Addressing the lack of diversity in the environment sector

We're pleased to share a new report from our Involving Young People Collective summarising the discussions at a hackathon on addressing the lack of diversity in the environment sector. Liam McAleese, our Director of Our Natural World, also shares his reflections on what we learned and our next steps for making progress on this.

Download the report or view it here. And in the blog below, Liam McAleese, our Director of Our Natural World, shares our main takeaways from the hackathon and our plans to make progress on this.


In April 2021 the Involving Young People Collective (IYPC), working with Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Hudl Youth Development Agency, convened a hackathon to explore issues and action around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the environment sector, one of the least diverse sectors in the UK.  We are hugely grateful for the IYPC and all the participants for attending and their expertise, openness and energy throughout the day.

Many of us found the hackathon challenging and inspiring in equal measure. Challenging, because it shone a light on practices and approaches that we as a funder have, at best, not done enough to challenge and at worse, perpetuated.

It was inspiring because we met many new people and groups, led by and serving communities experiencing racial inequity who are doing brilliant work in the environment sector. We are now exploring ways to work together, which for us is an important outcome of the hackathon.

The discussion at the hackathon highlighted the complexity of the issues associated with diversity, equity and inclusion in the environment sector. They are well evidenced and range from already identified barriers and lack of representation in the sector (and in green spaces more generally) to broader relationships around environmental, climate and social justice.

Time for meaningful action and building relationships

Given that these issues are well known to many, we heard the understandable frustration of reliving experiences and re-rehearsing the issues, without moving to action. But at the same time, we heard that in some cases jumping to action does not recognise the process of building relationships and understanding, and could risk being seen as tokenistic.

So, our main take home from the event is that we need to do both; meaningful action now, and a continued process of listening, building relationships, and understanding in parallel. As with our wider work, we know that engaging with the voices of those most affected by the issues to shape our thinking will be key to making progress on DEI. We are exploring ways to do this and are committed to an ongoing process of listening and acting.

In relation to action, we will be ultimately judged by the extent to which we are actively funding and supporting groups led by and serving communities experiencing racial inequity in the environment sector. We have made a start and are actively in discussion with several organisations about funding and will release more details of this as soon as we are able.

Support for the sector beyond funding

We also realise that we are in a privileged position to use our influence beyond funding. We have supported an England-wide strategic project with Wildlife and Countryside Link, Natural England, and other funders to develop a sector wide approach to removing barriers. We will be working through the findings of this when it reports after the summer and will explore how we can use our role in the environment sector to catalyse change. We agree with the IYPC that a follow-up hackathon would be valuable and we will do this to coincide with this report.

Multiple hackathon participants welcomed the space that the hackathon provided to network, make connections and share ideas. We have been approached by participants wanting to create a similar space/network that is designed and led by people and organisations led by and serving communities experiencing racial inequity in the sector. The IYPC recommended a role for Esmée in supporting this and we would be pleased to do so. We appreciate that this work should be led by those communities, and we want to take our lead from them on how best to offer our support.

Measuring progress

The IYPC recommended that we commission a 'citizens assembly' to assess Esmée’s progress on DEI in the environment sector one year from now. We believe that given the importance of the issue, accountability should not be an annual activity, confined to a small group of organisations or individuals. We are learning lots on our role on DEI in the environment sector and we know that we won’t get everything right. We’d rather not wait a year to find this out. But, to support wider learning, we will be publishing on our website a quarterly update of our work and specific actions on DEI in the environment sector for all to see and provide feedback. By strengthening our relationships with environmental groups led by and for communities experiencing racial inequity, and bringing new voices into our work, we believe our work to improve and restore our natural world will be better informed.

The hackathon identified learning, ideas and recommendations relevant to a range of organisations. Whilst we have focused mainly on what we can do as one funder, we are looking across the report to ask ourselves where we can do more, or influence. We are actively engaging other funders with this.

Get in touch

If anyone has any reflections or feedback on the hackathon, the IYPC report or any of our work or progress, then it would be great to hear from you. Contact me at liam.mcaleese@esmeefairbairn.org.uk.


Below you'll find more reflections from the hackathon. Hemlata Pant, shares her thoughts on why it's so important to be having these conversations and what it's meant to her to take part. And Daniel Seifu, a member of the IYPC shares what he's taken away from the event.

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