Putting Inclusion and Diversity to Work in the Environment

June 5, 2014

By Belton Copp, MEM/MBA '16

Understanding inclusion and diversity provides professionals in any discipline with the foundation to engage others, gain varied perspectives and establish trust. For environmental managers, there is a premium on being able to build trusting, productive relationships with stakeholders. No matter what country you work in as an environmental manager, embracing others’ values, needs and desires is the mark of success.

Glenda Lee in the Nicholas School’s Career and Professional Development Center developed Rising TIDE (Training for Inclusion & Diversity in the Environment) in 2013, a seminar series designed to introduce future environmental professionals to concepts of inclusion and diversity and its importance in managing organizations and relationships dedicated to environmental stewardship. This sixweek program gives Nicholas School students a chance to explore how these issues play out in their field through in-depth discussions of race, gender, and socio-economic and cultural inclusiveness.

The conversations we had as a group brought to the forefront my own views of diversity and made me more conscious of how I apply them. These lessons— knowing what I don’t know, learning through listening and conversation, and accepting common ground—helped me build a better foundation for myself and my relationships with others. Instead of walking away with specific tools one might hope to apply in different situations, RisingTIDE helped me anticipate challenges and internalize a perspective of inclusion.

Between my academic years I worked as a restoration analyst on the Silvies Valley Ranch in eastern Oregon. Silvies Valley is a 130,000-acre cattle ranch with abundant wildlife, diverse vegetation, goats, cattle and a knack for restoring meadow habitats. My goal of creating a financial evaluation and summary of the restoration work, including estimating the cost of construction, and the environmental and financial returns to the rancher, meant I worked closely with the cowboys, mechanics, Peruvian goat herders, and both the owner and ranch manager.

My résumé and education meant little in this setting and to people who spend long days outside working animals and the land, and who come home with the rough hands to prove it. So I pitched in and did a share of the labor. I moved cattle, worked the goats, fixed fence, fed calves and castrated dozens of bulls, but more importantly, I spent time off the clock with the cowboys, goat herders and the rest of the crew, having a drink and shooting the breeze. To me, that is what inclusion and diversity mean: meeting people on common ground, listening and learning, finding ways to relate to the stakeholders, and building trust and friendships to create a strong working relationship. In a rural county where connections are currency and my work relied on learning from busy cattlemen, being in good standing and gaining a referral from key community members made all the difference. Only through putting into practice inclusion and diversity was I able to establish goals that met my needs and theirs, and fulfilled my purpose.

Rising TIDE gave form and function to aspects of inclusion and diversity I had picked up working in places worldwide, from Alaska to the Philippines to Washington, D.C. It gave me new understanding of how to overcome social, economic, racial, gender-based, and cultural boundaries for the sake of environmental efforts and the people involved.

Rising TIDE was offered this fall and will be offered again in Fall 2015. For more information, contact Glenda Lee at glee@duke.edu or 919-613-8079.

Belton Cop is a 2016 candidate for a dual Master of Environment Management/Master of Business Administration degree at the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment and at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.