Action needed to tackle lack of working-class charity leaders, says report

Charities should consider collecting data on class diversity among staff alongside their wider policies to improve equality in their organisation, a report is advising.

The move is needed as part of a raft of measures to counter a lack of working-class leaders in charities, it adds.

Data collection on class diversity “is the first step in organisations understanding the scale of the problem and which management layers and teams it concentrates in”, says the report.

The findings have emerged in a report into issues of class within anti-poverty charities, which have wider implications for all charities looking to improve diversity in their organisation.

The analysis involved interviews and surveys with 300 people from working class backgrounds in the anti-poverty charity and think tank sectors.

The vast majority (94%) of charity and think tank staff from a working-class background think their sector has a “class diversity problem”.

“Many felt there was a reluctance to discuss class diversity and inclusion,” states the report, called Missing Expert, by Manchester based charity Reclaim, which promotes leadership skills among young working-class people.

The charity says that a lack of class diversity conversations within the sector is “odd given the nature of anti-poverty work and the increased political interest in listening to working class voters”.

Those interviewed “felt that a lack of class diversity and inclusion within their organisation was more acute the higher up they looked, culminating in their senior management and boards,” adds the report.

One anti-poverty charity representative interviewed said: “I genuinely think that this sector doesn’t want to ‘win’ – its leaders are much happier to keep getting big funding pots, saying platitudes, and doing anything to not engage with root causes. There’s no urgency.”

Another said: “I look around and wonder if other people get what winning and losing these campaigns really means.”

Advice on improving class diversity

The report offers a raft of advice relevant for all charities and not for profit organisations to ensure their leadership is representative of the people they represent. This is particularly important for charities in the anti-poverty sector that support some of the UK’s most disadvantaged communities.

The report urges charities to set out their ambitions and priorities for improving class diversity by the end of the year.

Within six months charities then need to ensure they are collecting data on class and diversity.

Charities then should ensure they are collaborating with others in their sector to “share knowledge and best practice at least once a year” on successful ways of improving class diversity.

This data collection should include tracking how many charity service users join the organisation in staff and trustee roles, advises Reclaim’s report.

Another theme to emerge in its findings was ensuring that charity leaders shouldn’t be “passive and simply wait to see who applied for roles and promotions” and should actively encourage class diversity within recruitment and succession planning.

“If organisations are committed to looking like the country, boards and senior managers need to develop succession plans that will make this happen,” states the report.

“Senior leaders, especially of larger organisations, should be confident that when they leave their role there will be a wealth of diverse talent applying to replace them and with a fair shot at being successful.”

There also needs to be more senior role models from working class backgrounds, according to the report.

“People in the earlier stages of their careers want and need to see more visible senior role models in their sectors,” it adds.

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