More work needed on diversity

Three years on from our first survey, we find that management teams and boards are more diverse, but only marginally. Andy Ricketts reports

Third Sector conducted its first diversity survey in 2014, finding that leadership among the largest fundraising charities was dominated by white men.

The research, involving the 50 largest fundraising charities at the time, found that only 12 per cent of chief executives, 6 per cent of senior managers and 8 per cent of trustees were non-white.

There was a stark contrast between those figures and the data from the most recent UK census, carried out in 2011, which found that 14 per cent of UK residents were non-white, albeit with some sharp regional variations. In London, the most diverse location and where the bulk of the charities in our survey are based, 40 per cent of people were non-white.

The picture on gender was also uneven, with the survey showing that 70 per cent of chief executives and almost two-thirds of trustees were male. The situation among senior managers was more equal, made up of 56 per cent men and 44 per cent women, but still loaded in favour of males.

Three years on, has the situation changed? Third Sector approached the same 50 charities as in 2014 and, using the previous figures as a yardstick, the latest results show some progress has been made. All the headline figures have moved towards a more equal position, with the 50 charities displaying a more equal gender balance and reporting a higher proportion of non-white people on their senior management teams and boards.

The number of non-white chief executives has risen from six to eight, although Steve Vaid at Guide Dogs is an interim appointment and is due to be replaced by Age UK's Tom Wright, who is white. The proportion of non-white people on charities' senior management teams, not including chief executives, has gone up from 6 per cent in 2014 to 10 per cent this year. The latest figure increases to 11 per cent when chief executives are included.

Boards are also becoming slightly more diverse, with 10 per cent of trustees at the 50 charities surveyed being non-white, a rise of two percentage points on the 2014 figures. In 2014, 19 charities had only white people on their senior management teams or trustee boards. This figure has now fallen to 15.

Gender equality

There has been a similar amount of movement on gender equality.

In 2014, 44 per cent of senior managers, not including chief executives, were female. That proportion has increased to 47 per cent in the latest survey.

The proportion of female trustees has also risen, from 36 per cent in 2014 to 40 per cent this time around.

The situation at chief executive level remains slightly more stubborn, with only 32 per cent being female, a rise of two percentage points – or one person – on the 2014 figures.

But, as in 2014, many charities were unable or unwilling to provide information on disability.

Kunle Olulode

Kunle Olulode (left), director of the membership organisation Voice4Change England, which advocates for the BME voluntary and community sector, says that although the figures show marginal improvements in both gender and race equality, there are still organisations that are not working hard enough to recruit non-white staff at senior levels. "I've met one or two of the organisations with no non-white staff and their justification is always that there is a lack of suitable candidates coming forward," he says.

"In my view, organisations simply need to think more creatively about how and from where they recruit.

"The sector has made massive strides in the recruitment of women to senior levels and we should be able to get to a point where the general diversity of society is also reflected in the social make-up of leadership in the charitable and community sector."


Click on the image above to see the full survey results

Elizabeth Balgobin (right), a voluntary sector consultant, says it is good to see some progress on gender and ethnic balance, but points out that the percentage change is so small that in practice it is likely to amount to only a handful of individuals across the 50 charities in the sample.

Elizabeth Balgobin

She suggests that charities have become complacent on diversity in recent years and notes that equality training seems to have fallen off the agenda for the majority of voluntary sector organisations.

"Fifteen years ago I would have been delivering diversity training," she says. "Ten years ago I was still doing some, but now I do not get asked to do it at all."

Balgobin says charities should carry out more work in this area in order to deal with issues of which people might not be aware.

"All of us feel we are good and sophisticated people and know that we shouldn't be openly racist at work, but it is helpful to be thinking about issues such as unconscious bias," she says.

Balgobin says she would like larger charities to introduce development programmes for their brightest and best up-and-coming talents, with a fair representation from all diversity categories.

'Real cause for concern'

Vicky Browning, chief executive of the charity leaders body Acevo, says that although it is encouraging that there has been an improvement since the previous study, the sector is still some way short of being truly representative.

