Our head of policy Kristiana Wrixon reflects on the publication of our new report ‘Hidden Leaders’ and the work ACEVO is doing to become a more disability-inclusive organisation.
A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page
Today we have published two new reports about disability in civil society leadership written by Zara Todd and Ellie Munro. Accessing Leadership: supporting disabled leaders and future leaders in the voluntary sector is a scoping review comprising desk-based research that summarises what is already known about disabled voluntary sector leaders. The second paper, Hidden Leaders builds on this research through 10 semi-structured interviews with ACEVO staff, trustees, members and non-members. The latter report concludes with a series of practical recommendations and a light-touch audit tool to help charities assess their progress on disability inclusion.
The reports were commissioned primarily to help ACEVO understand what action we should prioritise taking in order to meet the targets we have on improving disability representation within the team and in membership. We also want to continue to build on our work to create an inclusive and open culture for everyone. However, there is also learning within the document, in particular a new light-touch audit tool, that will help other charities that are also working to achieve the same thing.
Improving equity, diversity and inclusion within civil society leadership has been a named organisational priority for ACEVO since the beginning of 2018, and all of our work to date can be found on the website. From the beginning of this work, my colleagues and I have been aware that we cannot, and should not, ask for change from our peers and members without carrying out the work we need to do ourselves as an organisation to become more inclusive.
Also, very importantly as a member body which has a board largely drawn from existing members, there isn’t a neat separation between ACEVO as an organisation and civil society leaders. We hope that improving representation within the broader sector and creating a more inclusive culture at ACEVO will mean that we can better support a greater diversity of members, and that more people feel welcome to join our network. We would like to see that people from different backgrounds and with different experiences want to put themselves forward as trustees, and that their peers vote in colleagues with a breadth and depth of talent, views and experiences.
Coordinating this project has revealed to me just how little I knew about disability. I realised that I do not know the legal definitions of disability, the history of the disability movement or phrases and language that are commonly used in the disability movement, and that is ablism. In the same way that over the last twelve-months we have seen more discussions about the need for white people to be active allies in the fight against racism, non-disabled people must be stronger, more proactive allies in the fight against ableism.
That is not to say that racism and ablism are distinct, separate categories. One of the seven themes of the Hidden Leaders report is ‘working at the intersections’. This is an area in which ACEVO’s organisational understanding needs to develop so that we do not take a silo approach that treats racism, ableism, classism, sexism and homophobia as separate issues rather than interconnected systems of oppression.
The focus now for ACEVO is to consider and respond transparently to the report’s recommendations. We have formed a group that will lead on this piece of work which will comprise two trustees, Neil Heslop and Tiger de Souza, and two senior staff members, our head of membership Anne Wallis and myself. This group will meet quarterly to monitor progress and to ensure accountability within the organisation.
The findings from Hidden Leaders were summarised by report co-author Zara Todd at ACEVO’s annual member conference held in November. A 20-minute recording of that presentation can be found here and for ease of reference we have also produced a briefing summarising the key findings relevant to organisations other than ACEVO that can be downloaded on the report page.
Over the last twelve months we have seen huge changes to workplace norms, with many people working from home for the first time and offering more digital or remote opportunities to access their work. The scale and speed of change , has for many people reimagined the possible. Covid has made many organisations more accessible to some disabled people and we cannot lose that progress when restrictions do ease.
However, any system of working has advantages and disadvantages for different groups of people. As an example, many events are more physically accessible digitally, but remain inaccessible to people with hearing impairments because of a lack of captioning or interpreters. Digital does not always mean disabled inclusive and true inclusivity relies not on happenstance but thoughtful consideration and design. My aspiration is for these reports to help ACEVO purposefully design a better workplace, one that works better for everyone, and enables us to offer an even better service to civil society leaders.
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