data is the first step to diversifying within these fields.

“In the long haul, it will make organizations far more effective at reaching new audiences, broadening participation, and getting that larger support that they need to be effective,” says Taylor.

She says diversity is crucial for organizations hoping to make concrete and lasting policy changes in order to further grassroots causes.

“If environmental organizations are not engaging all communities, they will not be able to get the kinds of policies that were passed in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. They simply won't be able to get those through.”

Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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