Charities 'woeful' on diversity for disabled people, says Arts Council chief

Darren Henley tells the Institute of Fundraising's annual convention that there has been little progress in 20 years, despite a lot of talk

Darren Henley
Darren Henley

The charity sector is "woeful" at including people with disabilities in its workforce, despite having made some progress on racial diversity, according to the chief executive of Arts Council England.

Speaking at the Institute of Fundraising’s annual convention in central London, Darren Henley said the sector had made little progress on diversity in the past 20 years, despite much discussion of the subject.

He said he wanted to make sure the changes that needed to happen to increase diversity happened on his watch.

"We have made, as a sector, a little bit of a journey, a bit of progress for people of BAME backgrounds, but we are woeful on disability," he said.

His comments echo a report published by ACE in February, which found that ACE and the organisations it funds were still "treading water" on diversity despite some improvements, and that disabled people were the least well represented across arts bodies.

At the convention, Henley said he believed people "talked a good game" but that did not always translate into action.

"I go into rooms and talk, people nod wisely and say ‘yes, it’s important’, but we’re not seeing the step change we need to see," he said.

He told delegates that his views had been shaped by a conversation he had had four years before with someone who said they had been having the exact same conversations with people who seemed just as well-intentioned as him 20 years before that, but little had changed.

"On my watch, I want us to actually make some changes in this area," said Henley. "I want to be able to look back and see that we made a difference.

"I want that person who was talking to me to be able to look back and say 'yes, that was the point when it all changed'."

He said he believed that people like him, in roles like his, had a responsibility to make the changes that were needed.

Girish Menon, chief executive of ActionAid, said at the same session that he believed conversations about diversity had to include everyone in the organisation and could not be top-down.

"You have to make the conversation all about culture and you have to include everybody," he said.

"Because any question or discussion or conversation on diversity can automatically have an exclusionary impact on some people who think that, because they’re not a BAME person or a woman, or not disabled, they’re not part of the conversation. No, diversity is about inclusion; it’s about everybody."

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