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Dr Priya Singh

Dr Priya Singh

Dr Priya Singh

Chair

Dr Singh has a background in general practice, specialising in medical law, ethics and patient safety

Dr Priya Singh
Chair

The importance of diversity in your trustee board

Dr Priya Singh

Dr Priya Singh

Dr Priya Singh

Chair

Dr Singh has a background in general practice, specialising in medical law, ethics and patient safety

Dr Priya Singh
Chair

This Trustees’ Week, we’ve been focusing on how trustees can use the principles of environmental, social and governance (ESG) to lead their charities into the future.

Making sure that your organisation has a diverse board is key to embedding the principles of good governance and allowing your organisation to prepare for the future.

Trustee boards hold significant power and are responsible for overseeing the governance of a charity. The views and perspectives that trustees bring and the decisions they make have the power to control how the wider charity functions.

A board’s approach to diversity can also set the tone for the whole organisation. This in turn shapes how the people charities support are impacted.

It's because of this that having a board with people of diverse backgrounds and life experiences is crucial.

They are more likely to expose bias, provide richer discussions with well-rounded perspectives and help trustees with their decision-making, which in turn increases a charity’s legitimacy and impact.

Understand why you're exploring board diversity

This isn’t just a nice-to-have, and it’s crucial that boards and trustees understand why they should be actively working to promote diversity and the value it can add to an organisation’s governance.

A more diverse board can bring a number of benefits. Having a range of skills, knowledge and perspectives gives greater flexibility when approaching and overcoming challenges. It can also help a board to remain innovative and agile to changes in the external environment.

Many charities also risk a disconnect with their communities by not having trustees with relevant lived experiences or backgrounds.

In order to make better decisions about services offered, and to engage more authentically with the work of their charity, boards can take steps to make sure they're truly representative of the communities they support.

At NCVO we work to make sure our trustee board is reflective of our membership. We’ve prioritised recruiting trustees from small and large organisations, as well as seeking individuals from outside of the sector to help provide balance.

As a partner of the Charity Governance Code, we review our governance every three years. Our most recent independent governance review was instrumental in helping us identify which areas we needed to work on and what skills and knowledge were missing at board and committee level.

If you’d like to read more about the insight we gained and what changes we made following our governance review, you can read our vice-chair Emily Agius’s reflections.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that will work for every organisation and many of the benefits will be unique to individual organisations. What works for one organisation may not necessarily work for another.

This is why it's essential that trustees understand the roles played by the systems and culture of their organisation and look to create their own priorities if they want to truly value and benefit from diversity.

What needs to happen to make a board truly diverse?

Much of the discussion around board diversity hinges on us recognising and addressing power dynamics, and barriers to board diversity and inclusion. The power dynamics that exist in our society have required me, as the chair, to really think about how I draw out all the voices in the room.

Investing in board development, training, and ongoing evaluation is vitally important to make sure there's a positive board culture that's in keeping with the organisation's values and goals.

Making sure our new trustees have a comprehensive and thorough onboarding programme that doesn’t assume knowledge is an important first step. We have also simplified our board papers and agendas which means we have enough time for proper and meaningful board discussions.

Alongside our vice-chair, I schedule regular one-on-one meetings with individuals to consider how things are working and to make sure they feel involved. This also allows us to consider any development needs or additional training that would support trustees to contribute fully.

Board diversity doesn’t stop at recruitment. Getting the right people in the room will only take you so far if the culture of an organisation doesn’t foster an environment where everyone can meaningfully contribute. This then risks becoming tokenistic.

What can you do to prioritise diversity at board level?

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