Mike Adamson: How we are tackling diversity and inclusivity issues

The chief executive of the British Red Cross says a more diverse workforce will help the charity to make smarter decisions

Mike Adamson
Mike Adamson

Like many large organisations in the charity sector, we at the British Red Cross face challenges with inclusion and diversity.

Last year, we commissioned a review to examine how we could address our under-representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff. The review revealed four important issues around inclusion and diversity.

First, the under-representation of BAME groups can lead to the sector being perceived as elitist and exclusive. This can dissuade talented applicants and supporters.

Second, the portrayal of service users through aid clichés, which can present BAME service users without dignity, can cause offence and negatively influence perceptions of the portrayed groups.

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Third, extended periods of unpaid work are increasingly seen as a prerequisite to joining the sector at entry level. This severely disadvantages people from working-class backgrounds, disproportionately affecting BAME people. Furthermore, disabled people are not entitled to reasonable adjustments under most internship programmes.

Fourth, structural and societal inequalities significantly hamper diversity efforts. A Department for Work and Pensions study reported that applicants with white-sounding names were called to interview far more often than those with African or Asian-sounding names, despite applications being completely identical otherwise.

As a values-led organisation, we have a responsibility to bring about positive systemic changes in society to improve the lives of people and communities. Acknowledging the results of this review, the BRC is taking proactive and transparent steps to address these challenges. One way we can achieve this is by celebrating diversity and encouraging inclusive attitudes.

We fully understand that it’s only through comprehensively embracing inclusion and diversity that we can best support people in crisis. A diverse workforce with a variety of life experiences will help us to make smarter decisions as an organisation, create a culture of curiosity and innovation, and better deliver services on the front line, ensuring service users remain at the centre of our work.

We are the largest provider of refugee services in the UK, and 30  of our refugee support staff are from BAME groups. Furthermore, 50 per cent of our Leadership Group (our most senior 100 staff) are female. This is positive news, but there’s much more to be done.

The evidence is clear: inclusion and diversity matter.

Diversity at work is linked to an abundance of positive outcomes, from improved decision-making and better financial performance to broadening the appeal of an organisation to service users. Put simply, organisations that commit to inclusion and diversity are more successful.

However, organisations in the third sector continue to struggle with the challenge of inclusion and diversity.

An report by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations said that fewer than one in ten (9 per cent) of third-sector employees are from BAME groups, a lower proportion than in either the public (11 per cent) or the private sectors (12 per cent). Furthermore, the 2016 sector gender pay gap stands at 12.4 per cent and is partly attributed to the lack of women in senior roles.

We have since built on our BAME review by developing an inclusion and diversity strategy. The aim is to mainstream inclusion and diversity considerations into all that we do.

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We are developing a more robust recruitment and selection process, incorporating mandatory diversity and unconscious bias training, name-blind applications and collecting key diversity metrics.

Through acknowledging that different people experience crises differently, we are designing all our international programmes to reflect this, including mainstreaming gender and diversity considerations.

Finally, by recognising that inclusion and diversity starts at the top, we dedicated much of our 2017 leadership conference to inclusive leadership. Our board has also spent time exploring unconscious bias.

This work is important, but we still have much to do. We know a more inclusive and diverse workforce will ensure we’re able to make smarter decisions, bring about positive change in society and, crucially, be better equipped to support people in crisis.

Mike Adamson is chief executive of the British Red Cross

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