COLUMN: Social injustice and why the sector needs to look inwards

I never cease to be amazed by the work that goes on in our sector to protect and improve lives. The charity sector leads the way in driving positive change, locally, nationally and internationally. However, despite the phenomenal efforts of the sector externally, we, like many other professional fields in the UK, too often experience the serious problem of a lack of diversity within our workforces. A problem which can manifest in many forms.

We’ve spent a long time in the sector talking about board diversity – and we certainly need to continue to do so – and within our workforces I’m sure most of us make every effort to consider diversity. But there is an aspect of diversity that I would particularly like to draw attention to. Years of focus on social mobility have not had the impact that we would have liked. It is down to all of us to try to make a difference and I believe our sector has a special responsibility in this regard.

State school pupils make up 93 per cent of the school-age population, but those from privately educated backgrounds dominate leading UK professions such as law, politics, medicine and journalism. The picture in the charity sector is variegated, with different organisations in different areas of work having different staff profiles, but overall my sense is that there is a long way to go in terms of fair representation of the UK population in our workforce. Not enough has been done to make the charity workforce sufficiently accessible, in my view. I in no sense wish to undermine the phenomenal efforts made and the immense benefit brought by staff within of all backgrounds in our sector – I only wish to highlight that fact that doing good externally does not exempt the sector from the need to look inwards.

Real, lasting change must occur both within and outside of the sector. My hope is that the sector can be a pioneer for diversity within its own workforces, leading the way for the rest of the UK.

This, in part, is why I am speaking as part of the Speakers for Schools campaign this spring. The talks that are taking place will reach an estimated 4,500 students, with the objective of broadening their horizons by allowing them to hear directly from key figures currently shaping the UK. There is evidence to suggest that external speakers visiting schools in this way is associated with more positive career outcomes for the students that attend. If I am able to help make a difference for just one of the pupils I will present to, then I believe my time will have been well spent.

We need to raise the aspirations of our young people, and crucially, ensure that there are opportunities to meet their ambitions. This is essential not just for equality and diversity, but to future proof the charity workforce. In business, charity and the public sector, everyone misses out by limiting the talent pool. In a working world where some of the brightest and best talent is being overlooked, we run the risk of limiting our potential as a sector, and most crucially, our potential to achieve change. However, if we succeed in drawing on the ideas, inspiration and dedication of people from a wider variety of backgrounds, we have the potential to extend and amplify the difference we can make.

Sir Stuart Etherington is chief executive of NCVO

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