Srabani Sen: How can board members drive EDI forward?

Srabani Sen, CEO and founder of Full Colour discusses how board members can drive equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) forward.

There is a lovely moment in Friends when Chandler cracks a joke. Everyone laughs, including Joey, but when he thinks no one is looking his expression changes from merriment to confusion. I sometimes think equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is a bit like that. Everyone is supposed to know what we mean, but how many who don’t really get it feel they have to play along as if they do?

This is particularly challenging for board members, who want to drive EDI forward, but don’t know where to start. Here are some tips:

1. Check out the revised Charity Governance Code EDI principle

The Charity Code of Governance was updated in 2020 and one of the areas of focus is the EDI principle. This clearly sets out what is expected of trustees, but has your board actually read it? Two themes in the revised EDI principle are getting the culture right and accountability. The Code gives some helpful pointers for Boards that may be unclear about their role in shaping and driving EDI in their organisations.

2. Be honest about where you are on your learning journey

At Full Colour, we regularly come across well-meaning people who overestimate how much they know about EDI issues. When these people are trustees, this is problematic. Boards regularly make crucial decisions which have implications for EDI of which they may be unaware. It is fine to be at the beginning of your EDI learning journey but be honest with yourself about how much you really know. After all you can’t plan a journey if you don’t know
from where you are starting.

3. Know what the words mean

While most are reasonably clear what ‘diversity’ means, they are hazy about other concepts covered by “EDI”. These are Full Colour’s definitions.

Equality is about evening out how power works, not to undermine expertise, experience or organisational hierarchy, but to ensure power is not attached to that which does not add value.

Equity recognises that some people face more barriers than others and therefore need different support and resources to reach the same place.

Diversity is about having different kinds of people and the organisation “being” that difference, without diverse people having to assimilate and minimise parts of themselves that make them different.

Inclusion is about making the most of those differences.True inclusion involves bringing differences into decision making, problem solving, the development of ideas and strategies.

4. Surface and challenge your assumptions

What holds some organisations back on EDI is that they ask themselves the wrong questions, so come up with ineffective answers. These questions are often founded on assumptions that people are making, sometimes unawares. A question many organisations ask themselves is: “how can we get more diverse people”? Which leads to answers like “we need to advertise in x”. The question and its answer assume that if only we could find a way to reach more diverse people, they would want to join us. How valid is that assumption? A better question would be “what is it about us that puts diverse people off wanting to join us”?

5. Embed EDI into your Board work

EDI has implications for everything a Board does, whether that’s strategy, managing risk, budgets, approving annual reports and accounts, approving service strategies, scrutinising and approving internal policies. So stop side-lining EDI to a stand alone topic. Yes, you may need to have discussions when you are setting EDI strategy, but after that, make sure you are bringing an EDI lens to everything the Board does.

Trustees are of course volunteers. They are also leaders. Their role in leading and driving EDI is central to any organisation. So, if you are not doing this already, make the next Board meeting the one where EDI becomes part of who you are and what you do.

If you would like to write for Charity Times, or discuss any of the issues mentioned in this column, please e-mail:

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