A coalition of charities and voluntary sector leaders has called for the Charity Commission to address the “massive diversity problem” in senior positions among UK charities.
The charity Money4You, which supports black, Asian, multi-ethnic and refugee-led charities and social enterprises, has co-ordinated an open letter that has today been sent to Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the regulator.
The letter, which has been signed by more than 60 charities and individuals in the voluntary sector, notes that about half of trustee recruitment still happens by referral from existing trustees and that publicly-available data on diversity is often incomplete and out of date.
“The charity sector has a massive diversity problem,” it says. “Nowhere is this more evident than at the senior management and board level.”
The letter goes on to say: “The Charity Commission is well aware of this problem, and yet it has decided to do nothing.”
It calls for the commission to begin requiring charities to include diversity information about their senior leaders and board members in their annual returns.
This would include gender and ethnicity information, plus other protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.
“Each field should contain only percentages to ensure that individual trustees’ protected characteristics are not identifiable, and should include a ‘Not specified/prefer not to say’ option that will allow organisations to withhold disclosure entirely if they have security concerns or other reasons for doing so,” it says.
The letter also says: “The consequences of the current lack of diversity are real: they result in poorer outcomes for the communities that we’re seeking to serve.
“Organisations with more diverse boards are more resilient, effective and creative. Donors and grant-makers should be able to see whether or not charitable organisations are governed in accordance with their values and that people with lived experience have a seat at the table.
“Intersectional discrimination in the charity sector is a complex and multi-faceted problem that demands meaningful change on many fronts. Increasing transparency won’t solve the leadership diversity problem on its own, but at the end of the day, you can’t change something that you can’t measure.”
Organisations giving their backing to the letter include the Charities Aid Foundation, the think tank NPC, the Co-op Foundation and campaigning groups including Voice4Change England and Race on the Agenda.
Barbara Keeley, the shadow minister for arts and civil society, said it was “high time” the commission took action.
“A civil society that is thriving and ready to challenge must be representative of the communities it seeks to serve,” she said.
“This is even more the case for senior roles, where for too long we have seen a skew towards appointments of the same kind of figure and the same kind of thinking.
“It is high time that the Charity Commission acts upon recommendations to collect data on protected characteristics among charity trustees and executives.
“While increased transparency may not immediately lead to meaningful change, it is clearly more difficult to address an issue if we are in the dark as to its scale.”
A Charity Commission spokesperson said the regulator had met Money4You and the wider Operation Transparency group and looked forward to reviewing the letter in full.
“We appreciate their concerns and will consider their recommendations as part of our ongoing work on this issue,” the spokesperson said.
“Trustees from a wide variety of backgrounds bring a breadth of experience and perspectives that is hugely beneficial to our sector.
“We urge charities to ensure the recruitment of trustees is as diverse and inclusive as possible to help ensure the continued excellence of the sector.”