Wanda Wyporska: A more inclusive leadership style is how the sector lives its values

30 Jul 2019 Voices

Leadership positions in the charity sector are disproportionately white and speaking or writing opportunities often reflect this inequality. ACEVO and Civil Society have curated a series of articles by BAME leaders on the question ‘What does the future of civil society leadership look like?’ in order to profile a greater breadth of the diversity of talent in the sector. Today we hear from Wanda Wyporska, executive director of The Equality Trust, about the benefits of a more inclusive approach.

As an Anglo-Caribbean-Polish working class woman, I feel the need to set this out at the start of the article, as it is rather a given that I am being asked about race. I can speak about a range of issues, but increasingly as a Black female leader, I am asked to speak about leadership from the perspective of race - ‘the new frontier’. While most straight, white male leaders are able to get on with the job of merely being a leader, those of us who have accumulated a range of protected characteristics also have the job of representing. 

Or should I say, we are often asked to represent. Of course, this is a choice and I regularly point out that we don’t have to take up the gauntlet, but I personally feel that it is a responsibility that I am privileged to uphold. I had the opportunity to spend time on a Windsor Leadership with Black and Asian leaders, where we frankly discussed our own leadership and difficulties, expectations of us as Black and Asian leaders, frustrations and the discrimination we had experienced. We came from a variety of sectors and developed a supportive network we can turn to when needed, sharing solutions, empathy and practice.

It’s important for everyone to see a wide range of leaders and it’s important to challenge the traditional perceptions of what leadership is and what leaders look like. Above all, it is absolutely crucial that boards, in particular, have an open mind to diverse styles of leadership and diverse leaders. 

It should not be regarded as ‘bold’ to appoint a Black or Asian leader or a disabled leader for example. 

We need more than just another conversation

I would like to see a sector that significantly changes its perceptions of leadership over the coming years, but that requires more than just another conversation about ‘pipelines’ or bemoaning the lack of Black and Asian ‘talent’. Such a sector would be a rich tapestry of organisations able to understand and impact on society in a far more driven and effective way. The sector itself has been accused of being too middle-class and too white; its leadership even more so. 

As we hear that new generations seek a connection between their donations and causes that reflect their worldviews and themselves, the gap between those who lead organisations and beneficiaries is increasingly scrutinised. Diversity of leadership is crucial to face this challenge and others, as well as being open to new opportunities such as social impact investment.

In short, the sector needs a diverse range of leaders, organisations need different leadership at different stages of development and hard conversations need to happen at all levels. If we restrict our imaginations, we will not garner the experience needed to deliver the social change we need to see. 

Boards say they want dynamic leaders but appoint capable managers

It’s hard to avoid the fact that boards are in a key position to change the sector and the types of leadership permitted to flourish. Trustees often believe that they want bold leadership, but when faced with leaders who put their heads above the parapet or with change makers rather than managers, they often find a safe haven in the tried and tested formula or in a big name. Many fellow CEOs have told me that their experience is often that boards say they want dynamic leadership, but all too often appoint capable managers. 

Inclusive Boards found that 6.6 per cent of trustees at the top 500 charities (by income) are from ethnic minority backgrounds - the research compares this to 8.2 per cent in the FTSE 100. This seems staggering in a sector that has such a diversity of beneficiaries. I must add the caveat that I am also on a number of Boards of charities, but have sometimes been the only non-White person and on one occasion was designated in the policy as ‘the equality lead’ without even being consulted. 

There may be a fashion for strong-man leaders at present, but the reality is that we know that a more servant-led leadership, a truly collaborative and inclusive way of working and true respect for everyone’s contribution is how the sector lives its values. 

In order for everyone who wants to work in our sector to be able to do so, we need to ensure that we are encouraging and providing opportunities for a broader socio-economic mix of people, through paying at least the Living Wage (as set by the Living Wage Foundation), providing paid internships, and working with schools and colleges where we can.

This is the future I want to see for our sector.

Dr Wanda Wyporska is executive director of The Equality Trust and a member of the ACEVO race advisory group


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