EDITORIAL: Diverse boards will help to make a diverse sector

Lucy Maggs

A surprising number of charities still recruit their trustees through word of mouth - when one member leaves, they are replaced by someone's friend or colleague. The result of these self-perpetuating boards is that trustees tend to be around the same age and from the same background - boards across the country are still dominated by white middle-class, middle-aged men.

Lord Philips suggested this week that every charity board should have at least one member under 30. This would be a good start to tackling the lack of diversity but chairmen and chief executives should also consider the benefits that people of different gender and backgrounds can bring to a board.

As those in charge of steering a charity, the decisions made by the trustees set the agenda and have ramifications throughout the organisation. One of the crucial decision-making functions of the board is the appointment of the more senior positions.

The women's network, set up by Geraldine Peacock, chief executive of Guide Dogs, has criticised the absence of women in top roles in the larger charities. Although there are exceptions, most of the largest charities in the sector are run by men and most of their directors are male.

The broader the range of experience feeding into recruitment decisions, the more likely staff appointed will also be from different backgrounds.

This would ensure organisations more accurately reflect the society in which they operate and set a good example to the private sector.

Problems accessing a wider range of trustees have led many charities to discuss the possibility of paying them for their time, which they feel would make trusteeship a more appealing opportunity. But investing money in new methods of recruiting trustees, and once they are on the board of making it an enjoyable and rewarding experience, would be a more economically viable and effective option.

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