Interview: 60 seconds with... Javed Khan

The chief executive of Barnardo's on taking action to improve diversity

Javed Khan
Javed Khan

What is the third sector’s biggest problem with diversity?

Working in the third sector, we feel we have the right to claim an angelic halo around us. We are committed and make a great contribution to society, but many are underpaid and overworked. That makes us the most difficult people to challenge and leaders shy away from having honest conversations about diversity. But we know this conversation needs to be had.

Has your own experience shaped your desire to be a third sector role model?

I already had experience of being the only non-white person working as a director of education, but my upbringing was quite humble and taught me the importance of standing up for yourself. That deep need stayed with me and has come with me into the charity sector.

As diverse leaders we are role models, and that is a responsibility. People might be inspired and be more confident that they can achieve their ambitions. If I can be the archetypal example of social mobility, then part of my job is to help create spaces where difficult conversations can happen and encourage people to talk about difference.

Is the diversity issue more concentrated at any level?

It’s certainly an issue at middle to senior levels. The charity sector is supported by millions of volunteers. We’ve got 22,000 volunteers at Barnardo’s and they are critical for service delivery, but it tends to be those who can afford to do it.

Up to a third of our staff come from having been volunteers, so the supply chain of staff is coming from a relatively narrow pool and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What do you think is the most important step to creating more diverse organisations?

Seize the opportunity to make diversity part of the DNA of your charity, rather than it being a policy statement that gathers dust. It is really important to have it writ large and make it part of the charity’s core existence.

At Barnardo’s we developed a 10-year corporate strategy, making a commitment to hold ourselves to account in terms of our corporate performance reports. As a result of that we’ve had to develop a really thorough approach to equality, diversity and inclusivity.

We created a corporate action plan and a dedicated board, which is chaired by me. We report twice a year to our board of trustees on progress.

Have you any practical advice for improving diversity in an organisation?

At Barnardo’s we introduced name-blind recruitment, where panels don’t see the name, age or ethnicity of the applicant or where they live, to tackle unconscious bias.

Our reciprocal mentoring scheme is now in its second year: we connect a senior member of staff with a junior person with an equality, diversity and inclusivity characteristic.

In the first year we had 12 senior leaders; this year, we are doubling that number. It is quite profound learning when a senior member of the organisation actually sits down with a young, black, Muslim woman, for example.

It’s also important to us to grow our own diverse leaders. This year we invested in a leaders’ programme for middle managers who can’t see how to break through the glass – or concrete – ceiling above them.

The first cohort is 20 people, of whom 17 are women and seven from a visible minority, which is disproportionate compared with our general staff.

It’s about mentoring, coaching and exposing them to what they might need to know to go to the next level and beyond.

And what about having a bring your culture to work day? We expect people to bring difference to the workplace but then leave it at the gates and conform to the norm.

Parting shot?

Successful organisations of the future will be centred around today’s children, who demand a different structure. Organisations that don’t get a handle on that just won’t survive.

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