Martin Baker: Supporting equity, diversity and inclusion starts with a conversation

Staff will feel empowered to engage in EDI work only if it is taken seriously at senior management and board level, and actively encouraged within an organisation

You are probably already aware that the charity sector has a problem when it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion.

A report by the charity leaders body Acevo in June 2020, Home Truths, found that not only are black, Asian and minoritised people under-represented in the sector but, shockingly, 68 per cent said that they had witnessed, experienced or heard stories about racism in the sector.

This year alone we have heard accusations of systemic racism, discrimination and bullying at numerous well-known charities.

Those affected have taken to Twitter to voice their experiences.

While it is shocking to read these stories, it’s good that these issues are being talked about, because change often starts with uncomfortable conversations.

There are nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation.

At the Charity Learning Consortium, our EDI video series spotlights each of these characteristics: sharing people’s experiences so we can learn and understand the injustices that people face each day at work and in society.

When I asked Helen Ellis, equality, diversity and inclusion co-ordinator at the National Autistic Society, why EDI was so important at her charity, she said that inclusion should be at the heart of everything that an organisation does – making everyone feel heard and listened-to.

As a charity representing autistic people, that means listening to what autistic people want and need.

Helen says that as an autistic adult working for the National Austistic Society, she knows how important it is that she feels included in the work that the charity is doing.

Greater diversity among staff also brings a breadth of experience and different perspectives, meaning that you don’t just have the same voices around the table.

This is echoed by Michelle Jackson, senior EDI adviser at the Shaw Trust, who says the charity needs a diverse range of staff to provide the best possible support to a diverse range of service users.

Shaw Trust’s EDI strategy therefore focuses both on the charity as an employer, and on the services it provides, as both need to be inclusive and fit for purpose.

The charity has a diversity and inclusion working group, which has representation from all areas of the organisation and feeds up to board level.

There are also three volunteer staff networks, a disabled employee network, an LGBTQ+ support network and a racial equality network.

These networks are not just safe spaces for staff to share views and discuss issues; they also help the organisation to make services more accessible, as well as serving as ‘sense checks’ for ideas stemming from the diversity and inclusion working group or other areas of the business.

Leading on EDI work can seem daunting, especially if you are a small organisation. Members of the Charity Learning Consortium made the following suggestions for starting the journey:

  • Ensure that learning about EDI is part of your induction process.

  • Offer a mix of EDI training and opportunities, not just ones that are part of compliance. Shaw Trust, for example, has a diversity calendar to promote awareness days and events such as LGBT Pride Month and Black History Month, and offers ways for staff to get involved in them.

  • Encourage and support staff networks, and give them the tools to get started.

Most importantly, organisations must ensure that inclusion is genuine, not tokenistic. This can happen only if it is embedded in everything you do – and that needs to come from leadership.

Honest, transparent conversations may be uncomfortable at times, but they are necessary.

People may worry about saying the wrong thing or using the wrong term, but Jackson says this is about intention and showing humility.

If people know you have good intentions, she adds, they are more forgiving if you make a mistake.

Staff will feel empowered to engage in equity, diversity and inclusion work only if it is taken seriously at senior management and board level, and actively encouraged within an organisation.

It’s time to turn the dial up.

Martin Baker is the founder and chief executive of the Charity Learning Consortium. He will chair a panel discussion on breaking down EDI boundaries at 9.10am on Friday 28 May as part of Third Sector’s Fundraising Conference 2021

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