She says it is a real cause for concern that there is a significant difference between the proportion of women working in the sector – reported in the National Council for Voluntary Organisations' 2017 almanac as being 65 per cent – and the proportion of women at chief executive level in Third Sector's survey, which came out as 32 per cent.

"Given that there is a drop-off between senior management team and chief executive level, what is preventing these women from progressing?" she asks. "Equally, what is causing trustees to be more male than the workforces they oversee?"

She says Acevo does not yet have a complete idea of why these situations are as they are, but is actively considering the issues.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the women's equality charity the Fawcett Society, says charities must take a proactive approach to driving equality issues forward.

"It is good to see some progress in the numbers of women at senior levels, but we see a picture in the third sector that is similar to those we see in other sectors of the economy," she says. "Progress is still painfully slow.

"The temptation is to think of the voluntary sector as somehow better than the corporate world, but the truth of the matter is that there is nothing about being a charity that automatically makes you good at promoting gender equality and diversity."

Since 2003, the National Football League in the US has operated the so-called "Rooney rule", which compels its American football teams to interview candidates from ethnic minorities for top coaching jobs.

Although the introduction of the rule, which is named after Dan Rooney, the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been followed by an increase in the proportion of non-white head coaches in the league, it has been rejected by some because they feel it could lead to some coaches being perceived as having obtained their roles only by means of some kind of quota system.

Voice4Change's Olulode is cautious about the prospect of a similar idea being adopted for charities in the UK. "Some people will argue that's an important hurdle overcome in the first place, but I'm not sure," he says. "I meet talented people every day who are more than capable of operating at higher levels. They just need a level playing field on which to compete."

He would be in favour of such a rule if an organisation was consciously looking to diversify its leadership, but does not think it should be adopted across the board.

Business example

Balgobin says the challenge for larger charities is to look at how the private sector has embraced diversity for business reasons.

She quotes the example of a project she worked on 20 years ago in which a major bank recruited more Bangladeshi people to work in its branch in Bethnal Green, east London, which led to an increase in its business among people from that group.

"One of the criticisms levelled at the sector is that too many of us are doing the same things," says Balgobin. "It's not an argument I really subscribe to, but I am aware that minority groups set up alternatives because they can't find a place for their needs in mainstream charities. Look at the images from the largest charities and I don't see me."

CASE STUDY: British Red Cross takes steps to diversify

The British Red Cross has been giving considerable thought to how it can tackle the lack of ethnic-minority representation among its workforce. The charity commissioned a review last year to examine how it could address an under-representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities across its wider staff.

The review identified a number of key issues, including that an under-representation of minority groups could lead to the sector being perceived as elitist and exclusive and discourage job applications from people from BAME backgrounds. It found that extended periods of unpaid work were increasingly seen as a prerequisite to gaining an entry-level job in the sector, which severely disadvantaged people from working-class backgrounds, disproportionately affecting minority groups.

SEE ALSO  Mike Adamson: How we are tackling diversity and inclusivity issues

The review noted that a government study found applicants with white-sounding names were interviewed far more often than those with African or Asian-sounding ones, even if the applications were otherwise identical.

The charity is responding to the issues raised by the review by developing a new inclusion and diversity strategy designed to tackle the issues at hand.

This has led it to updating its recruitment and selection processes, ensuring that staff carry out training on diversity and unconscious bias, using name-blind applications and collecting key diversity metrics.

The board of the British Red Cross has also spent time considering unconscious bias, and the charity devoted much of its leadership conference this year to the subject of inclusive leadership.

Mike Adamson, chief executive of the charity, says the progress the charity has made so far is important, but recognises that the organisation must do more.

"A diverse workforce with a variety of life experiences will help us to make smarter decisions as an organisation, create a culture of curiosity and innovation, and better deliver services on the front line, ensuring that service users remain at the centre of our work," he says.


Third Sector contacted the same 50 charities as in 2014. In cases where the charity did not supply the information, we made our own assessment, based on names and other published information, such as photographs. These cases are marked on the chart with an asterix. Charities that were unable to supply information about diversity were shown figures collated by Third Sector, but some were unable to verify the details. For clarity and simplicity, we assigned people to two categories only: white and other. The information is correct as of 14 June 2017.

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