Inertia – a timeline

Outlined below is a non-thorough but fairly representative sample of the reports I happen to remember from the last 20+ years in which the same issue has been repeatedly identified – the lack of representative Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the voluntary and community sector in the UK.

I could have gone back even further in time and I’ve only highlighted some of the points in those reports rather than cover all the DEI related issues they contain (eg unequal access to funding by BAME-led organisations, the monoculture at the head of mainstream organisations, etc).

At this rate of change we will be repeating the same points and bemoaning the same lack of progress in another 20 years time.  Another report (eg from Civil Society Futures or any other single power-free body), another workshop, another toolkit are just not good enough.

The Chief Execs and Chairs of all VCS trade bodies need to get in a room now and commit their organisations to coordinated action to create significant change on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within the next 5 years.  ACF, NCVO, the Association of Chairs, NAVCA, ACEVO, SCVO, WCVA, NICVA, Small Charities Coalition, Voice for Change England, etc – and desirably other trade bodies eg Institute of Fundraising, Bond, London Funders, Charity Finance Group, etc.  It shouldn’t be up to individuals, single organisations or one or two networks to move this issue forward.  A fragmented response is inadequate.  Piecemeal action won’t bring about real change.  Incremental progress and evolutionary change only really benefits those currently with the power.  Collective leadership plus coordinated resourcing plus consistent action is needed.

In the meantime, Tom Lawson’s right – it’s up to white Chief Executives to act now:

Insofar as us Chief Execs control our organisations’ budgets – it’s up to us to decide which infrastucture organisations and trade bodies our organisations subscribe to.  We also have a responsibility to be active investors in those trade bodies by putting motions to AGMs on important issues – like advancing DEI – and attending those AGMs to make sure votes are carried.

A record of inaction:

Meeting the Challenge of Change: Voluntary Action into the 21st Century – The Report of the Commission on the Future of the Voluntary Sector (The Deakin Report) – (1996)

“The value base of voluntary organisations is one of their defining characteristics.  It is an essential part of the answer to the question ‘if not for profit then for what’?  Within this value base there are several clear strands that include caring, user involvement and, in its widest sense, equal opportunities.  These stem for a concern with issues of fairness and equity.”…”They are also reflected in the belief that voluntary organisations should be run in accordance with the values they espouse.  This requires standards for ends as well as means.”

“Being models of fair practices involves a responsibility to reflect them in internal arrangements as well as external services.  Some organisations are too ready to proclaim their virtues as an equal opportunities employer and take the wish for the deed.  Mechanisms must be put in place that ensure that organisations practice what they preach. Trustee boards/committees should also consider the implications for own composition.  Too many still reflect the position in the upper reaches of the sector twenty years ago in their membership – they are dominated by middle aged white male professionals.”

Next Steps in Voluntary Action (the Plowden Report) – Centre for Civil Society/NCVO (2001)

“Some of the problems faced by BME organisations derive from a continuing characteristic of the VCS as a whole – its lack of diversity, in the sense of being representative of all sectors of society. The same is true of funding bodies of all kinds.”

“The VCS, whose constituent parts spring organically from the community, should, more than any other group of institutions, represent the full diversity of the community.  The objective of achieving diversity, in all senses and at all levels, in VOs should be pursued even if the cost were some reduction in operational efficiency.”

The Shape of Civil Society to Come:  Report of the Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland – Carnegie UK Trust (2007)

“However, there are a number of indicators that suggest that civil society is far from ‘good’ for many people in the UK and Ireland, especially in relation to the values and outcomes of social justice, equality and non-discrimination.”

“Civil society organisations continue to become more ‘professionalised’ (partly because of changes in the education system).  This reduces the opportunity for volunteers or participants to develop new skills through engagement in civil society organisations, and raises questions about ‘voice’ and representation.”

“The pool of volunteers has been reduced with changing patterns of work and the increase in caring responsibilities of many women: efforts should be made to involve others who have been excluded – people who are young, retired, unemployed, or from ethnic minority backgrounds.”

Improving Equality and Diversity in Your Organisation – a guide for CEOs – ACEVO (2011)

“…it is vital to challenge organisational practices and procedures, to ensure that quality workplaces and services are provided.  Achieving equality implies a re-examination of both working practices and service planning and delivery.”

UK Voluntary Sector Workforce Almanac – Skills Third Sector (2011)

“Within the voluntary sector there was an under-representation of women at the higher managerial/professional level, although not at the lower level; this was also the case in the private and public sectors.  Whilst there were nearly twice as many women as men employed in the voluntary sector, only around one-tenth of women working in the sector reached the highest levels compared to a fifth of men.  Whilst the same proportion of women as men attained lower managerial positions in the UK voluntary sector, access to the highest levels favoured men.”…. “The voluntary sector employs a slightly lower proportion of black and minority ethnic people (7%) than in the public and private sectors (9% and 10% respectively).”

Getting Involved – How People Make a Difference – NCVO (2017)

“There is a lack of diversity:  while there is a huge diversity of activities, the picture is quite different when looking at who is involved.  Levels and types of involvement vary according to demographics.  The greatest disparities concern socio-economic status and education level: people in higher social grades and with a higher level of education are more likely to get involved in most activities.  Likewise, people contributing a disproportionate amount of time – the ‘civic core’ – are drawn predominantly from the most prosperous, middle-aged and highly educated sections of the population.”

Notice a pattern yet?  I could go on.

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