Tania Mason: Could 2024 be the year civil society turns the diversity supertanker?

16 Jan 2024 Voices

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Well hello, 2024. The cover theme of the year’s inaugural edition is the Charity Governance Code, and how various charities are applying it and reporting their progress against it. But as the pages came together, I noticed another theme emerging from the different bits of content – more by accident than design, I admit. This theme is not a new topic for this magazine, or for the sector, but it is one that seems to remain stubbornly tricky to address: equity, diversity and inclusion.

The news pages, unfortunately, carry stories of failure. One study, by ACEVO and Voice4Change England, found that despite plenty of warm words and positive intentions across the sector, many charities are still struggling to tackle the institutional racism that pervades their organisations.

Another report, by Pro Bono Economics, discovered that women are still badly underrepresented in positions of power in civil society, despite making up the majority of its workers and volunteers.

In another story, the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK), admitted that a project it embarked on in good faith in 2020 to empower people with lived experience of social injustice, fell short of its ambitions and let people down. SMK has apologised for its mistakes.

And in our first cover theme feature, a study of the annual reports of several larger charities revealed that the diversity principle in the Charity Governance Code is proving to be the most difficult for organisations to implement, with many admitting they are still wrestling with it.

A separate feature from Association of Chairs chair Joe Saxton for the People & Culture section questions why the sector finds diversity so difficult, when the creation of most civil society organisations were driven by a sense of social justice and a desire to achieve equity and equality for all. Joe’s article concludes with a useful list of suggested actions that charities can take to move the dial on the issue.

But a new year brings hope and resolution, and fortunately I am able to conclude this editorial with a positive diversity story. You can also read about all of the trustees at the Tudor Trust deciding to step down to be replaced by people with more lived experience of the problems its funding seeks to tackle. This move put me in mind of another funder, Lankelly Chase, which announced last year that it would close it doors and disburse all its assets to organisations that are closer to the people it wants to support. Both of these are big, radical steps that demonstrate genuine ambition to change. What’s more, you can hear the Lankelly Chase story at this year’s Trustee Exchange conference on 24 April – its trustees will be delivering the opening keynote. 

Wouldn’t it be great if 2024 was the year that civil society finally started to turn the diversity supertanker?

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that concerns raised with the Sheila McKechnie Foundation were around lived experience, not racism

Governance & Leadership is a bi-monthly publication which helps charity leaders and trustees on their journey from good practice to best practice. Written by leading sector experts each issue is packed with news, in-depth analysis and real-life case studies of best practice in charitable endeavour and charity governance plus advice and guidance straight from the regulator. Find more information here and subscribe today!


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