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Beyond Suffrage: the journey continues

Social Practice CEO Precious Sithole writes about Beyond Suffrage, a campaign that aims to significantly increase the number of women from ethnic minority backgrounds serving on charity boards by 2030.

In October last year we launched the Beyond Suffrage Campaign and Programme. It was very well received, and we were ecstatic when one hundred and twenty brilliant young women applied to take part in the training programme. With this success came the challenging task of shortlisting just thirty for an interview and then selecting the final twelve to take part in the inaugural cohort.

The London cohort commenced their training in January 2020 and over the past eight weeks, I have had the wonderful privilege of coaching and guiding them – encouraging them to dream big and bold, and to fight for the right to a seat at a boardroom table.

Women of Colour are consistently underrepresented in senior leadership and at board level, across all the sectors in the UK – despite the value we can bring to an organisation. I am encouraged though, by the signs of progress being made in the charity and SocEnt sector – from the work being carried out by infrastructure bodies, all the way through to grassroots movements such as the #CharitySoWhite campaign. It is becoming evident that some of the seeds planted in prior years are beginning to take root. However, it is also safe to say that we have more to do ahead of us than behind us. Quite simply, we need to build on the past year’s progress and recognise that we have a lot of work.

One question that I am often asked is how I managed to recruit such a talented cohort in a short space of time. The truth is, the challenges that we face are more to do with us being a small team trying to run an ambitious programme, while simultaneously monitoring an inbox with a life of its own. But in terms of finding diverse talent, that’s by far the simplest part of all. Talented Women of Colour are everywhere – you just have to seek and see us.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #EachForEqual, acknowledging that each and every individual has a role to play in the fight against gender inequality. Below I list four things to ponder on and one thing to do if you’re interested in being an ally to Women of Colour and looking to help move the dial forward.

Four things to ponder

  • We all have a role to play in the fight against racial and gender inequality. We can either choose to maintain the status quo or help to break down barriers. Either way, we have a choice.
  • Being bold is rarely ever easy. It’s hard to be the lone voice calling out racism or challenging toxic cultures. For me, the best advice I’ve ever been given is “to do it scared”. I live by this every day. Being bold doesn’t mean you won’t feel scared at times – it just means that fear won’t have the final say.
  • Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is the DNA of an organisation, and for the most part, it is created by our senior leadership teams – not so much by their words, but by their actions. Even the best-planned diversity strategy will fail if we do not actually live our values and actively enforce them.
  • Racial diversity does not equal inclusion. Diversity is simply a numbers game, inclusion requires peeling back the layers and having uncomfortable conversations about systemic inequality, power and privilege. Without inclusion, diversity efforts will just result in a revolving door of minorities, joining and leaving the organisation rapidly.

One thing to do: turn your words into actions

Start somewhere. Anywhere. If you are genuinely motivated to start thinking about how to be a better ally to Women of Colour, you’re on the right track. There is a wealth of resources available online to help you teach yourself more about the intersection of race and gender – books, podcasts, Tedx talks, the list goes on. Team away day planned? Why not try a new culturally diverse location. This is how we start to truly connect as humans – breaking down stereotypes and building meaningful relationships.

My challenge to you for this year’s International Women’s Day is to see Women of Colour –– we’ve been overlooked for far too long. Recruit us, promote us, commission us, cite us. We have so much to bring to the table.

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