Citizens Advice 'too slow to make progress on diversity', says chief executive

The charity opened an investigation after a piece of its training guidance was criticised on social media for being 'horribly racist'

(Photograph: Gary I Dobner/Alamy)
(Photograph: Gary I Dobner/Alamy)

Citizens Advice has been too slow to make progress on inclusivity and diversity, its chief executive has said, after a report was published on "unacceptable" training material produced by the charity.

The charity apologised and opened an investigation last month after a piece of its training guidance, called Working with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities, was criticised on social media for being "horribly racist". 

The guidance, aimed at training managers preparing staff in local offices to deal with members of the public, was published in 2017 on the charity’s website and described "BAME communities" as having "an intrinsically cash-centric culture", "a distrust of British authorities" and "low levels of literacy".

The discovery of the guidance prompted BAME people to share their experiences of racism and discrimination in the sector on social media and sparked the #CharitySoWhite campaign for racial equality in charities

The investigation report, published on Friday afternoon, acknowledges that the materials were "unacceptable".

It says the guidance had not been through a proper approval process, had been developed without appropriate equality expertise and published on a section of the charity’s website that did not have enough editing and publication controls.

It adds that the charity did not have the right protocols to deal with it quickly once it had been flagged on social media.

As a result, the report recommends the charity provides greater support for staff to understand what equality expertise is and how it should be used, and that people with such expertise should be required to have an input whenever relevant materials are produced.

It also recommends tighter technical controls around editing and publishing online materials, and building the organisation’s skills around social media responses.

In a statement, Gillian Guy, the charity’s chief executive, accepted the recommendations in full and pledged a quarterly update on progress to staff and tougher performance measures on diversity.

"It’s now clear that several failings led to this unacceptable material being on our website," she said. "I apologise unreservedly for this. We are acting quickly to make sure this can’t happen again.

"I don’t want us to stop there. I believe this incident, and the debate it led to, highlights important wider issues.

"We’ve been too slow in our progress on inclusivity and diversity when, as an organisation and as a sector, we should be leading the way.

"We’ll therefore accelerate our plans to become a more diverse and inclusive organisation, confronting and addressing inequalities, investing resources and setting bold targets, and better reflecting the huge value diversity brings to our work."

A spokeswoman for the #CharitySoWhite campaign told Third Sector the outlined next steps for the charity lacked specifics and called on the charity to be "completely transparent" about what its plans were, who would oversee them and how success would be measured, particularly given the "dearth of diversity" on the Citizens Advice senior team and board.

She said the investigation had "missed an opportunity to look at the root causes of why this training was produced rather than the technical processes that led it to being published".

She added: "We welcome the acknowledgement that this training indicates a wider issue at the organisation, though it does not go as far to name this as institutional racism, unfortunately.

"We have heard numerous testimonials that an approach centred on diversity and inclusion rather than power and privilege addresses only the optics of inclusion, not the core issues that, for example, are causing people of colour talent to leave the sector."

She said the report "does not seem to address or even acknowledge the impact that the training has had on services users in the years that it has been running" and did not say whether the charity’s network for its BAME employees had been involved in the investigation.

She said the campaign would continue to review the report and would release a full response soon.

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