Srabani Sen: There are six things blocking the sector's progress on diversity

Written by Srabani Sen

When I began my career more than 30 years ago, there was a push to address racial inequality at work through 'equal opportunities'. So, why has so little changed since then, particularly in leadership? According to ACEVO, at 3 per cent, the number of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) charity CEOs is “shamefully small” and hasn’t changed in years. Boards are little better.

What’s going on? Surely the voluntary sector is values based? We exist to address inequalities, don’t we? So why do we struggle to address the inequalities in our own organisations?

I think there are six things blocking our progress towards diversity and inclusion. They are as follows:

1. We don’t know what we are talking about

People often use the words 'diversity' and 'inclusion' as if they are the same thing. They’re not. Diversity is having different kinds of people in your organisation. Inclusion is actively leveraging and valuing that difference to drive organisational success. If we don’t know what the words mean, how can we achieve diversity and inclusion?

2. “I’m a good person” syndrome

Most of us in the voluntary sector are driven to make a difference. With that comes an implicit belief that “we are good people”. Most of us are. That doesn’t stop each of us having biases we are unaware of, that affect how we think and act. Have you tested your biases? Have you run programmes to raise awareness among your leaders and staff about how these biases are hampering your organisation from getting better at diversity and inclusion? (The corporate sector is doing a lot on raising awareness of unconscious biases. Wait, shouldn’t they be worse than us?)

3. Hope over action

If you were introducing a new IT system, you wouldn’t wish for it, occasionally talk to an IT person and expect it to miraculously appear, fully formed and transforming your organisation’s efficiency and effectiveness. Yet that is the approach many of us take on diversity and inclusion. To achieve diversity and inclusion you need clear plans, with milestones and resources to get you from where you are now to where you want to be. Just as you would with any organisational change management programme.

4. What’s in it for me?

The mountain of evidence that diverse and inclusive organisations are more successful in almost every way has failed to ignite the action you would expect. Why? Because addressing diversity and inclusions involves all of us, particularly leaders, to change our own behaviours. Changing behaviour is hard. We only genuinely engage in it if we believe, in a visceral way, that the benefits to us will outweigh the pain involved in making change.

5. We’re too busy

Few would admit it, but achieving genuine diversity and inclusion is often thought of as yet another thing on a bulging to do list, and often gets pushed onto the 'I’ll do that when I have a moment' list. Unless we graft it onto the DNA of our organisations and understand how to use diversity and inclusion to drive success in achieving our mission and goals, we are unlikely to make it a priority.

6. Leaders don’t know how to lead inclusively

We wouldn’t set ourselves up as a lawyer without first training and qualifying. Leading inclusively involves practical competencies that need to be learned. How many leaders have invested in learning these competencies and applying them?

I genuinely believe people in our sector want diversity and inclusion. But to achieve change will take courage and action. What will you do today to get your organisation closer to the prize?

Srabani Sen is CEO and founder of Full Colour, chair of 38 Degrees and The Winch

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