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NCVO's chief executive Sarah Vibert reflects on the outcomes of independent investigations into complaints submitted to NCVO's board of trustees, and NCVO's commitment to culture change.
Today our chair, Dr Priya Singh, has updated on the outcomes of independent investigations into complaints submitted to the board last year as part of our inquiry into unresolved incidents at NCVO.
This was launched following our wider equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) review. The conclusion of the investigations is an important milestone in our EDI and culture change journey. Before we can heal and rebuild as a truly inclusive organisation, it is essential to address specific incidents.
We are sharing the outcomes of the investigations in order to be transparent and so we can be held to account both for the incidents themselves, but also for the actions we continue to take to develop a new culture at NCVO.
My first thoughts are with those individuals who came forward and took part in a long and difficult investigation process. I want to thank you for sharing your experiences and, on behalf of NCVO, I also want to say sorry.
You should never have had these experiences. I can only imagine that even where complaints have been upheld, any feeling of justice may be overshadowed by those experiences and the challenges of taking part in the investigations. In coming forward, you – and all those who have contributed to our EDI work so far – have enabled us to continue our work to learn, grow and change. It is because of this that culture change and EDI now sit, rightly, at the heart of the new organisational strategy we have begun to implement. However, it should have never taken this for us to get to where we are today.
The past 18 months at NCVO have been hard for our people for a range of reasons. The outcomes of these investigations will add to what has already been an incredibly difficult time. The leadership team and I continue to support all of our staff, but we are particularly focused on supporting the individuals who have been impacted by the investigations and the wider cultural failings we have faced as an organisation.
I would like to acknowledge the frustration that may be felt about the slow pace of change. I share and understand this. There are times over the last few months I’ve wanted us to go further and faster. But real culture change takes a long time and is often not a linear process.
Since staff first engaged in our EDI report in early 2020, we have undergone a restructure which has been disruptive and hard for the team. It also delayed the start of the investigations, which have required a high degree of sensitivity and therefore taken several months to reach a conclusion.
We are no longer referring to an ‘EDI action plan’ at NCVO but rather a culture change roadmap. This has been shared with staff. EDI is an important pillar of culture, but tackling EDI as a project or tick box exercise will not bring the deep-rooted long-term change we are committed to and require.
We are taking some specific short-term actions, such as updating policies and procedures. As an example, we have put in place a new whistleblowing service so we can effectively deal with problems if and when they arise. While these are important, the culture change we require is an ongoing process without an endpoint and requires more. We must go deeper into how we make decisions, the relationships and interactions we have with each other, and the accountability we have to our staff and members.
Culture change starts at the top, so embedding our new leadership team, as well as reflecting deeply on my own leadership practice, has been an important job for me over the last six months. Together the leadership team are engaging in a programme of personal development to build our approach to inclusive leadership. We are changing the way we make decisions to empower our teams. We are taking a values-based approach to addressing organisational challenges. We are striving to be open and transparent with the whole team about these challenges.
A key addition to the leadership team has been Janu Miah, who joined in April as head of people and culture – a new role at NCVO. Janu has completed appointments to the people and culture team which are pivotal to the change programme we are undertaking and I am so proud of the work they have already begun.
They are doing focussed work with our staff networks, our union, and in developing our cross-organisational inclusion group. The people and culture team are also empowering the wider staff team to come together to celebrate inclusivity. The BAME network has led the way with staff-led discussion and learning spaces such as ‘race equality tea breaks’. These sessions have provided the space and opportunity for the organisation to hear the honest voice and feelings of colleagues about race inequality.
Given all the challenges of the last year, there is a need to focus on building trust across the team as an important first step to achieving real culture change.
We have recently appointed consultants who are experienced in healing and trust-building to undertake a programme of work across the organisation. This work is getting underway and will be followed by a formal programme of learning on EDI for all staff.
Additionally, we are actively seeking opportunities to talk about our work and share what we’re learning along the way, including with our members. For example, I recently took part in a CharityComms event on building an anti-racist brand, and plan to speak at further events during the autumn.
Over the past year, we have seen world events amplify movements that had long been calling out the injustices in society and driving action against racism and other forms of discrimination and inequalities.
The voluntary sector includes many organisations, such as Charity So White, Stonewall and The Baobab Foundation, that have been working tirelessly to highlight and take action on the challenges of exclusion and discrimination experienced by minoritised groups.
Yet despite having social justice at the heart of our work, the voluntary sector reflects wider societal inequalities. I am committed to NCVO playing its part in tackling this, starting with our own organisation, but also in our work with charities, organisations and community groups across the country.
When NCVO’s EDI report was shared with the press in February, it created additional distress for staff who had shared their experiences in confidence. As I said at the time in a previous blog, some good has come from it in opening up a conversation in the wider sector and pushing NCVO to be more open about this work.
We had previously shied away from work to support charities on EDI. And while it is clear we are not experts and that many others are leading the way, we are keen to use our position in the voluntary sector to amplify the voices of others.
We have begun this, for example through our EDI updates from around the sector. We are also backing campaigns seeking to root out injustice, which recently included adding our name to a letter from the Runnymede Trust to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. We have more work to do to play this role and will be further exploring this.
The experiences faced by staff at NCVO, and the mirror held up to us, has initiated a seismic shift in how we approach our work, the shape of our organisation, and the role we play as part of a sector working for a better society for all.
The real test of NCVO’s culture change work is going to be how it feels to work at and with NCVO. I hope things have started to feel different, but it’s clear there is a long way to go.
I am determined that NCVO will become an organisation people are proud to work for and partner with.
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