Opinion: Hot issue - Should there be an inquiry into sector diversity?

Third Sector research revealed last week that there was only one non-white person and only one person with a disability among the leaders of the top 50 fundraising charities. Lord Adebowale has called for an investigation


The results of the research are hardly surprising, and I'm sure the trend isn't confined to the largest charities. The issue is certainly something all voluntary organisations need to take a serious look at and address as a matter of priority. But the problem is a deeper one than can be fixed by a cultural shift within the sector.

The widely acknowledged institutional discrimination that disabled people have faced in education and employment undoubtedly means a lot of talented people simply haven't had the opportunities to come through the system.

Whizz-Kidz, in conjunction with our corporate partners, is driving forward a programme of work experience placements for disabled young people that will help ensure they aren't denied such opportunities. Such initiatives will help, we hope, to ensure the next generation of chief executives will be selected from a more diverse pool.

In the meantime, charities must look at their own policies and recruitment practices to increase the diversity of their workforce. If done badly, with emphasis given purely to meeting diversity targets, then there is a real risk of achieving nothing more than tokenism. If done well, however, the charity and its beneficiaries cannot help but benefit.


An inquiry into diversity among sector employers is an interesting idea, but surely what is needed is action rather than a report that is likely to confirm what we already know.

Our 'Time to Get Equal' campaign has been working hard to raise awareness of the fact that disablism is wrong. Because we believe actions speak louder than words, 18 months ago we took steps to better represent disabled people in our own workforce. Today one in four of our senior management and nearly one in five of all our staff are disabled people. Our programme of change is now extending to ensure that we represent other communities, particularly at leadership level. This is proof that talking about issues is no substitute for getting on and doing something about it.

If the voluntary sector truly wants to influence society for the better, it needs to represent the people it speaks for. We cannot expect the statutory or business communities to listen to us if we ourselves don't practise what we preach.

It would be better for the sector to sign a pledge to commit to appropriate change and then achieve it. If so, Scope's name will be at the top.


I agree with Victor that these findings are an outrage, especially considering the diverse nature of the client groups we serve. We should ensure there is greater diversity in the sector - particularly among its leaders - but I do not necessarily think conducting an inquiry is the best way to ensure this change is created.

What is an inquiry going to tell us that we don't already know? Third Sector's research highlights the problem within our own sector, and a wealth of information already exists about codes of practice for attracting a diverse workforce. Research has shown that all organisations, whether profit or non-profit, would benefit from more diversity. And it stands to reason that a key element of a diverse workforce is its management.

We all know the importance of role models and visible leaders.

Resources would be better spent on communications promoting diversity and good practice so we can start making this change happen now.


Charities that overlook the huge contributions that can be made at senior level by swathes of their human capital, their most precious resource, are failing not just service-users but donors too.

I don't blame Third Sector for not even asking in its survey about charity leaders who might be lesbian or gay - they'd have been wasting their time.

I saw more openly gay people succeeding in my days on tabloid newspapers than I have in our field.

With so many, once unlikely, employers now seeking to establish competitive advantage in the labour market by embracing diversity, charities may soon find they've been taking women and minority staff for granted.

After launching Starting Out, the first national gay recruitment guide, last year, we found talented young gay staff no longer want to work somewhere where they'll merely receive equal benefits - they now want to work somewhere where people like them rise to senior positions.

I'm not certain, however, that I agree with Victor Adebowale over whether an inquiry should be led by bodies within our existing sector infrastructure.

Regrettably, none of them has demonstrated much imaginative leadership on this issue.

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