We recently shared statements in response to the murder of George Floyd and the ongoing police brutality in cities across the United States against peaceful protestors. In an effort to live up to the values these statements convey, we also must be transparent about what’s happening within our organization, including a public resignation letter sent on Monday by a Black employee.
Systemic racism has fundamentally shaped our institutions—including science and environmental organizations—to consciously and unconsciously uphold white supremacy. For most of our 50-year history, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) inhabited this space without much thought. About a decade ago, we started to change the way we do things.
We began to incorporate issues of racial equity into our campaign work and forged new relationships with groups in underrepresented communities. We made efforts to diversify our staff by hiring more people of color. But in hindsight, we ignored the climate of microaggressions that existed among staff and leadership, and the deeper structural racism that has existed across UCS. For too many staff of color, that made their experiences at UCS transactional, unnecessarily difficult, and unfulfilling.
The steps we took, such as requiring that all staff attend trainings on implicit bias and the difference between structural racism versus individual racism, were a start but not nearly enough.
While our staff is more diverse than it was ten years ago, our leadership remains largely white. We fell into the trap of adding employees who are people of color without considering that our culture also had to change. We have so much work left to do within the organization to create an atmosphere that is inclusive and equitable, that not only hires Black people and people of color but listens more intently, incorporates their experiences and expertise into the organization's work, and changes for the better.
The burden of these failures has fallen largely on UCS staff who are people of color. This is unfair: It is incumbent on white leadership and staff to do the work of dismantling white supremacy within our organization.
So, the question that people should ask (and are asking) is, “What are you doing now?”
We are taking the following immediate steps, and we anticipate that more will follow:
- Invited staff of color to work with the president and executive director to co-create actions UCS will take swiftly to improve the workplace experience for colleagues of color. This work will focus, among other things, on organization-wide reforms to ensure that there is a greater role for staff of color in decision making; a more inclusive and welcoming work environment, better support mechanisms, particularly for younger staff, and an acceleration of hiring of people of color to management positions.
- Begin implementing changes in all our departments and programs to include more voices in decisions to support and empower our staff, particularly our staff of color.
- Committed UCS management to deep self-reflection and learning to understand how we have contributed to painful experiences in the past and how we can do better.
- Requested that the board of directors engage directly with us to address this challenge, through an existing Board/Staff Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Force.
We know these steps are just a start, but time is of the essence and we don’t want to delay reforms we can do now as we carefully consider other measures that will take more time to put in place. We cannot begin to improve the UCS experience for all staff until we acknowledge and own the harm we have caused, and then do better. We respect the courage of current and former colleagues for raising these issues. We deeply regret that we have not moved swiftly enough to address their concerns, and we especially regret the pain this has caused. Like many organizations, UCS has fallen short and needs to work harder and faster to change our practices and structures to create a more equitable workplace and world, and to be an anti-racist organization.
Ken Kimmell, President
Kathleen Rest, Executive Director