Environment for all

Last updated: July 2008


Why should it matter if the new FOE boss is another white bloke asks Simon Birch?


Friends Of the Earth is getting a new boss. After six years of heading up one of the country’s most well known greenie groups, Tony Juniper is standing down to make way for Andy Atkins who joins FOE from the development NGO Tearfund. However, whilst no one’s questioning Andy’s undoubted suitability for the post, his appointment does follow something of a pattern: namely that of a long line of male bosses, as every one of FOE’s fve chief execs in its 37 year history has been a bloke.

A quick look at other greenie groups reveals exactly the same story: Greenpeace has never had a woman in the top job and neither has WWF. In fact, apart from a few notable exceptions such as Barbara Young’s stint as the head of the RSPB in the ‘90s, not one mainstream environmental group has a woman in charge. Mind you, things are a little different overseas. Here you’ll fnd women in the top job at FOE Canada, France and Spain as well as at Greenpeace in Germany, the Netherlands, and South East Asia.But does any of this really matter; surely we should be looking at the relevant skills and qualifcations of a candidate and be looking beyond gender?

“The issue of women bosses is just as important for the environment sector as it is for FTSE 100 companies,” replies Jean Lambert, the Green Party MEP for London. “The environment sector shouldn’t be immune from the question of ‘where are the women’?



The other side of the story

When asked why they’d never had a woman chief exec, FOE issued the following statement through its spokesperson Roger Higman, FOE’s Campaigns Coordinator:“Friends of the Earth is an inclusive employer and we embrace diversity. We have an open recruitment process and all appointments are made based on the merits of individual applicants. Women make up over 30% of our Executive Board and our organisational management team is 35% female.”

Greenpeace however was a little more defensive when the Ethical Sceptic asked why it was that a bloke had always held their top job. “We have a 50/50 split between men and women in our senior management team and both our campaign director and action director are women,” states Cathy
Anderson from Greenpeace - which is currently headed by a man. “I don’t relate to the assertion that the organization is run by a man as I think that it’s run by a collection of people who are 50% men and 50% women.”

Given that a great many women work at a senior level in organizations such as Greenpeace, why should it matter then that their chief exec is a bloke? “That’s not what the public sees though when the male chief exec is rolled out for the media,” says Kay Wagland from the Women’s Environmental Network.



White and middle class?

Of course gender isn’t the only issue when it comes to diversity, for as well as being green, the environment movement is almost exclusively white and middle class. “There’s nothing wrong with being white and middle class,” points out Judy Ling Wong from the Black Environment Network, “it’s just historically they happened to be the frst people who started the environment movement.”

But why is the fact that the environment movement is dominated by the white middle classes necessarily a bad thing? “Sustainable development is all about relevance,” says Ling Wong. “If we’re relevant to society then we must include all of society plus a lot of the members of the black and ethnic minorities have an important contribution to make.”Clifford Davy, Diversity Offcer at the British Trust for Conserva-
tion Volunteers agrees with Ling Wong adding that:“It’s very important that the green sector better refects the diversity of the society in which we work and live.”


BTCV leads the way?

According to Judy Ling Wong, the BTCV now has one of the most progressive diversity programmes and policies of any environmental organisation in the country. “We began to be aware of di-versity issues back in the late ‘90s when we wanted to begin valuing the people we worked with just as much as the environment in which we worked,” explains Davy. Since then the BTCV has successfully worked with members of the black and ethnic community as well as the unemployed and asylum seekers, groups which have traditionally been excluded from mainstream green organisations.  “If you believe that every individual is part of the solution to major environmental problems such as climate change, there’s
no way that you can leave people out of your movement,” says Jean Lambert. “You have to do everything possible to make your organisation inclusive.”


From Ethical Consumer issue 113, July/August 2008