“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together” – Malcolm Forbes

Published by Sean Rodwell on 12 November 2018

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In research published by the Charity Commission in November 2017 it was identified that boards are not reflective of the communities that their charities serve, with men outnumbering women two to one. Following this report, there were a number of articles, perhaps harshly, commenting on the pale, stale and male make-up of Trustees boards. The Charity Commission, rather than enforcing action, has simply continued to encourage charities to ensure their boards reflect the communities that they serve. So a year on from the research has there been any progress towards increased diversity?

When we talk about diversity, this means all manner of things; different genders, races, ethnicities, ages, religions, disabilities, and sexual orientations, as well as different personalities, skills, experiences, and knowledge bases. So a diverse board is truly one that brings together a wide-ranging, varied group of people.

Cynics suggest that diverse boards have little advantage over those with limited diversity, arguing that simply applying the “right person for the right role” approach is the best method of recruitment. Whilst on an individual bases this may be the case, research suggests that as part of a group setting, a diverse board is more effective. Diverse boards are more likely to produce constructive debate over a particular issue, utilising the wide range of skills and backgrounds. Such boards are also considered to be more innovative and forward-thinking with the differing views challenging pre-existing ideas and norms. If your board is more representative of the community it serves it is also more likely to be engaged and impassioned within this community.

One of the challenges charities face is how they actually achieve diversity on their boards. For the most part, this will rely on the recruitment process for Trustees. Consider the language you use when advertising for Trustees, could this be considered to put off particular groups? Also, consider what motivates different groups when you’re recruiting. For example younger people are more focussed on flexibility and a work/life balance, so try to make sure the Trustee role allows for this. Similar to modern employee recruitment, charities should consider screening CVs/applications to ensure a fair recruitment process.

With the charity sector often referred to as the “big society” it seems only reasonable that your Trustee board should represent this greater society. Charities need to embrace this mentality and actively work towards a more diverse board. It’s 2018, Doctor Who is now a female, and the world is a different place now from when most charities were first established. Challenge yourselves, are you actively trying to increase diversity or simply stating it as an open-ended goal? Those that really seek and recruit a diverse board will be the charities most likely to future proof themselves and connect with their beneficiaries.

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