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Approaching diversity through equality and inclusion

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It’s vital to begin this process only after your board has committed to building inclusive cultures and practices.

There’s a challenge with moving straight to the process of recruitment when this first step has not been taken as diversity is only sustainable and impactful when this environment is created.

This requires an ongoing period of reflection and learning as well as a discussion around principles, processes and policies to enable the above. This needs to be carried out in parallel with a roadmap alongside the EDI principle set out in the Charity Governance Code.

You can read more about the equality, diversity and inclusion principle in the Charity Governance Code.

Developing your EDI approach

The ideas below suggest some options to help your organisation reflect on how to build more inclusive cultures and practices. Committing to creating a culture of inclusion and equality is essential if the board wants to recruit and retain skilled trustees, staff and volunteers from marginalised and minoritised groups.

The options below work together to help support a close relationship between the diversity of people and the culture needed to allow that to be sustainable.

This is not intended to be a holistic or a step-by-step guide. Different approaches will work in different contexts and trustees should use the Charity Governance Code diversity principle to help guide their work. We intend to evolve and develop this list as we learn about good practice.

Here are some options to think about when considering your EDI approach:

Listening

  • Developing trust and respect even when there's a difference of opinion is essential for healthy discussion and debate. As a result of this environment, better decisions are often made. An effective board and organisational culture will make sure contrasting views are welcomed and that individuals feel comfortable and confident in sharing their ideas. However, the experience of what makes the right environment can be different for minoritised and marginalised groups. Taking time to understand the impact of practices, procedures and behaviours on an individual's ability to contribute and participate will help to develop a more genuinely inclusive environment.
  • Making sure to always prioritise active listening can be challenging when organisations and meetings are busy. However, centering and prioritising the experiences of marginalised and minoritised voices in decision-making can make sure there are better outcomes for those the charity seeks to serve. This may involve creating dedicated spaces or forums.

Learning

  • Once you have established a set of organisational values, using these as a guide to identify and develop a learning plan for trustees, senior managers and staff can be helpful in developing the culture you would like to see.
  • The board together with the senior leadership team can evaluate, assess and spend time understanding the impact of the chary’s culture. A systematic evaluation which involves different stakeholder input, at all levels, can help identify where barriers exist.
  • The board and senior leadership can then create a roadmap for improvement. These are most effective when they set goals on procedures and policies and have key measures for success. The roadmap can also translate culture and values into expectations on behaviour.
  • Chairs play a key role in setting the board culture and creating an inclusive board. In turn, this impacts the organisation's overall culture. Where chairs take time during onboarding and through ongoing regular reviews to meet one on one with trustees, this can help chairs to learn how best to support board members to participate and identify areas for their and the board's learning.

Commitment and accountability

  • Opening up the board and senior leadership to be accountable for the EDI approach helps to reflect on and inform the process. This relates to the timing of action points and through the commitment of genuine two-way communication and learning with the wider organisation.
  • Being committed to regular reviews of skills and diversity on your board to make sure the board reflects the shifting priorities and needs of the charity. Priorities, challenges and who your organisation supports shifts over time which impacts the boards learning needs and membership. Such reviews involve considering the technical skills, professional and lived experience and background bring. This may involve monitoring protected characteristics such as age, gender and ethnicity as well as other characteristics such as socio-economic status and caste, for example.
  • Being accountable for performance against EDI objectives by publishing goals and progress on the charities website and in the annual report can serve to prioritise the issue. It's important to be clear about how EDI goals relate to the charity's context and why certain objectives have been prioritised. Transparency is key to the learning described above. Sharing honestly about what you’ve tried and even where you’ve tried and failed can be helpful. What’s key is to also share how you’ve learned and changed your approach as a result.

Find out more information about protected characteristics.

Pari, director of the Social Justice Collective, sets out a number of key areas that boards need to pass through when thinking about EDI. For each point, we've added some questions to consider:

Understand that it’s a journey, and making change will take time and effort.

It takes time to build an inclusive environment and there is no shortcut. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do we understand our organisation's culture? How do different people's perceptions impact that assessment and why?
  • How diverse are we as a board? Do we need to conduct an audit to better understand our diversity?
  • How does our diversity in our organisation compare with the community we serve and how significant is this?

