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Trustee racial diversity

There are more than 100,000 charity trustee vacancies in the UK and nearly three-quarters of charities have reported difficulties hiring trustees. Malcolm John, founder of Action for Trustee Racial Diversity, reflects on how the campaign for diversity and inclusion in charity boards, can make it easier for charity leaders to find trustees.

To know more about ACEVO’s work on diversity and inclusion, please check our website

The stark reality

  • 62% of the top charities by income have all-white boards. By contrast, there are only four all-BAME boards – 50% fewer than in 2016 (Inclusive Boards 2018)
  • 34 out of 100 UK major charities have all-white senior leadership (both voluntary and professional) (Green Park 2017)
  • 92% of trustees are white, older, and above-average income and education (Charity Commission 2017)

The Action for Trustee Racial Diversity campaign readily acknowledges that diversity embraces a broader range of attributes and characteristics than race alone. We are supportive and understanding of the huge number of organisations in the sector which champion and support the broader diversity agenda. However, we are not shy to suggest that the following figures reinforce that the issue of racial diversity is where there has been least progress.  

The figures show that the level of ethnic minority individuals on large charity boards is just 6.6%, representing 418 of a total of 6338 trustees. To put that in context, 14% of the England and Wales population is from a non- white background. In London, the figure is 36.8%. 8% of trustees from Black and Asian backgrounds (some 13,440 out of 168,000 trustees) and 2.9% women of colour (fewer than 5000 out of 168,000 trustees) emphasise the woeful picture of under-representation.

During my own experience of more than 18 years as a trustee on several charity boards varying from very large to very small, I have only occasionally found my fellow trustees to also be from Black or Asian background. It’s also true to say that for most of these boards, the opportunity has come from my own personal networks and contacts rather than any open recruitment process. This is not a desirable situation from any equality, diversity and inclusion perspective. Given the predominantly white, male and middle-aged (or older) make up of trustee boards and the natural tendency to draw from your own networks, something more action-focused is required, the right words alone will not change the picture.

The goal

Action for Trustee Racial Diversity campaign is not seeking to change the attitudes and behaviour of those organisations and their leaders who for varying reasons have not prioritised the need for a more racially diverse board of trustees. We are happy to leave that space for others with more patience and time than we have! We also understand the rationale of those who believe a more inclusive culture needs to be built before they can take on new trustees from Black and Asian backgrounds. However, our unwavering belief is that change brings more change. 

Our aim is to make it easier for those organisations who genuinely want to recruit Black and Asian trustees to do so. We plan to provide these charities with guidance, toolkits and signposts to enable them to recruit Black and Asian trustees more easily and successfully. We’ll work with other key partners in the charity and other sectors to pool resources and achieve greater impact. ACEVO, Association of Chairs, NCVO, Reach Volunteering, Getting On Board, Green Park and Voice4Change England among other key players have been very supportive.

The barriers

The campaign’s engagement, particularly with younger people from Black and Asian backgrounds, reveals that trusteeship is “another country” to which they don’t have the right passport and find one difficult to get. It only takes one bad experience for a Black or Asian person applying to become a trustee to forego any future attempts. Many report that they’ve been told they don’t fit or they don’t have the required skills and experience.

Individuals from Black and Asian backgrounds thinking to dip their toes into the uncharted waters of trusteeship are discouraged by not seeing very many people like them on the glittering online trustee profiles of charities of all sizes. At a corporate Black and Asian networking event I attended recently, a delegate sitting next to me remarked that I was the only Black chair of a charity they had met and that they‘d be interested in learning from my journey. 

Action for Trustee Racial Diversity wants to paint a less stark picture: a picture vastly more representative of the demographics of the 21st century. 

The challenge

The campaign’s challenge to CEOs is to recognise and act on the increasing pressure for more diverse boards. The growing database we are developing of Black and Asian individuals representing thousands of potential trustees across sectors – corporate, charity, professional, student, membership, staff networks – and our plans for further guidance will help you achieve this. We are already being approached by individual charities to share this database to help them source potential Black and Asian trustees.

There are 100,000 trustee vacancies every year. Another 10,000 trustees recruited from people from Black and Asian backgrounds will raise the percentage of Black and Asian trustees from 8% to 14% and reach the promised land of proportionate representation.  There are 168,000 charities in the UK. It would only take 5000 of them – 3% of the total – recruiting two trustees each from Black and Asian backgrounds to reach the magical 14%!  Surely that is not beyond our commitment and imagination.

If this is an important issue for your charity and you’d like to get involved, please contact Malcolm John. For further information and key findings from mapping report, please click here.

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