People Management: Room for improvement with diversity

Charities should be doing much better for ethnic minority staff, writes Indira Das-Gupta.

The voluntary sector champions many causes, but equality is surely near the top of the list. So it is all the more surprising that there are relatively few non-white people working in charities.

According to NCVO's Voluntary Sector Almanac 2004, 5.6 per cent of employees working in the voluntary sector describe themselves as non-white, compared with 6.5 per cent in the public sector and 6.3 per cent in the private sector.

Given that 7.9 per cent of the UK population as a whole and 28.8 per cent of Londoners are from BME communities, there is clearly room for improvement.

One charity that has actively been pursuing a policy aimed at increasing the number of BME people it employs is environmental charity BTCV. In 1995, only 1 per cent of its employees were from BME communities. By 2004 this had increased to 8 per cent.

Liz Burgess, legal and support services director, said: "In order to tackle the problem, we introduced a comprehensive plan that looked at a whole range of HR-related issues, instead of focusing on just one area.

"We introduced special courses to help staff be more sensitive to people from different backgrounds. This includes pointing out the inappropriateness of certain posters or the use of particular language. We try to ensure that every member of staff attends the course.

"We also looked very carefully at all our job specifications and rewrote them in the clearest language possible - from an HR point of view they should be clear anyway. We have tried advertising in the minority press and use translations where we can. All adverts in the Welsh press are in Welsh."

Burgess believes it's a fallacy that accommodating staff from different cultural backgrounds necessitates significant adjustments. She said: "We found rooms that were suitable for our Muslim employees to pray in, in the same way that we might have had to find a room for smokers. We also decided to stay open at Christmas because not all our employees celebrate it."

But attracting a more diverse workforce is only the start - the next challenge for an employer is keeping it that way.

Paul Amadi, chair of the Black Fundraisers Network Special Interest Group, said: "Employees from BME communities can feel a bit isolated - that's why we set up the group: to offer peer support and networking opportunities. We also want to improve professionalism by providing skills-based workshops."

Amadi feels the lack of BME fundraisers in the sector is a deep-rooted problem. He said: "Fundraising is not a profession that has traditionally been recognised as something to aspire to in BME communities.

"A lot of small BME charities out there really suffer because of a lack of fundraising abilities. That's another reason we set up the group - to pass on our knowledge and maybe encourage more people to see it as a career."

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