Opinion: Third Voice - Why trustee diversity is much easier said than done

Peter Stanford, writer and broadcaster, and sits on various trustee boards

Trustee bodies, we are told, need to change. Apparently, too many old white men hog them at present. And letting my eye wander round the various trustee boards I sit on, I can see the point. I include myself in all of this, of course, although I'm still clinging to the delusion that being in your early forties doesn't make you old.

There is a problem, however, with the campaign to make trustee bodies more representative. We are struggling to find the right new faces who will be more than a token presence.

What we need above all are effective trustees who will roll up their sleeves and get involved in a charity, know it inside out and guard its special ethos. That requires time. Who has time? Usually retired people, or those who are winding down their careers. And they tend, I'm afraid, to be old white men.

Let's not knock them. They bring a great deal of wisdom to proceedings and a great deal of commitment. When you are in your thirties and forties, by contrast, you are burdened by mortgage repayments, career and childcare - and trying, in the midst of it all, to have a bit of fun. I challenge any trustee to look me in the eye and say that evening trustee meetings over sandwiches and cold coffee qualify as fun.

Then you turn to the impetus to reflect the user group on trustee bodies.

Again, fine in principle - but with spinal injury, where I am involved as a trustee, pretty hard to put into practice.

Funders want any disability charity to have a strong representation of disabled people on its trustee board. Nothing could be worse than a group of able-bodied people telling people with disabilities what they need.

But when the whole point of the charity is to support people after a spinal cord injury in building independent, fulfilled lives, you have to accept that many of your 'success stories' will then turn round to you and say: "Don't define me as a disabled person by asking me to make up a 'disabled' quota on your trustee board. And anyway, I'm too busy having the good life you told me I could have to come to meetings."

So, yes, we old white men are trying very hard to make ourselves redundant, but it is not a jobs-for-the-boys mentality that is keeping the pace slow.

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