Nearing the end of my first year of employment within the sector, I have been tasked with asking myself ‘have I been treated differently because of my protected characteristics?’ I am a young, female, Muslim, British Pakistani; that’s a few right there.
For an organisation of 25 staff, we have 13 female staff, of which only three are in positions of management or above. Seven employees are of an ethnic minority background. I feel like that this is impressive.
But why am I even thinking about if ‘that’s enough colour’ in one room? It shouldn’t be a thought at all. People say they don’t see colour, yet why does the sector and some of those working within it?
Do I feel that being a female will prove to be an obstacle in my career within this sector? Yes. Has it already? Yes.
Do I feel that being the race that I am has been a barrier? No. Do I feel that it could be? Yes.
Working within housing, I am able to identify female chief executives and those with positions of leadership across the sector. However, I am unable to name any chief executives who are not white British. I am unable to name an individual with leadership positions in the not for profit sector who has a physical disability, is female and from a minority ethnic back ground - where are they?
Minority backgrounds do want to work in this sector and we are trying to - but we just don’t seem to be as successful as we would be if we were white British, the very same people who are reviewing our applications and interviewing us and offering us positions in their organisations.
Inclusive leadership shouldn’t be determined by the number of females, those with disabilities or those of colour in positions of authority. This acts as a visual representation of a commitment to diversity but does not always equate into anything tangible or towards a more progressively diverse sector. We need to know that our beliefs as a female or somebody with a background other than full British has value and can contribute equally.
I will not be an inclusive leader because I am of Pakistani origin, nor will I be a ‘better’ leader purely because I am female and this is the most important thing: don’t make me a ‘token’ staff member.
This is the second of four articles curated by the Ellie Munro, a social policy researcher at the University of Birmingham, for Civil Society Voices. Lots of people have been talking about ‘diversity’ in the voluntary sector recently.
This is great; it has been encouraging to see senior leaders reflecting on what statistics tell us about ‘pale, male and stale’ boards, spaces and leadership teams. But some voices have been missing. As much as we need leadership at the top to open up room, or to get out of the way, we need to listen to people just starting out on their careers in the sector, those who have experienced oppression when building theirs, and those supporting others to develop as leaders too. This short series of articles aims to bring those voices forward, reflecting on experiences so far, what inclusive leadership looks like, and how we can foster it.
The third piece will be published next Tuesday.
More from this series