The environmental sector is both a rewarding but challenging sector for young people to enter. The sector also lags behind many others in terms of (especially ethnic) diversity. This is an unfortunate state of affairs given the vital importance of fostering new generations of environmentalists in a world increasingly ravaged by biodiversity loss and climate change. As young people on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Tomorrow’s Natural Leaders (TNL) programme, we took it upon ourselves to support the sector’s efforts in addressing these issues.
During the final year of the programme (2019/20), in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided to organise a survey and online youth conference to address the barriers faced by young people and those from minority backgrounds wanting to enter the environmental sector, and discuss some possible solutions.
We sent an online survey to environmental sector organisations (ESOs) in summer 2020, asking a series of questions about the representation of young and/or Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees in their organisation, and the opportunities and barriers for these groups. We also organised and delivered a virtual conference, called Bridging the Gap, on International Youth Day 2020 (12 August), bringing together young people interested in entering the environmental sector and ESO representatives. The conference included discussions in breakout rooms along with presentations from two inspiring young environmentalists, Mya-Rose Craig (a.k.a. Birdgirl) and Joshua Styles, as well as Stephanie Lynch of Groundwork UK.
Fifty-five different ESOs responded to our survey. We found many of the results interesting and not necessarily what we would have expected. The main results are summarised below.