Tania Mason: Is your trustee board sufficiently diverse?

09 Jan 2017 Voices

Make it your new year's resolution to ensure your trustee board is diverse enough to be fit for purpose, says Tania Mason.

If governance is the new black, as ActionAid chair Margaret Casely-Hayford wryly told a trustee conference after the charity sector scandals of 2015, then diversity is the new high-waisted, easy-fit denim. It’s de rigueur. Everywhere you go in the sector lately people are talking about diversity. It’s finally gained enough traction to become, dare I say it, mainstream.

There seems to be broad agreement among the enlightened that truly diverse boards make better decisions, reduce the risk of groupthink and therefore of organisational failure, and ultimately create better outcomes for service users. Many charities have embraced this knowledge and already taken steps to diversify their boards – RNIB, Addaction, Leap Conflicting Conflict, Railway Benefit Fund, and ActionAid are just a few examples that feature in our diversity-themed January edition of Governance & Leadership magazine, and they should be applauded for their efforts.

But there is a long way to go. If we are to believe Inclusive Boards’ recent study of the ethnic diversity of trustees of the 500 biggest charities, this heightened awareness of the value of diverse boards hasn’t yet translated into widespread change across the sector. Research into the gender balance of boards and the average age of trustees (57) only supports this view.

More needs to be done, and it needs to start with your charity. Think about your board. What does it look like? Are all the faces around the board table pale, male and retired? Does everyone read The Times and listen to Radio 4? Are there any women, any BAME trustees, any digital natives who can help bring your charity’s services in to the 21st century? Are your service users represented? Is there a genuine mix of skills, of backgrounds, of careers, of life experiences? When did you last conduct a governance review, or a skills audit? Is this even on your charity’s radar?

If the answer to this question is no, then perhaps you ought to add an item to the agenda for your next trustee meeting. There are plenty of resources available to help guide you through the process of improving your board diversity – a good starting point is the January issue of G&L. Our main feature explains what diversity means and why it is particularly important in charities (just in case you need to convince any fellow trustees who are resistant to the concept) and our subsidiary article offers some practical tips on how to make sure your board is suitably diverse.

As part of Civil Society Media’s own commitment to diversity in the sector, we have added Diversity as one of the Hallmarks of Excellence for the Charity Awards 2017. Kai Adams from Green Park Recruitment has helpfully devised a set of questions to help applicants demonstrate their own progress on diversity in their Awards application - you can find this list on the Charity Awards website here. The Charity Awards application window closes on Friday 3 March – submit your application at charityawards.co.uk.

Tania Mason

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