A couple of weeks ago, the hashtag #CharitySoWhite was trending on Twitter. The hashtag was the start of a campaign led by people of colour working within the sector, which is calling on charities to do more to tackle the racism within. You can read more about the campaign here.
As a black woman who previously worked in the charity sector, I chose to participate in the campaign and share my story.
Let’s be clear: the charity sector does have an issue with race. I have experienced the impact of it on a number of levels. I have faced everyday micro-aggressions, such as being asked "where I’m REALLY from?" ("Luton." "No, I mean really? Where are your parents/grandparents from?") I have been confused for another black colleague or the intern/serving staff/cleaner (unhelpful when I was about to take the stage at a major staff conference).
And these anecdotes are not limited to micro-aggressions. I experienced more direct racism, such as the time a colleague made a comparison to being called the N-word (and said the actual word). Or the occasion when a senior member of staff publicly put my achievements down to "positive discrimination".
I faced barriers to career advancement and progression. For example, being given a "promotion" but then told that there was no money to compensate for the extra responsibility, or finding out that a white male colleague was being paid way more than me for doing the same job.
I was also overworked, given an insurmountable organisational challenge to tackle as "an opportunity", then told it was a "performance issue" if I raised concerns. And I rarely received recognition for my efforts or successes: instead, they were attributed to a "team effort" or my white counterparts.
I eventually left the sector and set up a brand consultancy that specialises in working with small and medium-sized charities. I knew that I could have more of an impact for the causes I cared about if I was unencumbered by internal barriers of race.
This diagram highlights the issues faced by many black and minority ethnic people in the sector. I am not alone: the sector is haemorrhaging people because of its failure to act.
That’s why #CharitySoWhite is not an accusation, but a call to action.
Just 6 per cent of charity chief executives are from BAME backgrounds, compared with 14 per cent of the population. We cannot tackle this issue at a leadership level unless the other 94 per cent get involved.
As a charity leader reading this, what can you do? Here are three actions that will immediately make a difference:
Listen Discussions of race make people uncomfortable. It’s easier to ignore the issue or immediately come back with defensive reasons explaining why "we’re not racist". Instead, why not seek feedback from people of colour within your organisation and take it on board?
Seek help from experts There are so many BAME diversity and inclusion experts who offer tangible solutions for organisations. Work with them, and please note the plural. It’s not just about finding one token BAME person and tasking them with the massive weight of change. I also recommend you read Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and look at organisations such as The Other Box, which are doing great work outside the sector.
Be an ally It should not be only the voices of people of colour calling for change. Support, speak out, champion and amplify our voices within your organisation and in this sector debate. Don’t allow people of colour to bear the weight of this issue alone.
As a sector, it is not enough to focus on the good work that we do. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard and ensure that we are leading the way when it comes to tackling racism.
Follow @CharitySoWhite on Twitter to find out more and get involved.