Expert view: Governance is the key to diversity

Getting trustees on board makes it easier to promote inclusivity throughout the charity.

Barbara Hateley and Warren H Schmidt's bestselling book A Peacock in the Land of Penguins explores how to tackle diversity in the workplace through the adventures of Perry the Peacock and other exotic birds as they try to make their way in the land of the penguins.

The book shows how fables can give people the courage to express themselves more clearly than they would normally, and how they facilitate new, creative ways of solving delicate problems in environments where people's views may differ significantly.

I have been involved with the NCVO's strategic diversity project since it was set up two years ago. Like A Peacock in the Land of Penguins, it has found that third sector organisations and their trustees are more confident about tackling complex issues such as diversity if they can do so in a safe environment where people can openly voice doubts, fears and concerns.

In particular, the project found that approaching diversity through governance was an especially good way of avoiding pitfalls and restoring the enthusiasm within organisations for promoting inclusivity. By tackling diversity at the board level, organisations were often more able to go about things rationally while avoiding the fallacy of political correctness.

Interestingly, most of the time it was chief executives and not chairs who led the drive to diversify the staff and trustees of their charities. Chairs often took on facilitating roles once strategy had been developed. By using both their hearts and their minds, board members with differing interests worked together constructively to make decisions, solve problems and tackle the complex, systemic issues facing society.

Reaping the benefits of diversity

Successful charities linked their diversity strategies to their business objectives and changed their management techniques accordingly. This enhanced the effectiveness and efficiency of their organisations. It also boosted their ability and competence to successfully bid for and deliver contracts, improve the quality of their services and enhance their relevance to service users.

At its end, Hateley and Schmidt's fable concludes: "The land of opportunity is an attitude, openness to new ideas, a willingness to listen, an eagerness to learn, a desire to grow and the flexibility to change." Boards that have adopted this kind of approach are already reaping the benefits.

- Tesse Akpeki is a governance consultant for OnBoard, a division of Bates, Wells & Braithwaite charity solicitors.

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