Hot issue: Is there a 'pink plateau' in the voluntary sector?

In this issue, Ben Summerskill of Stonewall suggests gay people are covertly discriminated against when it comes to the sector's top posts. This follows the Third Sector survey on low representation of minorities at senior level.

NO - PJ Aldred, operations manager, Pride in Brighton and Hove

It can be difficult to say, because we often find ourselves wrapped up in what is going on in the gay voluntary sector, but from our perspective the answer is no.

About 90 per cent of people at the helm of organisations in the gay voluntary sector, certainly in our city, are gay.

Discrimination against gay people in terms of the top jobs is not something we're aware of in the voluntary sector as a whole. It's certainly a lot easier for someone who is LGBT to secure a top job if they are not out or not overtly LGBT because in such cases it's not even an issue for the employer - if they don't know, they can't discriminate.

It's very difficult to compare this with discrimination against people who are from ethnic minorities or who are disabled - it's hard to hide your ethnic background or the fact that you have a disability, whereas it is possible to be more discreet about your sexuality.

Are there LGBT people applying for jobs who are not out? Of course there are, but this does not mean to say it's right. Imagine the difficulty in then either coming out to your new colleagues or having to remain in the closet.

YES - Phil Greasley, client services manager, Gallop

But I don't think it's any worse than anywhere else. I think what Ben Summerskill said was that the voluntary sector is falling behind the private and public sectors in the recruitment of gay and lesbian people.

Historically, the voluntary sector has performed very well in this area.

When I worked at Lesbian and Gay Employment Rights, we dealt with a fair proportion of lesbian and gay people who worked in the voluntary sector.

We also found that the voluntary sector was very forward-thinking in terms of having policies that recognised homophobia, so at least if there was a complaint about discrimination, organisations had the mechanisms in place to be able to deal with it. So how can we say that they are falling behind?

However, the sector should not be complacent. Just because it has these wonderful policies in place, it cannot allow itself to let complacency creep in. And of course it could - like anywhere else - always do more to encourage the recruitment and promotion of gay and lesbian people in the top jobs.

NO - Peter Jeffery, executive director HR, audit and facilities, St Mungo's

The sector resists the barriers that are the cause of glass ceilings.

As a charity, we want to attract the best people, so my experience is that we are very open about the types of people we recruit. We want a person's skills on the basis that they are the best person for the post and bring a different dimension to the organisation.

Having worked with many people who are gay, I can think of no one who has said to me that their career has been impeded because of their sexuality.

In fact, it's arguable that in senior positions this sector provides the latitude for people to be themselves without the fear of prejudice and intolerance.

The sector has not got the deep-seated structure or history that can encumber organisations in the private or even the public sectors. Most charities are quite new and grew from quite small origins. It is one of the strengths of the sector and we are endeavouring to lead the way.

YES - Kulbir Shergill, head of equality, Nacro

If we can't say definitely that there is no pink plateau, to me this says that discrimination exists. In the voluntary sector we're perhaps too ready to assume that we're doing all right on the equality front.

However, the results of Stonewall's equality index show that everything is not as it should be: Nacro and St Mungo's were the joint top charities at 24, with only a handful of charities making it onto the index. The private sector did much better and has recognised a business market.

That said, the sector is in a good position to improve its record. Like other charities, Nacro's commitment to social justice and tackling other equality and diversity issues is being used to improve policy and practice on sexual orientation issues. We're promoting the organisation to LGBT communities as an employer and as a service provider. Our success is illustrated in a staff profile of 8 per cent LGBT, with good representation at senior levels and a very active LGBT staff network.

We also monitor our service uptake by sexual orientation. A clear policy commitment from the top and a national equality training programme for our staff - and, in some cases, service-users - is helping to erode any pink plateau.

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