My first all-party parliamentary group on charities and volunteering

Diversity in charities: the role of governance and leadership


‘Diversity is being invited to the party – inclusion is being asked to dance’ Tracey Lazard, Speaker, Inclusion London

‘Each speaker will have five minutes to speak. No hesitation, repetition or deviation, please’. Thus began the meeting’s Chair, Lord Harris, in a jocular tone that was indeed evocative of Nicholas Parsons. After these informal opening words, our speakers used their respective slots to give us an insight into their experiences of championing diversity in the charity sector, specifically in the context of organisational governance. These contributions were varied, but a theme drawn out during the hour of discussion was the need for organisations to proactively face sensitive issues of diversity head-on, giving ‘tokenism’ a wide berth, and realising good intentions through actionable policy.

As Lucy Caldicott from UpRising highlighted, diversity can be taken to refer to ‘just gender’ or ‘just ethnicity’, but to truly understand the meaning of the word we need to appreciate diversity of class and of thought also, the intersectionality of these and other appellations, and the power relations that result. These issues perhaps have a particular resonance in a context that has seen recent high-profile cases in which the governance of some charitable organisations has been called into question. Which is not to say that a diverse charity leadership could act as a cure-all – but as noted in a recent ACEVO paper on diversity, as well as a clear moral motivation, there is a strong business case for avoiding the ‘groupthink’ and other undesirable outcomes that can be the product of leadership by a homogeneous group. Tesse Akpeki from Onboard noted the finding that diversity was improving by far the slowest out of all seven indicators contained in the Charity Governance Code, reflecting the need for a policy focus on these issues, and grounding a call to action firmly in this quantifiable lack of inclusion.

Whilst the panel generally emphasised structural factors in the perpetuation of inequality in the sector, Siobhan Corria from Action for Inclusion reflected on the ‘mixed bag’ that her experience of these issues has been, highlighting the power of individual personalities to affect change, through ‘role-modelling’, positive leadership, and taking a punt on those at the sharp end of inequality. Ultimately, there was no dispute in the room around the assertion that charity leadership must be more reflective of the beneficiary base served, and of the makeup of society in general. ‘Should we be worried? Yes’ Lucy Caldicott answered, in response to a final question from the Chair on the uneven spread of social capital, and its reflection in the third sector. In the grandiose surroundings of the traditionally “male, stale and pale” House of Lords, attendees seemed a like-minded group keen to align notional commitments and practical activity to effectively pull in the same direction. But, as Susan Elan Jones MP added, when you have community representatives that are in themselves rather unrepresentative, the issue looks to be something of a Catch-22. Indeed, ‘there are no short-term fixes’, as Tracey from Inclusion London said – rather, the sector must look to the communities they serve to facilitate co-production of practical solutions in the long-term. In aid of this mission, there is also a clear need to reach a satisfactory definition of terms, ideally building upon such definitions in order to establish something of a standard for organisations to use as an assessment tool and road-map for improvement. Indeed, the FSI’s CEO drew attention to this need in the meeting. As an organisation whose mission is to improve the effectiveness of the small charity sector, we are certainly in favour of such developments, and will signpost our members to resources where we can. Watch this space!

Remi Bridgeman-Williams is a Project Officer at the FSI