Charity leaders ‘ill-prepared’ to tackle racism in the sector, says leading diversity campaigner

Most charity leaders have little understanding of the work involved in tackling racism in their organisation, according to a leading equity, diversity and inclusion campaigner.

Charity consultant and #CharitySoWhite campaign organiser Martha Awojobi said the voluntary sector “has got a really long way to go and the majority of leaders are not prepared for what anti-racism will look like in their organisation”.

A key barrier in the voluntary sector is a reluctance of among charity leaders to accept that racism exists or is a problem in their organisation because they work for good causes.

“There is a general consensus I guess among white leadership that because we are doing good work and we are good people we don’t need to investigate those structural elements,” warned Awojobi, who was speaking at the online Charity Times Leadership Conference this week.

She added: “Where that really comes into play is in institutional racism. All you have to do is look at the leaders of UK charities and you will see there is literally no black faces.”

She acknowledges that some charities have begun to embrace equity, diversity and inclusion and many have “come a long way in a short period from being unable to acknowledge racism exists to now saying it exists.”

Avoiding tickbox measures

She urges charities to avoid “tickbox” measures, such as supporting the Black Lives Matters campaign without putting in place meaningful, structural change to tackle racism in their own organisation.

Advice she gives includes running specific anti-racist training and embedding anti-racism into charities’ overall strategy, as well as for specific strategies, such as around fundraising.

“It is simple things but it culminates to transformative and inclusive organisations,” she said.

Awojobi also advises reviewing job applications and the language involve to ensure inclusivity is not an “afterthought”.

Last month it emerged that around 28 charities had signed up to the Show the Salary equity campaign to ensure recruitment is more transparent.

Among anti-racist strategies by charities that have impressed Awojobi are the National Trust’s summer campaign to address the colonial and historic slavery that blights some of the stately homes and sites it manages.

Shelter

Another has been the homelessness charity Shelter, which ran an anti-racism day run by Awojobi among staff, and is putting in place measures to promote equity, diversity and inclusion within its organisation. This includes board level accountability to tackle racism.

Also speaking at the session, called From the top down: How to be an actively anti-racist leader, was Shelter CEO Polly Neate to explain more about how the charity is looking to ensure its work around inclusion “is meaningful”.

“One of our key organisational learnings was how do we give black people in shelter and people of colour in Shelter the freedom to challenge racism,” said Neate.

“Another for me was how people are in different places (in addressing racism) in Shelter. There are people who have thought a lot about this and people who haven’t.”

She adds that “sometimes people maybe hide behind” their own role as a charity worker “and don’t think about their own privilege and don’t have a sophisticated understanding of their own privilege. I’m still learning about this myself.”

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