ACEVO CEO Vicky Browning writes about the Home Truths report, launched today.
Over a year ago, ACEVO and Voice4Change England began a project in which we asked Black, Asian and Minoritised Ethnic (BAME) people working in the charity sector to share their experiences.
Today we publish a report based on those experiences which points out some uncomfortable home truths to white leaders in the sector. When we talk about the problem of a lack of diversity in the charity sector, we often assume the key challenge is an absence of BAME people. But while we still need to work harder to encourage more BAME people into our sector, beyond the numbers is the recognition that of those already in the sector, significant numbers of BAME people experience discrimination and harm while working or volunteering.
Nearly 70% of BAME respondents to our online survey had experienced, witnessed or heard stories of racism in the charity sector and half said they felt they needed to ‘tone down’ their behaviour in order to fit in within the sector. While we talk a lot in our sector about authenticity and ‘bringing your whole self to work’, a significant proportion of our colleagues find it impossible to do so.
Nearly half the survey respondents had been questioned in an ignorant or insensitive manner about their culture or religion, a third had been treated as an intellectual inferior and just under a quarter reported being subject to excessive surveillance and scrutiny by colleagues, managers, or supervisors.
While the push for diversity remains crucial, there is also work to do to examine and enhance conditions inside the charity sector for BAME (and all) people and to reaffirm why diversity should matter in the charity sector in the first place. We must provide a greater focus on inclusion and equity.
The report shows that the culture required for making that change is not yet present across our sector. It calls on white leaders to engage more fully and deeply in issues of racism and diversity, equity and inclusion. As leaders, we need to understand that racism is a system that we can help to challenge and undo if we educate ourselves. And as we learn, we need to change policies and procedures within our organisations, and challenge processes in the sector more widely that reinforce inequality.
One question in the online survey asked respondents which ‘types of people’ played a significant role in the racism they experienced or witnessed. Nearly three quarters of responses said senior staff at the charity the respondent worked at played a significant role. As leaders, we must fully engage in making our workplaces inclusive and free of racism.
The report directly addresses the fear that many white leaders – me included – feel about the very real likelihood of getting things wrong, or worse, getting things right and subconsciously fearing what that might look like in terms of actual change. But even that fear is a manifestation of privilege: it suggests we can opt in or out of discussions, while people are being harmed.
Above all, the report asks white leaders to take responsibility and be accountable for addressing problems caused by white people, and be open to challenge on how we progress.
It has a number of recommendations which I have committed to ACEVO taking forward, including publishing our ethnicity pay gap data and encouraging our members to follow suit, engaging with funders on how grants are distributed to BAME-led organisations, and making sure I continue to educate myself about racism and anti-racist thinking.
We launch the report at a time of huge and visible frustration, fear and anger from BAME people and communities. As leaders in a sector committed to making the world a better place, we must act individually and collectively to hear the voices of our BAME colleagues and their communities, and act to create real change.
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