News & Insight
9th September 2019
Recent reports confirm what we already know – the charity sector is failing to truly reflect the public it serves
Rebecca Williams, Philanthropy Company Research and Insight Executive, reflects on what we can take from recent reports on diversity in the sector.
For a long time, senior management teams and charity boards have been recruited from a narrow part of society. The sector is at last coming under greater scrutiny for failing to represent people of colour, people living with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community and others outside of the protected groups umbrella.
As a reminder, some of the headlines are:
- only 8% of fundraisers were from minority ethnic groups;
- just 3 per cent of charity chief executives were from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background;
- a tiny 2.25 per cent of senior leaders within the sector were women of colour and only 2.9 per cent of trustees.
Recent controversy around Citizens Advice training materials provided for teams working with BAME communities, shows that something is not being communicated effectively within the sector. Charities must be working harder than they are right now, not only to create genuine opportunities to encourage a diverse range of applicants to roles at all levels but also to ensure that senior representation reflects our diverse society. A considered approach is warranted but slapping the wrist of the sector, without considering how to implement procedures enabling genuinely diverse representation, achieves little.
So, what’s missing? Well, it’s not tired rhetoric about the importance of representation and surveys showing just how much we’re not doing about it. Most of us don’t need to be convinced of the problem with statistics or the importance of diversity in everything we do.
What we are not seeing enough of is honest, transparent discourse about the latent and (albeit subconscious in many cases) biases that remain in the sector (and beyond!). Twitter campaign #CharitySoWhite being a fresh example of people’s frustration.
Karin Woodley, chief executive of poverty and social action charity Cambridge House and woman of colour, says the “institutional narrative” needs to be challenged if charities are going to make progress on the issue, “we need to switch from referring in the passive to people being excluded or disadvantaged, to saying these are people that we exclude”. Progress requires confronting the unpleasant reality of the barriers facing under-represented groups and considering the part each of us plays in keeping people out in the cold. Organisations must accept an active role in the problem and take a proactive approach to the solution.
How can we make meaningful change a reality?
- Charities need the resources necessary to implement meaningful and lasting organisational change. Underfunded and under resourced charities (some of which, like local law centres, are on the brink of closure) are unlikely to be able to achieve meaningful structural change without support. For example, more funding made available for paid apprenticeships, rather than unpaid internships and an understanding of how skills can be transferable from other entry level jobs (e.g. sales to fundraising).
- Charities need training on diversity and unconscious bias at all levels of the organisation (this can be performed by an equalities adviser or consultant and could be rolled out by a public sector body such as the Charities Commission).
- Some, such as Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, favour greater regulation, as with compulsory gender pay gap reporting. Mallick says, a reporting requirement on racial diversity and disabled employees would help organisations to “focus their minds”. This would certainly help in one direction, but the trick here would be not to fall into a punitive system but to encourage an open, supportive space for learning and progress.
- Charities need to support employees and applicants underrepresented in the sector and put in place fairer initiatives to ensure that diversity is implicit in everything they do (e.g. “name-blind” recruitment at executive and Trustee level). It is no longer appropriate to have a ‘diversity champion’ on the Board, diversity is an all Trustees’ responsibility. The aim here is being to create an environment that is welcoming to all people, regardless of background.
- Lobbying for change – as much as it is important for the sector to take action, the roots of these barriers are of course not found within the sector. They are wider than that and the role of charities as a voice for change is crucial to challenge the social issues that keep underrepresented groups from accessing opportunities.
We can see some great initiatives growing in the sector. For example, the IoF has set up the Change Collective, specifically to encourage diversity in fundraising. Their mission is to promote an equal, diverse and inclusive profession and redefine the identity of the sector as reflective of UK society.
What do you think? Have you seen some great examples of charities taking tangible steps to address these issues? We think this is a critical area for our sector and would love to carry on the conversation.