Throughout history, charity and equality have formed radical combinations. Florence Nightingale, the lady of the lamp, remains one of the sector’s greatest icons. As the social enterprise movement has boomed this last decade, we’ve seen women from all backgrounds step forward.
Annys Darkwa set up Vision, a prisoner rehabilitation and housing social enterprise from the back of her car when just out of prison herself. Recent research by RBS suggests that while young men are twice as likely as young women to set up new businesses, women are 30% more likely to set up social enterprises. And according to Social Enterprise UK, 91% of social enterprises have women on their top team.
I wish we could say the same about the modern charity sector. Modern charity is a diverse, energetic space. There are small charities working at street level and large charities delivering incredible services, such as cutting edge cancer research and braille books for the blind to millions of people. But our leadership remains, well, unequal.
The 2013/14 Acevo survey revealed that, while the number of women in senior leadership roles was on the rise, the gender pay gap was on the rise also, with median charity chief executive pay 18.6% – nearly a fifth – less for women than for men. In senior leadership roles, women earned 10% less than their male counterparts. And shockingly, just 3% of chief executives surveyed were from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. I was at the launch of this survey in November. As the numbers were read out, there was a palpable sense of shock in the room.
Charity leaders and workers care about these issues, but progress remains slower than we should sanction. Often it’s the charity sector that steps in at the community level, offering placements and internships to those whom the system shuts out; the RNIB’s excellent internship scheme for blind people is one such example. Certainly our equality ratios – at least on gender – compare well with other sectors. But we’re the charity sector and we have a moral and historic duty, not only to compare favourably, but to lead the way on equality, on solidarity, on social justice.
I’m proud to work in an organisation, whose chair is the fantastic Lesley-Anne Alexander, where 60% of the top team are women and 20% are from a black and ethnic minority background. But I do think that we all must do more, put radical empowerment and equality front and centre.
So here is my challenge to trustees, to chief executives and to all of us who care about charity: let’s not talk, but act and campaign for change. There remains a huge job do be done about equality at the top level of the sector. And we mustn’t ever confuse the excellence we deliver in our social missions with the need for charity leaders to demand excellence of their equality and employment practices, too. That, when all’s said and done, is charity’s heritage. And that will ensure our charity’s radical future too.
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