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Driving diversity and inclusion in the charity sector

By Nazreen Visram, director, public sector: head of charities & citizenship at Barclays. 

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page 

For some time, charities have recognised the need to raise their game on diversity and inclusion and many have been making significant progress.

Then came the pandemic – bringing with it operational challenges and a funding shortage that has left many charities dealing with increased demand and a reduction in resources, and is continuing to impact the sector.

Covid-19 may have drawn some of the attention away from D&I, but it has also put a new perspective on it, with charities facing a bigger challenge than ever to help close the widening gaps in inclusivity that have emerged for certain groups.

Many people have been furloughed or are home-working, with women and younger Black, Asian and ethnically diverse staff and beneficiaries reported to be disproportionately affected and therefore more likely to be stuck at home without the usual work/life boundaries.

Furthermore, women are often more heavily involved in the stresses of home-schooling and childcare responsibilities.

These factors have far-reaching implications for physical and mental wellbeing, particularly of more marginalised employees – something that charities should be addressing through guidance, education and support.

But the pandemic has also brought new opportunities, with more flexible working arrangements being introduced that can be particularly beneficial to women with children and carers who are home-working or returning to work.

Levelling up

We’ve also seen racial equality moving up the agenda over the last year or so, thanks to high profile media coverage driven by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Yet ACEVO’s research shows that a worrying 68% of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse charity workers have experienced, witnessed, or heard stories of racism in the sector.

Clearly, there’s a great deal more to be done and that includes engaging with charity workers who are not from those backgrounds to encourage them to help bring about change.

Crucially, diversity and inclusion need to be driven from the top down and that means recruiting board members and trustees from more diverse backgrounds.

A Diversity Study by Third Sector shows that, between 2017 and 2020, the proportion of senior charity leaders from black, Asian and ethnically diverse backgrounds remained a static 10%, as did female representation among trustees at 41%. More positively, 40% of CEOs are female, compared to 30% in 2017.

Clearly, a charity’s leadership should represent and reflect the communities it serves. This will help it appeal to a wider range of people, ultimately increasing fundraising potential. But ultimately it will drive diversity of thought and ensure the charity understands the needs of the communities and ensure no one is left behind.

Recruiting more diverse boards and trustees as part of a charity’s overall strategy makes it easier to drive D&I and innovation throughout the organisation, which can bring significant commercial benefits. With a more gender-diverse board, you’re likely to be 15% more profitable, rising to 35% for a more racially diverse board, according to research by McKinsey.

The role of employee networks

So what are the practical steps charities should focus on to promote D&I?

Some that have delivered great results for Barclays and other organisations include establishing employee networks, mentoring programmes and building a culture of ‘allyship’ – which essentially means encouraging colleagues to be consciously inclusive and to support each other.

Turning first to employee networks, as a voice for staff they provide a safe space for colleagues to talk about issues that concern them and help to educate and raise awareness in the wider organisation.

As an Asian woman myself, I’m a member of a number of employee groups and know how effective they can be. Our Black Professionals Forum, for example, enables members to talk about the issues they face, but importantly, includes colleagues from a range of backgrounds to build understanding, awareness and create allies around D&I issues.

Such networks are particularly powerful where they have the full support of senior leadership. They provide an opportunity to demonstrate clear, positive action on D&I and consultation on key issues and policies, while encouraging employee development, and the recruitment and retention of new talent.

Find out more about ACEVO’s work on diversity in the charity sector

Allyship and mentoring

Employee networks also help to create and support the concept of allyship, which is something I believe in passionately. Essentially, this is about creating space for people to grow and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard.

Allyship opens up opportunities for career progression among under-represented groups and empowers people through mentoring and coaching programmes. Crucially, it encourages ‘allies’ to stand up and speak for what’s right and hold others to account for their behaviours.

At Barclays we have created The Power of Allies Toolkit, specifically for our colleagues, many of whom want to be allies but are often unsure how to do this. The toolkit provides practical ways of creating and demonstrating allyship – from education and training to participating in events and being a role model

Mentoring is a key element of allyship, but for D&I purposes ‘reverse mentoring’ is particularly effective.

This might involve, say, a junior Black, Asian or ethnically diverse colleague mentoring a senior white colleague to help them understand experiences of racism and the difficulties that minorities can face. Equally, it might involve women mentoring men about countering workplace sexism, or younger graduates mentoring older managers about what they’re looking for in their careers. Certainly, the feedback I’ve had from senior leaders that I’ve worked with is that this type of approach has really raised their levels of understanding and drive an inclusive culture in the workplace

Moving forward

In conclusion, I know that many charities are keen to make more progress on D&I and are taking action, but there is still some hard work to be done to support both charity workers and the users of charitable services.

This means promoting D&I wherever possible, through events, training and development programmes, by increasing diversity at senior leadership levels and by establishing employee networks, reverse mentoring schemes and encouraging allyship.

Ultimately, pursuing D&I values is not only a social and moral imperative, but should be integral to every charity’s strategy.

Nazreen Visram , Director, Public Sector: Head of Charities & Citizenship | Barclays  ( )

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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