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UK Charity Boards Lack Diversity

23 April 2018 at 5:16 pm
Wendy Williams
Charities in England and Wales are lagging behind private companies when it comes to diversity on boards, according to a new report.

Wendy Williams | 23 April 2018 at 5:16 pm


UK Charity Boards Lack Diversity
23 April 2018 at 5:16 pm

Charities in England and Wales are lagging behind private companies when it comes to diversity on boards, according to a new report.

Charities: Inclusive Governance 2018, which was launched by agency Inclusive Boards on Thursday, found almost 80 per cent of UK charity senior leadership teams had no one from an ethnic minority background, while 62 per cent of the UK’s largest charities had all-white boards.

In total, just 6.6 per cent of trustees were from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds, compared to 8.2 per cent on FTSE 100 boards.

Inclusive Boards managing director Samuel Kasumu said that the sector needed to recognise the importance of diversity.

“Charities play a pivotal role in ensuring better outcomes for those who need our help the most. They benefit from the goodwill of the general public and very often are custodians for causes so close to so many,” Kasumu said.

“Those of us involved in the sector must therefore recognise the importance of having voices from different walks of life involved where vital decisions are made.”

The latest report builds on a 2016 report, which found more than half of the top-500 largest charities had all-white boards with an overall 6.3 per cent representation of ethnic minorities at trustee level.

Although there has been an increase in the number of trustees from ethnic minority backgrounds since the last study, the report said, it had gone up by only 0.3 percentage points.

The research, which looked at the top 500 charities in the UK by income, also highlighted that whilst the gender gap at board level was narrow compared to other sectors, there was still an imbalance at the top compared to the overall makeup of the workforce.

While women make up 65 per cent of employees in the sector overall, nearly 60 per cent of senior leaders and 66 per cent of trustees from the top 500 charities were men.

According to the report another “worrying finding” was that “women of colour seemed to face a double barrier when seeking to take on prominent roles in charities”, making them the least likely group to be on a board or senior leadership team.

Kasumu said the findings must be viewed through a long-term lens.

“Since we first published the diversity data of the top charities in 2016, there has been some progress… and we know that there is a genuine desire for charities to represent the communities that they serve,” he said.

“Whilst it is encouraging to see the sector performing much better than others when it comes to gender representation, women are still disproportionately underrepresented, considering the fact that they make up the majority of the workforce within charities.

“We therefore must seek to understand why women seem to be progressing at a slower rate than men. We must also not hide from the fact that women of colour are the least likely group to be on a board and/or senior leadership team.”

The report made a number of recommendations for stakeholders to “play their part in supporting the sector”.

It said the UK Charity Commission needed to ensure that large charities improved or explained why diversity was lacking on their boards in their annual reports.

It also called for funders to allocate a separate resource for helping the charities they support to improve their governance, including diversity.

And the report said the Office for Civil Society “must do more” to promote the benefits of diversity to the sector, and charities themselves must take more responsibility by committing to having internal Diversity Action Plans (DAPs).

Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations CEO Vicky Browning, who was quoted in the report, said action was needed.

“The problem of ethnic diversity was well documented and discussed in the voluntary sector, but this had not brought change,” Browning said.

“We must now collectively prioritise action to break down the barriers and bias that exist within the voluntary sector.

“If action is not taken now, we will be commenting on the same figures in 2028 as we were in 2008.”

Meanwhile Diversity Council Australia CEO Lisa Annese told Pro Bono News, a lack of diversity was also a concern for Australian not for profits.

“The organisation Women on Boards has done some work in this area and it has looked at the not-for-profit charity sector. And it is true that there is a real gap of women especially on the boards of Australian charities,” Annese said.

“I think the data shows that on average there is about 30 per cent of women on boards in not-for-profit organisations, but if you were to look at the top 100 ASX organisations, depending on when you look at it, it’s roughly the same but maybe a little bit better.

“So there is an issue especially considering the fact that if you think at the population of most not-for-profit organisations and charities they tend to be very female dominated. So I think that they are also experiencing the same issues and problems that we see in other sectors.”

Annese said diversity was essential in all sectors.

“Clearly if you are wanting to represent your shareholders or stakeholders or members or whoever the group is that you’re representing, you want to be a good representative, and you want your leadership to look like that group, so they can make decisions with the interests of that group,” she said.

“It would make sense that if you have an organisation where there are a lot of women and you are a community-based organisation where women are 50 per cent of the population, you’d want to have a leadership group that mirrors that better and that would mean better decision making.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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