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Why are Black and Asian People Under-represented on Charity Trustee Boards?

By Malcolm John

William Shakespeare is probably not the first person to come to mind when you’re about to hear a presentation on the benefits of racial diversity in light of the casual racism of plays such as Othello and the Merchant of Venice. However in the context of this campaign to increase racial diversity on charity boards, I’d like to kick off with a quote from the best known of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, Hamlet “Suit the actions to the words, the words to the action”.

When I took inspiration from my own eighteen years of trusteeship to start a campaign to increase the woefully small number of black and Asian trustees on charity trustee boards, I was determined not to add too many more words to the considerable bibliography of evidence and good practice

Nevertheless a few facts shout out

  • 62% of the top charities by income have all white boards)

  • 2.9% of trustees in the sector are women of colour

  • 92% of trustees are white, older, and above average income and education (Charity Commission 2017)

  • 71% of trustees are recruited through an informal process

  • The level of ethnic minority individuals on large charity boards is just 6.6%, representing 418 of a total of 6338 trustees.

To put that in context, 14% of the England and Wales population is from non- white background. In London, the figure is 36.8%.

So it’s long overdue for trustee recruitment to reflect these stats. Charities cannot truly claim to serve their communities if their leadership does not represent the people they serve. The challenge for the sector and for this campaign is to change these damning statistics, which have evidently not significantly changed over the years and even worsened in some respects.

Action for Trustee Racial Diversity aims to promote practical actions to address the significant and longstanding under-representation of people from Black and Asian backgrounds on charity Trustee Boards across the UK. To my knowledge this is the only campaign specifically focussed on this issue!

The campaign aims to provide charities with knowledge, resources, toolkits, networks and specialist advice to enable them to take practical steps to increase the racial diversity of their Boards.

The report highlights some important findings. They result from a mapping questionnaire survey sent to over 30 key and umbrella organisations which are committed to address diversity within the charity sector.

In summary

  • There is a strong willingness to engage, to pool resources and to champion this campaign.

  • Often other organisational priorities take precedence over diversity. This project presents an opportunity to refocus attention on addressing the issue of under-representation

  • There’s an overwhelming need for more access to and knowledge of Black and Asian networks

  • There’s a lot of good practice out there but not always widely known.

  • The barriers are wide and attributable to lack of knowledge, lack of resources, lack of commitment and often resistance to cultural change.

  • The solutions are largely understood but I believe are generally not being driven in a partnership, action-focussed way to achieve significant impact.

The key barriers cited were

  • Lack of access to Black and Asian networks, especially from corporate sector and too much reliance on extant networks

  • Lack of diverse “pipeline*

  • Not enough Black and Asian applicants

  • Lack of Black and Asian talent!

  • Not enough proactive approaches to increase diversity; a need to focus on targeting diversity because of the skills diversity brings

  • Lack of organisational commitment to diversity

The key support areas identified were

  • Access to Black and Asian networks

  • Promoting the importance of diversity

  • Recruitment guidance

  • Training for Board members

  • Central place to promote trustee vacancies

  • Diversity Advisers

  • Challenging unconscious bias

  • Highlighting best practice

And finally - to end with Shakespeare - and this time from a prominent female lead, Lady Macbeth

“Screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail”.

Malcolm John is the Founder of Action for Trustee Racial Diversity

This blog was originally published by NFP Synergy and is reproduced with Malcolm's permission.


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