Developing tomorrow’s climate leaders, thinkers and doers

Helen Clarkson, CEO, The Climate Group
Reading time: 3 minutes
23 May 2019

There has been much hand-wringing and many articles written about Silicon Valley’s diversity problem. Recent statistics have shown, for example, that less than 3% of the workforce at companies like Twitter, Uber & Facebook identify as black. As a consequence, not only are communities that are high users of tech products not reaping the financial rewards of the sector’s growth, but critics have pointed out that it places a limits on both the problems tackled by tech and the solutions that are found (e.g. co-founder of Twitter Evan Williams has admitted that if more women had been involved in the development of the platform, there would likely be much less of a problem with trolling).

Unfortunately, it’s fair to say that the environmental movement has a similar, if less extreme, problem. At The Climate Group we are proud that across 62 staff in our London office we represent 18 nationalities. But, like many organizations, we’ve been taking a good look at ways we could be more diverse: how can we attract people from a broader variety of backgrounds to join us? This is especially important given the biases within the sector that exist already.

First, it’s worth reflecting on why diversity should be a goal for organisations like ours. In Silicon Valley the mono-culture of ‘move fast, break things’ that attracts a particular type of (typically white male) person has sometimes been excused by the tech companies on the grounds that start-ups need to move fast and solve urgent problems, and it’s more time-consuming to learn to work with colleagues from different backgrounds. Do we have a similar ‘excuse’ in the climate space? We know that we have a limited amount of time to reverse the climate crisis. We need to halve emissions in the next decade to get on a path to Net Zero by 2050. Surely the quickest way to do that is recruit a bunch of ambitious environmental masters’ grads into a space and let them get on with it?

But as Silicon Valley is finding, complex problems need multi-facted solutions. Hiring a mono-culture means that when confronted with a problem similar people reach for similar solutions – the so-called ‘Ketchup question’. Now we’re past the low-hanging fruit stage of climate action, we need to bring a similar diversity of solution approaches to tackling the challenges we’re facing.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the UK government’s independent climate advisory body, recently released a landmark report on how the UK can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The take home message was that the target is achievable and affordable but requires a step change in policy development, execution and joined up action across government, business and society. Beginning now.Rightly, the CCC explicitly states the need for skills support for the designers, builders and installers that will be needed to deploy the low and zero carbon technologies required for a net zero economy.But the report should also be a call to action for NGOs (as well as their funders and partners in business and government) to assess and strengthen our sector’s role in developing the climate leaders, thinkers and doers of tomorrow.

If we’re going to respond as a sector to the vast challenges that the CCC report puts before us, then improving diversity is not just a box ticking exercise, but an essential measure to improve our sector’s ability to see problems and solutions from as many perspectives as possible. In short, we need to make the climate NGO sector an aspirational career choice, both for those already in the sector and those yet to begin their careers.

At The Climate Group we’re serious about tackling diversity and development issues. We have started to make changes, such as moving to a paid internship program in the second half of 2019 aimed at broadening the pool of potential interns and and enrolling all staff in a major online professional development & learning platform, including unconscious bias training. We’re also reviewing our recruitment practices and seeing how we can do better.

It’s a start, but we know that we need to do more. And as this crucial decade for climate action bears down on us, it will be essential that we start to do it together with our friends, partners and funders to develop the climate leaders, thinkers and doers that our sector, economy and communities need and deserve.

Help us help the next generation of climate leaders

On 22/23 June a group of 12 staff from The Climate Group will be tackling the UK’s iconic ‘Three Peak Challenge’ – climbing the highest peaks in Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell Pike) and Wales (Snowdon) in 24 hours or less. We’re doing the challenge to help raise funds for our new paid internship program that we’re hoping to have up and running in the second half of 2019. Our aim for the program is to provide everyone with the same opportunity to work with us to accelerate climate action, regardless of background or circumstances. To find out more and to support us, please visit our JustGiving page here.

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