What’s the Point of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion? Updated

There are 6 main reasons why we should apply Diversity, Equity and Inclusion principles in everything we do.  But there are many more reasons – personal, organisational and systemic – why we don’t. 

The reasons we should are:

  1. Fairness and Engagement: Embracing diversity and practising inclusion is part of our commitment to social justice and equity.

As a values-based sector, no other reasons should be needed.  But there are also these:

  1. Knowledge and Experience: We can better understand the needs and capabilities of the communities we are trying to reach if we reflect those communities at all levels.
  2. Efficiency and Impact: Different perspectives are more likely to generate new ideas and innovation – helping us to deliver our mission more efficiently and effectively.
  3. Scale and Sustainability: To find and retain a wide range of supporters and partners to help further our work.
  4. Legitimacy and Accountability: To help promote public trust in the voluntary and community sector generally.
  5. Lawfulness: The legal/regulatory context – eg the Equality Act 2010.

DEI principles aren’t just about HR processes and decisions.  They should apply in every choice we make in our:

  • Governance
  • Staffing
  • Funding / Grants
  • Services / Activities
  • Communications
  • Investments
  • Suppliers
  • Location

But – there are many more reasons why the charity / not-for-profit sector is quick to talk, but slow to act, on DEI.  They relate to us as individuals, the processes and structures our organisations and networks use, and the norms and prevailing culture in our sector.  The problem is a systemic and institutional one – as well as a personal one.  Which is why another report, another research study, another conference will result in the same outcome as all the other reports, studies and conferences over the past 25 years:  those of us in charge will feel better then go back to business as usual.  The cycle of “something must be done (as long as it’s not by us)” – will continue.

We need to find new solutions that change the systems, the norms and the culture of our sector  – solutions that acknowledge and confront the reasons we choose not to change.  Some of those reasons are:

  1. Self-Interest:  as individuals – preserving our own job, power, status, income.
  2. Group Interest:  preserving our comfort zones (eg being comfortable working with people like us);  maintaining our organisations’ power and status;  wanting to conform (“organisations like ours look like this and behave this way”).
  3. Ignorance:  absolute (failure to understand issues of diversity, equity and inclusion), partial (eg thinking an Equal Ops statement is enough or it’s just about race) and wilful (“it’s just political correctness”).
  4. Fear, Anxiety, Lack of Confidence, Defensiveness and Denial:  fear of getting something wrong and of the “other”/difference.  Anxiety (eg about giving offence).  Lack of confidence (eg “I tried and it didn’t go well”).  Denial (eg “we’re a family foundation so it doesn’t apply to us”).
  5. Laziness, inertia and choosing other priorities:  eg “the diversity fuss will pass – it always does”, “delivering the service is the most important thing”, etc.
  6. Defaults in Systems, Processes and Procedures:  eg “colour-blindness” in recruitment, faulty best practice and guidance (eg “model” or inflated person specs).
  7. Biases and Prejudices:  personal, organisational and systemic;  conscious and unconscious.
  8. Beliefs:  eg white saviour syndrome, “no one suitable”, “time will create change”, “good intentions are sufficient“, “big organisations are better than community-led organisations”, “we have to go at the pace of our slowest/least progressive/most conservative members/partners/trustees” [delete where applicable].
  9. Unclear or Perverse Values:  eg independence being valued but enacted as unaccountability and “behalf-ism”;  confusing “equality” with “equity”.
  10. Lack of Pressure for Change:  our “customers” (the people, communities or organisations we intend to support) can’t “shop around” to find other sources of support or funding;  regulation is ineffective because it either focusses on money or on what it thinks “the public” are concerned about;  a passive and disinterested sector press/media and a mainstream press that is interested in other things (eg charity executive pay).
  11. Pressures that Perpetuate the Status Quo:  eg funders giving short term grants so that boards decide to recruit well-off trustees to meet fundraising “survival” pressures.

It’s up to each of us as individuals to look for opportunities to create change.  It’s up to each of our organisations to decide whether to continue to perpetuate institutionalised disadvantage for some in our sector.  It’s up to our membership bodies and infrastructure organisations to decide how much they will do to challenge us to change.

Educating ourselves is an important first step – as long as it leads us to take action.  Some resources to help all of us are listed below:

Diversity Resources

Philanthropy Reading List – Power and Race

Values Resources

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