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Some staff reflections on our equity, diversity and inclusion journey so far

Staff at NCVO reflect on the first phase of our equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) work, and their hopes for creating a more inclusive working culture at NCVO. We’ve kept their comments anonymous as we want to ensure staff feel confident and safe sharing their reflections of the work in public.

We’re talking about a revolution, it sounds like a whisper

The findings of our EDI work echo the Voice4Change/ACEVO Home Truths report in identifying a paternalistic, Victorian model of charity as one of the root causes of institutional and sector-wide discrimination – whether based on race, gender, class, disability or sexual orientation.

What would it look like if we turned this model and this power dynamic on its head? What if we understood that the people most affected by social issues should also have the most decision-making power? What if the sector understood that its role is not to ‘do for’ the people it seeks to serve but to do things together, or indeed to get out of the way so that people can step into their own power? What if we could redistribute the wealth of the sector so that it goes directly to the communities who need it?

If NCVO and its members made it their mission to transform the sector in this way, I wonder what we could achieve. Out of the grim realities of discrimination and oppression has come the potential for a radically new vision. Are we brave enough to grasp it?

We must dismantle the unfair structures

The findings from phase one of the EDI work has shed light on the deep rooted oppressive behaviours within NCVO. Lessons need to be learnt, but most importantly, action needs to be taken. No longer should people from minority or protected characteristics backgrounds have to experience overt oppression, nor should anyone feel that they cannot speak up when something is wrong.  

If NCVO is to continue its role to lead the sector things must change. We must dismantle the unfair structures, and we must allow people with lived experience to have a voice.

Today I have a voice to share my experience as a BAME and disabled colleague to begin this journey with NCVO.

Everyone must view this as a shared responsibility

Moving past the shock I felt hearing about the findings from the EDI work, my processing led to fear. I sullenly calculated that the disbelief – the very surprise of it all – indicated that my eyes were not open. Was I part of the problem? Worst of all, had I (although unintentionally) hurt any of the colleagues I spent more time in the day with than my own family?

The senior leadership team and our trustees’ responses were appropriate. But while they’re accountable for our overall organisation, we – each employee whether we’re a team assistant or the director of whatever – are responsible for this. We must see it as our shared responsibility. Whether we’re a victim, culprit or an ignorant bystander, this must be personal. We all need to emerge from this as activists and advocates for the better.

My hope is that our efforts to move forward are rooted in grace and patience. Creating safety and changing an existing culture is a painful kind of growth, and I would hope that as we take steps as individuals to re-educate, our colleagues will support and uplift one another with patience.

In safe spaces, individuals are empowered to content-communicate, and this is vital to our progression and unity. When individuals feel safe enough to approach a person who has hurt us – regardless of their job title or circumstances – to explain why and how their comments or behaviour have impacted them, change is achievable.

Coming together for a renewed sense of purpose

When the findings from phase one were shared with the wider NCVO team, I heard how shocked and surprised some people were by the things that they were confronted with. It reminded me of an EDI working group session with our EDI consultant Pari, where she asked us to evaluate where we thought NCVO is now in terms of being an equitable diversified and inclusive working environment.

By the end of the session, after we had shared some of our experiences at NCVO, the rating for the majority of people was lower than we initially appraised. I remember feeling intense mixed emotions. From anger, to sadness, to self-reproach.

It was a hard process, but then something beautiful happened, we were encouraged to thank each other. For supporting each other, not just in the EDI work but also generally in the workplace as colleagues, as human beings.

Through this process, I believe we as a group have become stronger and more determined than ever. For me, this was the day we truly became more than a group of individuals, we became something more. Even though I felt emotionally and mentally drained, I also felt a renewed sense of purpose.

I’m proud to be a member of the EDI working group, and proud of my brave and courageous colleagues. I hope that the senior leadership team and trustees are willing to meet all of us in our stride for a more equitable, a more diversified, and a more inclusive NCVO.

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