Ask yourselves ‘why is EDI important for our charity?’

  • Where did the idea to explore EDI for your context come from?
  • Where do you hope this learning and development will get you and your board?
  • How much do you understand about what people in your organisation think about EDI?

After asking yourself why, it’s important to ask yourselves ‘why don’t we have that now?’

  • What are the current barriers to achieving progress in EDI?
  • How do these barriers prevent us from progressing?
  • How do we grapple with these barriers/what needs to change in order for us to be able to grapple with these barriers?

Set some clear EDI goals which are relevant to your context.

  • What goals should we establish on diversity and skills and over what period?
  • What learning needs to happen in order to reach these EDI goals?
  • Who needs to lead on this work and how will others in the board and organisation be brought on board?

Once goals are defined, the next step is to take action, review it and learn from it and repeat

  • Taking action involves putting your thinking into terms that can work to create tangible in the organisation. This can look different depending on the context of the organisation. It involves putting policies, and procedures in place but also ensuring that what these set out are adhered to and followed.
  • How do we make sure trustees are accountable for these goals?
  • What are the tangible actions we’ll work towards?

Publish your performance towards those goals.

  • What performance measures will you use?
  • How do we make sure the measures are inclusive to all groups depending on your charity’s context?
  • How can we ensure transparency and share learning with our charity and wider?

Make sure those with lived experiences are represented on your board

  • How can we make the best use of alternative methods of recruitment to help engage those with lived experiences and what platforms can help us achieve that?
  • How can we prioritise a focus on building relationships with user-led organisations and community groups authentically and how do we make sure we’re providing them with equal help and support?
  • Can we make use of a skills auditing as well as lived experience in our audit?
  • Do we have limits on trustee tenure?

Organise board meetings that are accessible, inclusive and convenient for all

When you plan your board meetings, try and remove all potential barriers for trustees. Make sure that you think about the following factors:

  • Timing - evenings may make attendance easier for people who work during the day, but may be challenging for parents or those who work evening shifts. If you can’t identify a time which works for all trustees, consider changing the time each meeting so that trustees who cannot attend one particular meeting aren’t excluded. Alongside this, considering what days impact different religious communities is important as well as making sure there are breaks placed at an appropriate time.
  • Expenses - You should have a set policy in place for expenses such as travel and childcare. It may even be possible to provide childcare services for trustees. It’s important to note that different trustees might have different needs regarding expenses, for example, young trustees, and trustees from a working-class background.
  • Location - If you hold your meetings in person, make sure the venue in which you hold your board meetings can be easily reached by all and is accessible and inclusive. This includes considerations around:
    • disabled people
    • people with health conditions or pregnancy
    • making sure there is an option for gender-neutral facilities
    • trustees have the tools and skills to access the meeting for online and hybrid meetings
    • considerations around sensory stimulus, for example, the brightness of lighting and level of sound used.
  • Accessibility and inclusive support - It’s a good idea to have arrangements in place should you need to provide translators or sign language interpreters, or provide audio, braille, other languages, or large print versions of documents for those who require this. These needs are also relevant to neurodivergent people. It’s important to make sure these considerations are thought through for an online meeting too. Accounting for and sensitivity towards cultural and social differences in understanding particular topics and perspectives is also important. Alongside writing and speaking in plain English and accessible language. Holding preparation meetings to make sure trustees understand the items for discussion.

You can read more of Pari’s insights into EDI as part of governance in the Charity Governance Code blog Equality, diversity and inclusion is good governance.

Trustee must have the skills, knowledge and experience required to fulfil their role. As well as this, trustees must be committed to exploring the people and processes and systems that carry out these functions from an equality, diversity and inclusion lens.

This will result in a cultural demonstration from the top of the organisation about why these considerations are important and how value is added to an organisation committed to this.

Adopting diversity of trustees is only valuable when there is a commitment to improving the board culture to make it truly equitable and inclusive.

Some key questions to consider to allow for a meaningful exploration of this area are:

  • Is it a core priority for us to hold ourselves as trustees accountable to uphold an inclusive and accessible space?
  • Are we inclusive of all voices, and are we ready to give and accept constructive challenge?

NCVO worked with Impact Culture to create this guidance.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 29 April 2022

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