Policy, campaigns & research, Policy

Diversity: simple steps to start change today

Everybody agrees diversity is a super important topic when asked about it. We all want to put the issue ‘front and centre’, make it ‘core to our organisation’s mission’. But data on the lack of diversity in the sector shows a different picture. What can we do to change this?

The case for increasing diversity

A recent NPC survey showed that only 7% of charity leaders think that diversity at board level was not particularly important or brought no particular benefits. Even the government says promoting diversity and equality is a charitable purpose. The benefits of increasing diversity in your organisation have been widely described too. There are strong arguments around avoiding group-think, financial benefits, or generating a better understanding those charities are here to serve.

Our sector is falling short

The picture for our sector isn’t flattering. There is a wide range of reports available now that provide us with insights on the demographics of different parts of the sector. Specialist trustee recruiter Inclusive Boards says that the boards of the top 500 charities by income are less diverse than those of UK’s biggest companies in terms of ethnic makeup. They also found that almost 80% of senior leadership teams lack any ethnic minority professionals. Executive recruiter Green Park reviewed senior roles across the 100 largest charities in the UK and found for example that 8.1% of senior positions in major UK charities are held by ethnic minority leaders. In their annual pay survey ACEVO includes questions about diversity at charity CEO level. Their first published ethnicity data in 2008 showed that 4.2% of respondents reported being from a BAME background. For the 2018 survey this figure was 3%.

And in terms of gender? In 2017, 71 out of 100 chief executives at the largest 100 charities were men. A similar ratio presents itself when looking at larger data sets on the demographics of trustees across small, medium and large charities. According to the Charity Commission’s recent Taken on Trust report men broadly outnumber women by a factor of 2:1. Inclusive boards found that at the top 500 charities, nearly 60% of senior leaders are men. Green Park found that female representation in the top three roles (Chair, CEO and CFO) among the 100 largest charities was just 27.5%. The Association of Charitable Foundations also looked at the demographics of foundation trustee boards. They found that male trustees outnumber women 2:1, foundation boards are 99% white and Almost 60% of foundation trustees are over 65.

Change at board-level can be a powerful driver – here is an example of how to do it

What’s going on here? The data shows there’s much room for improvement. Our sector has still a long way to travel. We also have to recognise that charities and voluntary organisations sit in local environments, which can differ significantly from each other. This means tackling the issue of diversity can mean really different things depending on where you are. But surely many of us could subscribe to the notion that starting the conversation around this topic is beneficial overall.

There could be all kinds of reasons getting in the way of change – but what we need is practical steps that trustees and charity leaders can take to make it happen. Let’s look at who tackled the issue before and how. We recently came in contact in Adam Buss, CE at QUAD which is located in Derby. They transform lives through active participation in art and film. He described for us the process for making their board more diverse:

Get the full picture first – how diverse are you?

The first step QUAD took was to assess the current make-up of their board. Board members were asked to reflect on their skills and demographics, including economic diversity, via a board audit. All board members agreed to take part in it. This helped QUAD to understand in detail where gaps were in terms of skills and demographics. We started with the protected characteristics as defined in the Equality Act 2010 (and added economic diversity to this). It showed that they needed to increase diversity in four key areas: ethnicity, age, gender and disability. It also showed that they actually had a good mix of economic backgrounds represented on the board. Getting the facts first really and helped to get a full picture. Sometimes it is difficult for people to find the right point in time to start such a process. A board away day or governance review can be ideal for this. It is also a perfect opportunity to apply the new diversity principle of the Charity Governance Code.

Start the discussion – even when it creates friction

The review outcome was then used to reflect back to the board the current make-up, and have a discussion on how they could fill the identified gaps. This led to some churn in the board where board members retired and a recruitment phase was started. Change can create friction but that should not be a reason for not trying to go through the process in the first place.

Get the recruitment right – change your process for engagement

The recruitment was done in a number of ways by advertising for the skills QUAD was looking for and making it clear that they wanted to attract diverse candidates. However, it was also imperative that they approached things on the front foot and reached out to diverse candidates within their own community rather than simply waiting for them to respond to adverts. In the first instance candidates were asked for a letter of interest and a CV.

This led to the next stage, which was to host a welcome event for all that had expressed an interest. The event was attended by existing board members and key staff. This was a way for having a dialogue with the candidates, gaining feedback from staff and board on their thoughts, and understanding more about the skills and experience of the respective candidates. For those candidates who were unable to attend CE Adam Buss met with them in person and sometimes with the board chair to further assess their suitability. From this recommendations, endorsed by the chair, were made to full board and once approved the new board members were appointed.

Real results – and starting point for further change

This has led to the following: An even gender split on the board including a female chair, three BAME board members, an average age of 47 down from 50+, and two board members who live with a limiting disability. This is more than impressive. But QUAD is taking this success as stepping stone to go further. CE Adam Buss says: “The journey isn’t over and we want to focus on even further diversification moving forward and the key things for me are understanding in detail where you are as an organisation and being proactive in finding relevant candidates. It is not enough to simply say ‘people didn’t apply’. We also have a comprehensive diversity policy which covers all areas of our organisation from HR to audiences and governance.”

Feeling inspired? With so many things, simple sayings (or brand-slogans) are true: just do it. It is all possible but it needs someone to step up and drive the process.

Looking for other helpers?

This is just one of many examples of organisational change. There are other people who tackled this issue before and you can look to them for inspiration and advice. For example Thomas Lawson, CE at LEAP. He moved his charity through a transformation process addressing the issue of diversity also on board level. He is quite vocal on the topic. You can look him up @ThomasJLawson and reach out to him.

DSC can also arrange for training in this area. We work with experienced trainers who can offer tailored training to suit your needs. Get in contact with our Customer Services [email protected] or [email protected] if you have further questions.


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