When I first hear diversity, my first thought these days is not human, ethnic, or gender diversity but biological. This could be because much of what the WCC does is to help biological diversity seen in our work for habitat restoration, stream banks, beetle kill mitigation, wildlife fencing, and noxious weed removal.
Turns out biological diversity along with racial, linguistic, and cultural diversity need one another. They are symbiotic relationships tied to the success of one another. In a 2012 study by L.J. Gorenflo et al., the research is there to prove that the areas labeled biological hotspots by UNESCO are the same areas with the most diversity in languages and culture. Click the map below to enlarge and see for yourself. Gorenflo et al.’s study is one of many proving this point. So if biological diversity is ensured by cultural diversity, how could this translate to environmental organizations in the USA? Do I insulate myself from worrying about human diversity by working for an environmental organization? In a recent report headed by University of Michigan’s Dorceta Taylor, PhD titled State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations, the numbers are pretty clear that even environmental organizations dedicated to both people and the environment are dismally mono-cultured.
Not too long ago, I was tabling for the WCC at a job fair and watched a prospective worker a few tables down from us receive laughter in inquiring about an environmental biology position for a environmental consultant firm dedicated to energy companies in Wyoming. She watched the male in front of her have an engaging 15 minute conversation with the potential employer. When it was her turn to step up after the young male, she found laughter in asking to hear about the same position. Working through the off putting laughter, she went into her rehearsed spiel about why she was interested in the position when she was interrupted after she said “I have a degree in environmental biology.” He interjected with a the snide question of “how is that workin’ out for ya?” I wish I was making this up. While women are increasing in numbers and ratios for bigger and better jobs in the workforce, almost 77% of presidents in environmental organizations are male and 71% board members for these organizations are male too. After looking at the numbers given by the Taylor report, this conversation we are having now is not happening enough. Last night for our 4950 Leadership in Natural Resources class, our crew leaders had a fruitful discussion about race and gender both abstractly and as it relates to our positions as AmeriCorps, a conservation organization, and a youth program.
The WCC does a good job but like nearly all conservation corps, we have a long way to go. This year the WCC is almost 50/50 male to female but all Caucasian. We are not alone, most conservation corps function this way but this is changing. In a press release by the Corps Network highlighting a statement by Sally Jewel, former CEO of Recreation Equipment Incorporated (REI) now US secretary of the Interior, she mentions the pressing need to have our public lands be represented by the people who represent this country. In other words, the USA is a melting pot of cultures and races yet our public lands seem to boast little proof of this.
America’s conservation corps are a vital puzzle piece to incorporating more diversity in environmental organizations and the workforce in general.
Our conservation corps are beginning to be one of the agents of change in this regard. We are recruiting more men and women of various backgrounds fit for the various jobs we do as youth conservation organizations. Programs like the WCC and the many other conservation corps in the country are acknowledging the issues and working toward Sally Jewel’s dream of our public lands representing the USA of today. We have to. The sustainability of our planet and our societies depends on getting as many people as possible interested in solving issues centered around climate change, social justice, food distribution, and water scarcity. Without a connection to green spaces, both wilderness and municipal parks or even backyards, our coming generations might have less drive to make these critical decisions related to climate and food. Our world depends on it. The WCC and Wyoming in general does a great job of making outdoor landscapes accessible to our public but we need more people to be doing our work.
Thanks for listening,