Diversity is too often seen as "getting people from certain backgrounds into a position" and charities needs to do more to embrace difference and address unconscious bias, delegates at a New Philanthropy Capital seminar on diversity have heard.
Speaking at the event this morning, Asif Afridi, deputy chief executive of the equality campaign group Brap, said people in the charity sector sometimes conflated the terms equality and diversity and assumed that they meant the same thing.
"Diversity is really important, but often it is seen as an end in itself," Afridi said. "If we achieve diversity, there’s often an assumption that we have achieved equality as well.
"Diversity is seen as whether a group mirrors the local population. That’s as far as we get a lot of the time with diversity. That’s quite a conservative aim."
He said that proper representation should mean "more than getting people from certain backgrounds into a position", and needed to mean "more substantive forms of representation", tackling issues such as power, substance and recognition in the community.
Professor Amina Memon, an associate at NPC, said there was belief in the sector that "simply engaging with a diverse community is sufficient".
She said that training about unconscious bias was a good start, but should not be seen as something that would have much impact on deep-seated behaviours and prejudices.
"There is a little bit of a misunderstanding about what training can do to address bias," Memon said. "People believe that sending people on an unconscious bias training course is going to fix bias. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
"Bias is unconscious. We are unaware of it and continue to be before and after training. Training is a very good starting point, but the only way to address bias is to actively engage behaviours, mechanisms and procedures to counteract that bias."
She suggested that "blind" application procedures and avoiding old boy’s networks in recruitment could have positive impacts, among other measures.
Memon also warned against grouping people based on their gender or ethnicity and said: "It is much more effective to mix everyone up and get them to learn from each other and exchange their knowledge and skills."
Using terms such as "bias" and "racist" could also encourage people to suppress views, Memon said, and the focus should instead be on engaging with how people think about and behave towards people from diverse backgrounds.
Samuel Kasumu, from Inclusive Boards, said the charity sector needed to "accelerate the pace of change" to improve diversity. He said the Charity Commission and the Office for Civil Society should take more action to boost diversity in the charity sector.
"Let’s not be apologetic about what diversity and inclusion means," he said. "Difference is a good thing – it adds value."