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NCVO's chief executive Sarah Vibert shares learnings from our EDI report and sets out the actions we're taking to create an inclusive culture that allows everyone to thrive at work.
NCVO’s EDI report, the findings of which were shared last summer, provides a picture of an organisation with a toxic culture which has caused so much pain to staff past and present.
Inaction is complicity and our chair, Priya Singh and I, alongside the leadership team and board are unequivocal in our response to the EDI report: we believe and accept the findings and are taking action. We were shocked and ashamed that an organisation with such a long and proud history as NCVO has enabled such a culture to persist and we are absolutely determined that this should change and fast.
Our equity, diversity and inclusion work and subsequent inquiry have placed the burden on people who have experienced bullying, harassment or microaggressions. The first priority for me and the leadership team has been to support them.
We’ve only just scratched the surface of the process of healing for staff who have been harmed by NCVO’s culture. Media attention this weekend will have meant the many staff who shared their experiences in confidence, have had to relive this once again. On Friday I reached out to staff, and former staff, to offer support and we are putting further measures in place this week to provide space to process, share and listen.
I am talking to our staff networks to understand what they need. In our communications over the last year, NCVO has walked a fine line between being open and authentic, without sharing confidential information relating to individuals, but ensuring we share our experience with our members and the wider sector.
Last year our chair and chief executive apologised unreservedly to anyone who had experienced oppression in any form while working at NCVO. Funding has been made available to those who led the work, many who are from marginalised groups. This has enabled coaching and other forms of therapeutic support. As the report recommended, we have also enabled protected time for EDI work and external facilitation to create safe spaces.
We have also been keen to attempt to find resolution for incidents that have taken place at NCVO. The inquiry into unresolved incidents, led by the board with support from an independent consultant, provided a forum to enable individuals to formally raise incidents in a safe environment. It also provides an opportunity for incidents to be investigated and reach a resolution. This includes holding people to account for their actions.
At the start of the inquiry, the consultants leading the work were clear with staff that they wanted to hear about any experience that was damaging to them or made them uncomfortable. Similarly, the review into the handling of the racist incident sought to provide resolution to those involved, especially those who had been harmed.
Looking forward, the most important take–away from the EDI report, the review and inquiry is the learning that the board and leadership team are applying in order to create a culture at NCVO that is inclusive and enables everyone to thrive at work. A damaging culture had gone unchecked for too long and we have been taking steps to ensure incidents like those outlined in the report can never happen again. This includes changes to our governance structure, an equality impact assessment of our restructure, coaching for leaders, and ensuring our new strategy is underpinned by cultural change.
Last year, when the report was first shared with staff, we began a dialogue across the staff team about the sort of organisation we want to be. Restructuring added a further layer of complexity to this work. The uncertainty experienced by a staff team facing possible redundancy is not conducive to conversations about culture change. This inevitably has made an awful situation even worse. However, our restructure is now complete, and a team is in place who are absolutely committed to creating a new culture at NCVO which is more reflective of what we should have been and what we intend to become.
There are actions in our EDI plan which we intend to implement over the coming year including technical work such as updates to policies, training, and building EDI into objectives. But most importantly we are working on creating a culture where people can speak out and speak up.
This weekend we’ve seen a lot of people speaking out about their own experiences, saying ‘not just NCVO’. NCVO is clear that our priority must be to get our own house in order so we can be the best organisation we can be for our members. Yet our position in the sector means we have a responsibility to people working and volunteering in charities more widely. If anything good does come out of our failure to lead and be exemplars in this it will be the fact that it has emboldened colleagues across the sector to speak out and encouraged other organisations to reflect hard on their own practices.
Because we are very aware that our report findings being shared publicly will have triggered individuals who have experienced bullying and harassment in charities we feel it is our responsibility to put together some resources to support anyone who has been affected by bullying and harassment at work.
We are clear we are not experts on EDI, many others in the sector are leading the way in this arena. Priya and I will continue to openly share about our EDI journey, both for us personally and for NCVO. We will also continue to ensure our staff have a platform to do so. We encourage others to do the same and here are links to some great people and organisations who may be able to help you:
We’ve often used the word brave to refer to staff who have shared their experiences through the EDI report, and indeed it is brave. NCVO, like every organisation, should be a place where you don’t need to be brave, but rather raising concerns is regarded as a way to learn and improve the organisation. But clearly the only way NCVO can achieve that is if people are confident that issues they raise will be believed and dealt with.
The EDI report shows this hasn’t happened in the past. People haven’t trusted that our processes, systems and leadership would believe or support them. I am absolutely committed to changing that. We will do better.
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