ACEVO’s Pay and Equality Survey 2017 – Good news on gender equality, but race is the final frontier

Published: Monday 23 January 2017 - 09:00

ACEVO release the findings of the 2017 Pay and Equalities Survey

The charity leaders network ACEVO is calling for action after its annual pay survey, published today, yet again reveals a “disappointingly low” number of chief executives from a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) background.

The survey discloses that just 3% of charity leaders are from BAME backgrounds. This compares to 7% in the previous year which, however, was anomalous as in both 2014 and 2013 the figure was closer to 3%.

ACEVO recommends further academic research into diversity in the sector; however action cannot be put on hold whilst this is undertaken. There is enough evidence now to demonstrate that the sector has a diversity problem; last year Inclusive Boards released a report which found only 6.3% of the trustees at the top 500 charities in England and Wales were from BAME backgrounds and in 2014 Third Sector found that only 6% of senior management team roles were occupied by someone from a BAME background.

That is why ACEVO’s Chief Executive Asheem Singh is recommending that charity boards consider the application of a variation of the ‘Rooney Rule’ – that in every CEO recruitment process someone with a BAME background should be on the shortlist. 

The pay survey has, for a number of years, included questions on gender and race. These questions have consistently reported dispiriting inequalities. In 2015 the survey reported that 42% of charity leaders were women; in 2013 it was 45%.

However, this year, the report discloses a major crack in the glass ceiling. For the first time in the survey’s 17-year history women CEOs outnumber men by 58 per cent to 40 per cent[i]. The sector has worked hard to bring forward talented female leaders and it is encouraging to see this work paying off, although the gender pay gap still remains an obstinate problem.

Elsewhere, the survey shows that pay overall has shrunk. The median CEO salary is £50,000, down from £55,500 in 2015. This is a sure sign of belt-tightening across the sector, in charities of all sizes. Median pay in the smallest organisations is down £2,000 and in the largest by over £5,000. It is visible across geography as well, with median salaries in one region falling by £21,000.

Commenting on the findings ACEVO Chief Executive Asheem Singh said; “I am pleased that the sector’s work on gender equality is beginning to pay off. ACEVO’s women leaders’ special interest group has been a force for good for some years and I hope it will continue into the future.

“The issue of race however remains shamefully under-discussed. For far too long the issue of race has been in the ‘irrelevant or too difficult’ box. Few have been prepared to interrogate and challenge the barriers to entry, for fear of rocking the boat. The sector can no longer sit on its hands and hope the issue resolves itself.

“Consideration should be given now to radical new ideas, such as an adaptation of the ‘Rooney Rule’, as applied to head coaches in the American National Football League, which guarantees charities will interview at least one minority ethnic candidate for a vacant CEO position.

“ACEVO’s Pay and Equality Survey is an immensely useful tool, not just for individual CEOs and organisations but for the sector as a whole. We hope that today’s publication provides people with useful benchmarks as well as evident indications of where the sector needs to up its game”.

Commenting, Shadow Minister for Civil Society Steve Reed MP said; “While the sector has made great progress in gender diversity with women CEOs outnumbering men for the first time, there’s a disappointingly low proportion of leaders from BAME backgrounds. I hope the findings in this timely report will trigger urgent action to put this right.”

Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson MP was asked for a comment, but has yet to respond.

The full report is available for purchase here, and the foreword to the report can be found here.


[i] Two per cent of those surveyed chose not answer the gender question.