Friday, 27 March, 2020

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, the stark facts are that 92% of trustees are white, older, and above-average income and education. 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 into context, 14% of the England and Wales population is from a non-white background. In London, the figure is 36.8%. Only 2.9% of trustees in the sector are women of colour.  71% of charities recruit trustees through informal approaches which inevitably perpetuates the status quo.

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 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 long-standing 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 campaign’s findings result from a mapping questionnaire survey we sent to over thirty key and umbrella organisations which are committed to addressing diversity within the charity sector. 

They highlight a strong willingness to engage, to pool resources and to champion this campaign. This campaign presents an opportunity to refocus attention and prioritise resources for 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. Charities need to rise to the challenge of focusing on targeting diversity because of the skills diversity brings. Key barriers cited included lack of access to Black and Asian networks and too much reliance on extant networks. Some also thought that there was a lack of a Black and Asian “pipeline”  of applicants and lack of talent!  

The solutions are largely understood but I believe are generally not being driven in a partnership, action-focused way to achieve significant impact.  The key support areas identified were improving access to Black and Asian networks, promoting the importance of diversity through training, challenging unconscious bias,  customised recruitment guidance, developing a central place to promote trustee vacancies and highlighting best practice.    

So 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”. 

By Malcolm John, Founder, Action for Trustee Racial Diversity UK

You can find out more about Action for Trustee Racial Diversity UK on their website and through their twitter.

This guest blog does not necessarily represent the views of The Equality Trust.