Lord Victor Adebowale: It's not diversity of skin colour that really matters - it's diversity of thought

We still have a long way to go on both counts anyway, writes the chief executive of Turning Point

Lord Victor Adebowale
Lord Victor Adebowale

Just over 8 per cent of senior positions in major UK charities are held by ethnic minority leaders. The proportion of Bame chief executives within the third sector significantly exceeds that in the FTSE 100, and this does us credit. However, there is a striking absence of diversity within the leadership of health and social care charities. Many of these organisations serve people of colour disproportionately, but with a largely white leadership making the decisions about what is needed.

The power and influence of large health and social care charities, which don’t represent the people they serve, affects wider issues of equity and equality. This is important because the groups they claim to represent are often the most in need and the most marginalised in society – the people who have greatest need for representation.

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Charities working in this space play a vital role in shaping policy at a national level, but I fear we aren’t advocating sufficiently on issues of diversity and inclusion. It’s similar to the issue we see in health and social care more generally, related to the inverse care law – those who need care most are least likely to receive it, a situation rooted in inequalities and lack of representation nationally.

There have been big changes in the sector over the past 30 years. When I started at Turning Point in 2001, contracting as a commercial business model was unusual. Now it’s common practice. During the same period many more women have been appointed to senior leadership positions, and this is important; however, very few are women of colour.

A good quality leadership and business education will help you to access the top jobs in the third sector. What isn’t necessarily available is access to the networks that make you visible to head-hunters. System leaders need to recognise that this isn’t a "black problem" – it’s a leadership problem, and that makes it their problem. We need to be looking for different perspectives rather than people who think the same as us, and I believe the definition of talent – where we find it, what form it takes and how we can encourage it – needs a radical rethink. Cultural norms need to change so that there is an expectation from stakeholders, funders and the general public that charities mirror the populations they serve. At Turning Point we look for talent. I think we could do better, but we have a culture of openness and genuine enquiry.

It’s not just about addressing diversity at the executive level; it’s also about a shift across the entire workforce. We need to bring in people from outside the sector with transferable skills, not just develop people we consider a "safe pair of hands".

It is not diversity of skin colour that really matters; it is diversity of thought. This is what makes for successful organisations. The presence of Bame people in leadership positions across the sector is one indicator of diversity of thought. We still have a long way to go.

Lord Victor Adebowale is chief executive of Turning Point 

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