Only one in 50 leaders of top Scottish charities are from ethnic minority backgrounds, research finds

A report into the diversity of charity leaders in Scotland has concluded there is still much work to do and calls for the creation of a publicly searchable register of trustees.

The report, Scotland’s Top Charity Leaders: How Diverse Are They?, published this week by the inclusivity think tank The David Hume Institute, analyses the educational, gender, ethnic, age and professional diversity of the leaders of Scotland’s top 300 charities by income from the Scottish Charity Register.

The study, which did not include cross-border charities, looked at 545 charity chief executives and chairs, or those in equivalent positions.

“Many of the charities in this sample and beyond it are already making measurable progress towards diversity and inclusion,” the report says, adding: “However, there is still much work to do.”

One solution the report recommends is for the powers of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator to be extended to create a publicly searchable register of charity trustees, to which, the report suggests, charities with an income of more than £250,000 – roughly 9 per cent of Scottish charities - could be required to submit information.

“This will increase transparency and enable monitoring of diversity and inclusion,” the report says. “It will also make it possible to track when individuals have multiple board positions and interests.”

The report found that 34 per cent of the top charity leaders were female, even though women make up 71 per cent of the sector’s workforce.

And while this figure “compares favourably” with other sectors, the report says, “urgent action is still needed to achieve greater gender equality”.

It also finds “considerable variation” across different cause areas, with religious organisations surveyed having 100 per cent male leadership, while the housing sector had the best gender ratio with 43 per cent female leadership.

The research found that just 2 per cent of charity leaders were from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to 4 per cent in the general population. Of these, half were Asian British, while the other half included people from black British, Asian, international and black international backgrounds.

The remaining 98 per cent of leaders are white, of whom 2 per cent are white from an international background, compared with 4 per cent generally.

The report also points out that 56 per cent of the charities analysed operate in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, which are more ethnically diverse than Scotland as a whole, with 18 per cent of the population in Edinburgh identifying as an ethnic minority and 17 per cent in the other two cities.

“More work needs to be done to ensure charities represent the communities they are based in and serve,” the report says.

In terms of age, the report finds that 73 per cent of charity leaders were born in the 1950s and 1960s, while fewer than 1 per cent were born in the 1990s.

Chairs are slightly older than chief executives, on average, with 58 per cent born in the 1940s and 1950s, while 72 per cent of chief executives were born in the 1960s and 1970s.

The report also found that 50 per cent of charity leaders attended what the study defined as an elite university, including Oxford, Cambridge, Russell Group institutions or one of Scotland’s four ancient universities.

Of the remaining 50 per cent of leaders analysed in this study, just 6 per cent did not attend university, 2 per cent had a qualification from a non-academic awarding institution, 1 per cent had attended university as mature students, and 4 per cent studied with the Open University.

The report’s recommendations also include calling for leaders to ask themselves “basic questions on assumptions and choices” and to champion diversity in the recruitment process.

For organisations, the report recommends examining the language used in recruitment for potential bias, assessing parental leave policies and opportunities for flexible working, and providing access to continuing career development support.

“Addressing the lack of diversity of thought in charities is crucial to both productivity and risk management,” the report says.

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