Many charities display a "woeful lack of responsibility" for their staff and there are "countless" examples of bullying and discrimination in the voluntary sector, the chief executive of the youth leadership organisation UpRising has told MPs.
Lucy Caldicott told yesterday’s meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Charities and Volunteering that the sector needed to do a lot more to promote diversity and address issues such as racism, homophobia and sexism in the sector.
"If we are to have a really broad range of people among our staff teams, we need to take care of them, we need to nurture them and train them," she said.
"I have heard countless stories, sadly, of instances of racism, homophobia, bullying and misogyny in the voluntary sector.
"We are not the good guys. We might think we are, but we are not always the good guys."
She said examples included people keeping mental disorders to themselves for fear of discrimination, some feeling intimidated because they were the only non-white person in a room of hundreds, people being left out of social activities designed for certain sections of the staff team and others feeling they did not fit the prevailing centre-left mindset in the sector.
Caldicott, a former board member of the Institute of Fundraising, also said charities needed to employ more people with personal experience of the issues they were trying to address and this should be throughout the organisation: "not as an advisory panel", but "front and centre of decision-making".
Boards needed more trustees from diverse backgrounds, Caldicott added, and "tokenism is not good enough" when appointing new trustees.
She also raised the question of paying trustees, saying that many people with low incomes were excluded from the roles because it required doing unpaid work during work hours.
Tesse Akpeki, lead consultant at the governance development programme Onboard, told MPs that investment in diversity was required.
She said funders should "nudge" charities into having more diversity in leadership positions by rewarding those that did so with increased funding.
Chairs also had a unique ability to bring more diversity into charity boardrooms, Akpeki said.
Also speaking at the APPG, Baroness Barker, a Liberal Democrat peer, said she liked the idea of trustee apprenticeships that would provide some kind of "accredited training in governance".
She said this would give participants experience on boards, as well as some skills and qualifications to add to their CVs.