ATRD & Social Practice ENT panel and networking event

On Monday 7th October, ATRD and Social Practice ENT jointly hosted a Black and Asian network event at the Royal Society of Arts, where panel members Malcolm John (Young Harrow Foundation and Association of Chairs), Kunle Olulode (Voice4Change England), Srabani Sen (Full Colour), Precious Sithole (Social Practice ENT) and audience members contributed to an engaging, insightful and thought-provoking discussion.

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ATRD founder and director Malcolm opened the panel presentation with Hamlet’s immortal words “Suit the actions to the words, the words to the action”. As the founder of the Action for Trustee Racial Diversity Campaign, he stated that he was determined not to add too many more words to the considerable bibliography of evidence and good practice on this vital issue.

Nevertheless a few facts shouted out:

  • 62% of the top charities by income have all white boards
  • 2.9% of trustees in the sector are women of colour
  • 92% of trustees are white, older, and above average income and education  (Charity Commission 2017)
  • 71% of trustees are recruited through an informal process
  • The level of ethnic minority individuals on large charity boards is just 6.6%, representing 418 of a total of 6338 trustees.

To put that in context, 14% of the England and Wales population is from non- white background. In London, the figure is 36.8%.

He asserted that charities cannot truly claim to serve their communities if their leadership does not represent the people they serve. The challenge for the sector and for this campaign is to change these damning statistics, which have evidently not significantly changed over the years and even worsened in some respects.  This campaign aims to provide charities with knowledge, resources, toolkits, networks and specialist advice to enable them to take practical steps to increase the racial diversity of their Boards.

He presented the key findings from ATRD’s mapping of existing and planned activity aimed at increasing trustee racial diversity. The report highlighted a willingness to effect change, the barriers preventing this and the potential solutions.

Kunle also highlighted that according to a report published just this month by the Association  of Charitable Foundations, as few as 1% of charitable trusts and foundation trustees in the UK are non-white.

We’ve captured some key points from the evening below:

What are the key barriers?

The panelists noted that trustee recruitment still takes place all-too-often in private – the ‘tap on the shoulder’ from an acquaintance, or in exclusive spaces like the golf club or around the dinner table. People who are not linked into the ‘old boys networks’ are therefore unable to access opportunities. Kunle noted that “there is an underlying hostility to change” among Boards which needs to be acknowledged, and Srabani posed the question that if access to people who have trod the path before and can pull you into the stream of success is key, “where is the equivalent programme in our sector?”

One audience member described her experience of joining a Board, and noted that the nomination and approval process can feel difficult without some kind of connection with the existing members. She reminded us that there is also an onus on gatekeepers to change and diversify their own circles and the people they are comfortable connecting with.

Are quotas a useful tool in promoting diversity?

Kunle began by saying he prefers ‘targets’ to quotas, but while these measures can help as a ‘stick’ to encourage change, ultimately we need to aim towards organic progress and to a point where recruitment of women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups takes place because the organisation has a fair approach to recruitment in the first place.

Srabani was more wary of quotas, feeling that they can be used in a way that “perpetuates a perspective of deficit” – the language around quotas can imply that they are needed because there isn’t talent within the Black and Asian communities. Malcolm agreed that we need to avoid ‘tokenism’ and superficial measures of diversity, which can mask a lack of real institutional change and place too much pressure on individual trustees.

Why is the private sector doing better than the charity sector?

Although it seems counter-intuitive, the charity sector is lagging behind the private sector in terms of Board and overall diversity. Kunle cited a report by McKinsey which found that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially.

There was agreement in the room that because the private sector is always looking to maximise profit, it can be more agile than the charitable sector – where some organisations have followed the same model for hundreds of years. While the private sector responds out of necessity to findings that diversity is ‘good for business’, the charity sector can feel that they have no need or incentive to change.

The fact that it is “easier to have that conversation” with private sector organisations than charity sector organisations may be due to the fact that people working in the charity sector feel they are already doing ‘enough’ good and are more resistant to criticism relating to ethics and inclusivity.

At the same time, we should be wary of taking private sector diversity measures at face value as they can be superficial. Srabani noted that often the private sector’s response to D&I is to set up Employee Resource Groups – the underlying implication being that it’s the people who need fixing rather than the system. Kunle agreed that the diversity strategy needs to be a core part of the organisational strategy to be able to effect real change.

Finally, Kunle reminded us that although it is affirming to note that diverse companies perform better, we would still value diversity and increasing representation even if McKinsey’s report had found the opposite. There is a moral imperative underlying our work which shouldn’t be conflated with that of business.

EGTYhJwUYAAz8GqThanks to Mandy Johnson @MsMandyJ for the sketch note of our event!

How do we open up the conversation beyond this room?

One audience member noted that it’s important to have conversations beyond spaces such as this event, where everyone is broadly in agreement about diversity. Srabani agreed and said that she knows that many organisations genuinely want to improve their diversity but fear getting it wrong.

Our aim as ATRD is to provide actionable, practical solutions to increasing diversity on charity Boards. We are focusing now on inviting people to sign up to support the campaign as ATRD Champions, and creating a database of Black and Asian networks to help trustee recruiters access the plethora of talent in these communities. If you would like to be involved or learn more, please get in touch!

Published by actionfortrusteeracialdiversity

A new campaign – Action for Trustee Racial Diversity (ATRD) – is promoting practical steps to address the significant and longstanding under-representation of people from Black and Asian backgrounds on charity Trustee Boards across the UK

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