Third Sector research has revealed that hardly any of the leaders of Britain's top 50 fundraising charities are non-white or disabled, writes Indira Das-Gupta. Overleaf, we profile a selection of the voluntary sector's leading lights.
The voluntary sector has traditionally been seen as 'the caring sector', one of its greatest strengths perceived to be a commitment to speaking up for the more disadvantaged sections of the population. But according to new Third Sector research, that stereotype of do-gooders engaged in worthy causes could well be hiding an altogether more disturbing reality in which a blind eye is being turned to institutionalised prejudice and the privileged still make the decisions.
Of the top 50 fundraising charities surveyed by Third Sector, only one chief executive - Daleep Mukarji of Christian Aid - is not white. Only one has a disability - Jackie Ballard of the RSPCA is blind in her left eye. Not one of the disability charities in the top 50 has a disabled chief executive.
One-third went to public school - given that only about 450 of the UK's 4,300 secondary schools are fee-paying, this seems high by anyone's standards.
A total of 93 per cent went to university, and 35 per cent studied at Oxford or Cambridge.
The average age of a chief executive in the top 50 is 53, and it is encouraging to note that almost two in five are women, especially since only 10 per cent of company directors in the UK are women. However, the overwhelming evidence is that the typical charity chief executive is still white, middle-aged and middle class - in many ways, the polar opposite of 'disadvantaged'.
"The sector is diverse in terms of the issues it covers, but in terms of the profile of its trustees and staff, it isn't," says Krishna Sarda, chief executive of the Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations.
"A huge social policy change is needed - this should be urgently addressed."
Victor Adebowale, chief executive of Turning Point, which is outside the top 50, is one of the few non-white people to have made it to the top of the sector. "We have a right cheek having a pop at the City for not employing enough women and ethnic minorities, when in fact there are probably more black people working there than there are in this sector," he says. "You can wrap it up and call it whatever you like, but it's racism.
But people who work in the sector tend to think that because they are doing good work they can't possibly be racist."
The results of the Third Sector survey simply confirm what anyone who has been to a voluntary sector conference will have witnessed first hand - charities simply aren't that diverse. The majority of people who work in the sector come from a fairly homogeneous background not dissimilar to that of the typical charity chief executive. Ethnic minority and disabled communities are still distinctly under-represented in the voluntary sector as a whole.
Ethnic minority representation has increased from 6 per cent in 2003 to 9.6 per cent this year, according to a recent study of charity HR practice by Agenda Consulting (Third Sector, 15 February). But most larger charities tend to be based in London, where 28.8 per cent of the population is from ethnic minorities.
"I'm disappointed, but not surprised by the results," says Maria Adebowale, founder and director of the social and environmental think tank Global Capacity. "I have always seen the voluntary sector as one that isn't afraid of tackling the difficult issues and telling the Government to address social inequalities, but it needs to get its own house in order first.
It's always going to be hard to appeal to diverse audiences if your own organisation is anything but."
Tom Flood, chief executive of BTCV, was once a vocal champion of diversity within the sector who argued that, in the predominantly black areas in which the charity operated, most of the workforce should be black. But times have changed, and Flood now feels the sector comes in for an unfair amount of flak on the issue. "In the past, many of us have felt boxed in by the pressure to represent certain groups," he says. "But I don't think you can push people into rows artificially. I see some very bright people from ethnic minority backgrounds at the director level, but I don't detect any real enthusiasm to do the chief executive's job."
Paul Amadi, fundraising director at Sense and chair of the Black Fundraisers Network Special Interest Group, vehemently refutes this suggestion. "We had a meeting of the network recently, attended by a significant number of ambitious people who feel frustrated at the perceived lack of opportunities," he says. "Like everyone in the sector, they want to make a difference - but they want to do that by making decisions in a strategic way."
Whereas the sector's record on ethnic diversity is far from impressive, the under-representation of disabled people is positively embarrassing.
Our research shows that only one chief executive of a top 50 charity has a disability. This equates to 2 per cent, while 20 per cent of the overall working population are disabled. Two years ago, the disability charity Scope employed only 150 disabled people in its 4,000-strong workforce, or 3.8 per cent.Having set itself the target of raising that proportion to 20 per cent by 2007, it is currently on target with 17.2 per cent.
Andy Rickell, executive director of diversity politics and planning at Scope, says setting targets has worked. "It might be anathema to some people, but I have no problem with positive discrimination," he says.
"We don't recruit just anyone - that would undermine it all. It has to be somebody that is right for the job. We have reserved posts for disabled people because there are some posts that call for it. When we first set the target of 20 per cent, people thought it was overambitious. But now we want to do even better than that."
At the RNID, 14.8 per cent of the workforce has some degree of hearing loss, compared with 14.2 per cent of the general population. About 3.5 per cent of senior managers have got some kind of disability, including hearing loss.
"We want to ensure we get the best person for the job," says Vicky Hemming, director of human resources at the RNID. "If that happens to be someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, then great - but we don't believe in tokenism.
"We have been trying to develop a training programme that will bring more people with hearing problems through to management level - not just at the RNID, but in all other areas of the employment market, even blue-chip companies. We are committed to it, but so far we haven't been able to secure the necessary funding to get it up and running."
At the RNIB, 6.8 per cent of the workforce are blind and partially sighted, compared with 3 per cent of the overall population. The charity's recruitment process is aimed at encouraging more partially sighted applicants. "All our recruitment ads are in 14-point print so partially sighted people can read them," says Kevin Geeson, the charity's director of resources.
"People can apply for jobs over the phone, and we also have a trainee scheme in which we guarantee 50 weeks' employment for 12 blind and partially sighted people a year."
But Rickell argues that making changes to the advertising and recruitment processes might not be enough because candidates from disadvantaged communities are, by definition, not operating on a level playing field. "People from minority groups are more likely to be discriminated against in education, so they are at even more of a disadvantage," he says. "There's a tendency to assume that chief executives should be quite academic, so it's hard to find good candidates from minority backgrounds when they are less likely to go to university."
Some might argue that any charity's top priority should be its beneficiaries and that, although it may be desirable to have a more diverse workforce, it is not essential. But Rickell disagrees. "The sector is heavily oriented towards working with people who are discriminated against, so to best understand their needs it helps to have personal experience of discrimination," he says. "I would argue that the sector's workforce should be even more diverse than society as a whole. Unless voluntary sector bodies reflect the people they claim to represent, they will be following a paternalistic approach."
The lack of diversity in the sector is not a problem that can be waved away with a magic wand, but nor is it a hopeless situation. "Part of the problem may be that people from ethnic minority backgrounds do not see job opportunities in the sector," says Daleep Mukarji, chief executive of Christian Aid, where nearly 20 per cent of the workforce come from ethnic minority backgrounds. "I would like to see some sort of mentoring scheme to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds become leaders themselves."
Sarda would go a step further. "If a manager overspent his budget, he wouldn't be allowed to forget about it," he says, "There should be a system of rewards and penalties for performance on diversity."
Rickell agrees. "You have to be prepared to see policies through and enforce them," he says. "You can't just sit there and hope for the best."