Black History Month – Making a difference with diversity

‘Too white, too male, too middle class.’ It’s a soundbite we hear too often in the UK, and in 2013 was the words of an independent review Government review into skills and leadership in the voluntary sector, led by Dame Mary Marsh.

October is Black History Month, a time to celebrate and acknowledge black history, art and culture, and the value that diversity brings to society. This value exists in the third sector as much as anywhere else, but whilst there are a number individuals from BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) backgrounds doing amazing work, they are still underrepresented and their contribution under recorded.

A 2011 study by Clore Leadership found that BAME represent 7.7% of the third sector workforce – compared to 9% in the total workforce, and 14.9% of the population – increasing to 40.2% in London. One in four school children are from BAME communities – our society is becoming more diverse, and so the organisations and systems playing a part in those societies must become more diverse to be most effective. Organisations working for society should be attuned to the culture of the population they are serving, which is easier when the organisation is reflective of that group.

A workforce of individuals with varied backgrounds, cultures and experiences creates an environment in which different ideas and skills can come together and contribute to a more innovative and creative environment. It’s not only soft measures that are apparently improved by higher ethnic diversity – research by McKinsey showed that companies with higher ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to exceed industry averages in terms of their financial returns.

It’s clear that improving diversity is important, but how can this be best achieved. Some of the work that Charityworks trainees have undertaken has sought to answer this question.

Ensure that recruitment processes are fair and transparent

Widening the pool from which applicants come from by advertising in different areas, seeking out recruitment partners who focus on BAME, and ensuring that imagery and wording do not subconsciously set up a bias in favour of white applicants can all help to improve the recruitment process with a focus on diversity.

Improve monitoring systems

It is difficult to get in depth data about the representation of BAME within the sector. More detailed and robust processes will help monitor recruitment and enable changes to be implemented where necessary. This will mean that decisions can be more informed, and it will lessen the chances of unconscious bias impacting upon recruitment. Consistently using diversity monitoring data, not just collecting it, is crucial.

Encourage people to get involved at all levels

There are high levels of young BAME people volunteering, but those in positions of leadership are low. In the top 50 fundraising charities only 12 per cent of chief executives, 6 per cent of senior management team members and 8 per cent of trustees are non-white. Trustee positions, leadership roles and volunteering are all options to support charities and for individuals to engage in the  third sector, and organisations must utilise the skills available to best serve their needs and the needs of their communities.

Role models

Having high achieving role models as inspiration can help generate enthusiasm and ambition amongst the next generation of leaders. Individuals currently working in the sector could become more involved in outreach work at educational institutions, cultural groups and increase presence in the community. One of the main barriers for recruitment is a lack of knowledge about the sector, and so actively building connections with BAME organisations and groups, making people aware of the opportunities available, and doing so in an inspiring way, is crucial.

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