Why diversity and inclusion is critical for the third sector as we move out of lockdown

Howard Lake | 5 March 2021 | Blogs

They say birds of a feather flock together. It is therefore unsurprising that in many workplaces across the world you find clusters of similar people with limited diversity.
The communication industry, for instance, in comparison to other sectors has a very low percentage of BAME employees – and in fact there is a charity; the Taylor Bennet Foundation; which aims to address this imbalance by training BAME graduates and finding placements for them in agencies around the UK.
For the LGBTQ community there are also no-go sectors. Each year the Human Rights Campaign Foundation puts out an annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI) to measure the LGBTQ equality policies of companies. Each one is scored on a scale of 0 to 100, based on criteria such as non-discrimination policies, equivalent spouse and partner benefits and public commitment. The engineering sector was found to be the least LGBTQ progressive with no companies scoring 100%. And outrageously in the US it is still legal for employers to fire gay and transgender workers for their sexuality in 17 states.
And in terms of gender, according to the 30% Club, only 20 per cent of FTSE 350 CEOs are currently female. However, in the past 10 years since the Club’s inception the representation of women on boards has risen by 20 per cent.
Age is also an issue. Age discrimination for tech workers now starts at 29 according to recruitment firm CWJobs. It’s no surprise then that 61 per cent of workers in the sector answered ‘yes’ when asked if, in the tech industry employees experience prejudice when considered to be older, the highest of any UK sector.
And despite the Equality Act one fifth of disabled workers feel like they are discriminated against at work. Three quarters do not disclose a disability on their CV for fear of being overlooked.
Moreover, a million people in the UK have experienced religion -elated discrimination according to research from the ComRes Faith Research Centre and there are calls for internal training to educate employees about the beliefs held by religious groups and how these can be facilitated in the workplace.
The third sector experiences many of these issues and despite significant lobbying over the last five years charity trustees and workforces still do not reflect the communities that they support.
A study by a specialist charity recruitment company revealed that 38 per cent of charity job seekers felt they’d suffered age discrimination, whilst 25 per cent felt disadvantaged due to their ethnicity and 26 per cent believed they had been discriminated against because of their gender.
Given, the progressive and more aware era we are currently in, we must face it that the positive impact of diversity and inclusion is no longer up for debate.
For some charities, simply doing the right thing may be enough to promote action. Others may be moved by data which highlights that diversity and inclusion can boost the quality of decision-making and that a diverse workplace encourages individuals to be more creative, more diligent, and harder-working.
Research suggests that when donors, employees, board members, and others who shape the values and activities of a charity come from a wide array of backgrounds, they bring unique perspectives which influence how the charity approaches its mission in more inclusive and innovative ways.

The five benefits of a diverse workforce

In addition to ultimately better representing the society they serve, the benefits of diversity and inclusion starting from the inside are clear:

1.      A larger talent pool

Expanding recruitment searches to include more diverse applicants – including age, ethnicity, background etc. – widens the potential talent pool which increases chances of finding the best candidate.

2.      Increased employee engagement and trust

Diversity leads to improved employee engagement and highly engaged employees go the extra mile for their organisation which has a ripple effect on team morale, retention, and output. Not to mention the 75 per cent fewer sick days taken and the 50 per cent lower turnover risk as outlined in a report by Headstart.

3.      New perspectives and innovation

A diverse workforce promotes the development of new ideas. Research highlights a statistically significant relationship between diversity and innovation outcomes. This can help teams better identify new fundraising methods but also have greater empathy with the cause.

4.      Better decision-making

Data suggests that teams diverse in geography, gender, age, and ethnicity make better decisions as alternative perspectives are considered more widely.

5.      Improved performance

Diversity and inclusion has a direct correlation to an increase in fundraising but this outcome is a direct result of increased productivity and performance. Diversity is a competitive differentiator.  Furthermore, beyond being beneficial to employees’ mental health, diversity and inclusion also has downstream impacts that make good fiscal sense. According to a McKinsey report, organisations that are in the top quartile for racial, ethnic, and gender diversity have a 25% greater likelihood of being more successful than the national median for their respective industry.

The window of opportunity for charities

The global pandemic has had far reaching repercussions and with many fundraising initiatives cancelled due to social distancing and lockdowns many charities are facing a funding crisis unseen since the early 2000s. Clearly innovation will be key in finding ways to fill the funding gap. Charities, consequently, have an open window of opportunity for reinvigoration and diversity and inclusion should be front and centre.
Nothing changes overnight, but it is critical that charitable organisations up-skill their existing teams in inclusivity, including understanding about issues such as ageing in the workplace or how different disabilities can impact the working day, as well as looking to implement more progressive HR policies such as blind recruitment. This practice is based on blind auditions that were introduced to orchestras in the 1970s when it was recognised that only five per cent of chairs were occupied by women. To address this, orchestras put candidates behind a screen so that the judging panel (typically male) couldn’t see the gender of the musician and so the individual was selected on the basis of their talent alone. It worked. Within a decade the proportion of women in orchestras doubled, and the number of disabled, LGBTQ and BAME members also grew. Increasingly, industry is borrowing this technique and asking candidates to anonymise their CVs by removing name, address, age, university and schools attended. This technique is proven to reduce unconscious bias in terms of all types of discrimination from ageism, racism and elitism.
The old adage is true; an organisation is only as good as the people in it, it therefore makes sense to get the best people possible. You might have to work harder in terms of establishing a culture that embraces inclusivity, but in the end the dividends will far outweigh the barriers.
Louisa Osmond, Head of Executive Education, Edinburgh Business School

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