“Breaking into a club filled with old white men.” That’s how one participant in Getting on Board’s recent focus group described becoming a charity trustee.
As part of our mission to support more people of colour, young people, women and other under-represented groups to become trustees, we undertook some research. We asked people of colour, woman and under-30s how they saw trusteeship.
The timing of the research with the tragic death of George Floyd and ACEVO’s Home Truths report was coincidental. We didn't plan to share our research, but the findings were so striking, we decided to.
Here is just a taste of what we found out. For the full findings, download our report.
Trusteeship: a club filled with old white men
One person of colour described trying to become a trustee as “breaking into a club filled with old white men. We heard again and again that people worried they wouldn’t be wanted or welcomed in a club that was full of people who weren’t like them.
One respondent, a young person of colour, worried about “being pigeon-holed as a guardian for my demographic” and “having my experience invalidated due to my age”. This points towards how the intersection of race, age and gender can give a double or triple whammy of discrimination for trustees who are “different” to the existing members of the boards they are joining.
Racism and tokenism
“As soon as an Asian or Black person puts out their views, they are openly and subtly ignored.” In the focus group with people of colour there was a very strong sense that they wouldn’t be included or listened to. This was based on repeated, past experiences. These “micro aggressions”, “silencing of BAME people” and “feeling like a silent member of the board” were personally mortifying. They also led people of colour to wonder if they could have an impact on the cause they cared about. “Your voice is undermined and you feel like a minority. If you ask too many questions you feel like you are being demanding. It also just felt like a tick box exercise.”
Do I have enough to offer?
We heard this again and again. We heard it from younger people with a few years of professional experience to people of colour with decades of professional experience behind them. A lack of confidence that they could make impactful trustees and, critically, that the people interviewing would recognise their potential contributions. “Being slightly younger (though not a young person technically) I was concerned about how I would be perceived and whether I would be experienced enough to offer anything to the Board.”
Those that had become trustees still felt that fellow trustees and charity staff didn’t value their contributions. “As a younger woman, I found that some of the senior people I have had to work with are a bit disrespectful.” And another talked about the negative “attitude of other trustees to a younger person”.
So how do we change the face of trusteeship? Here at Getting on Board, we believe we need a #BoardRevolution.
For more findings and our call to action, download oure report, "Breaking Into A Club Filled With Old White Men" below.