Interview: 60 seconds with... Karin Woodley

The chief executive of the anti-poverty charity Cambridge House says there can be no excuses for failing to address the diversity issue

Karin Woodley
Karin Woodley

Is the charity sector missing a trick on tackling a lack of diversity?

Diversity is a massive issue in the charity sector. It’s quite an indictment of the sector in the main, because so much of the sector focuses on creating a more inclusive society, dismantling barriers to people’s engagement with services and offering equality of access to services.

Charities claim in their annual reports that they are doing loads for black and disabled people and for women, yet the structures maintain the normal exclusions.

Given the diversity of our service users, we should hold ourselves to a much higher standard than the private sector. That goes for protected groups under the Equality Act 2010 but there are other groups related to class that are under-represented in the sector. It is still a very white, male, middle-class sector.

How much of a role does unconscious bias play?

Organisations that are not aware of their own unconscious bias won’t be effective at removing barriers to diverse groups of people. The leaders of organisations need to improve their cultural competencies by committing themselves to training. Unless we become intentionally more competent, it is much harder to identify where unconscious bias exists.

What do you think the impact of encouraging more diverse leaders could be?

The impact of changing the balance in terms of changing the relationships with users and the depth of knowledge about our users’ experiences is the key issue. A group of white men devising and providing services for black women with mental health issues is not going to work.

If we look at the narrative being put out by the sector, it actually stigmatises the people it says it wants to support. That has to change.

Are there practical steps charities can take to improve diversity?

I’m really disappointed at the excuses I hear from people, such as "we tried to recruit from more diverse groups, but no black people applied". Did they believe you would employ them?

Look at who is on the board and what the diversity statement says. Do those aspects genuinely welcome a diverse audience? We have to ensure we are providing progressive employment opportunities and there is no glass ceiling.

We need to contextualise people’s experience during recruitment, so we are not excluding people or putting in barriers. Two of the big barriers are class and educational qualifications. We need to spot those who have not come from traditional routes and not be put off if a senior manager has a strong accent.

Economic and educational deprivation can derive from race and disability, so we need to spot what barriers potential employees have already broken through.

Parting shot?

Diversity is more than what your colour or disability is. If we get too focused on any one issue we can miss the point that inclusion is more of a human rights issue.

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