5th May 2022Charity Trustee Roundtable – Equality, Diversity & Inclusion

“I was reading an article which was talking about belonging and that diversity and inclusion aren’t what matter anymore, but belonging is what counts. And I was thinking back to those times at school where you might have been the last one to be picked for something such as a sports team. But if you weren’t brilliant at sport, you would get that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach as the group around you that hadn’t been picked was getting smaller and smaller and you were left standing there. The article was saying that if you think back to that soul destroying feeling of not belonging, imagine if that’s how you are feeling every day at work.”


Our recent Charity Trustee Roundtable was on the very important topic of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), where we were joined by Sonia Bate, Founder of EDIT Development who took our guests through a number of interesting thoughts from her experience in advising clients on this particular area. Here we set out some of the challenges organisations are facing and other areas that came up during the discussion.

Big picture challenges currently around EDI

What is happening in the world impacts what is going on in your organisation and whether you are a UK based organisation, whether you’re in Europe or global, you are going to experience different themes and different issues. In addition, the differing legislation in different countries means that collecting data in different territories presents additional challenges: What can we ask? What can’t we ask? What can we reference? What can’t we reference? So this presents an extra level of legal complexity.

What do we actually mean around inclusion?  It’s important for an organisation to focus on the type of culture and the type of organisation it wants to be and be focused on that. Always have the big picture in mind and where you are trying to get to rather than just keeping reacting and responding to things that are happening as there will always be a new buzzword almost every week.

There are a number of external pressures that organisations are facing; Brexit, Pride, women’s rights, the rise in inflation, poverty, black lives matter, to name a few.  Some of these issues have prompted organisations into a tail spin, creating policies, having opinions, but the challenge is what are those organisations doing that is consistent and what is being done that is systemic, not just on the back of a “day”.  Inclusion is 365 days of the year; it is not about one day.

The important question is always around what are you trying to achieve with your bigger picture? And then it is vital to look at what’s going on and adjust and adapt accordingly.

COVID has become a catalyst for conversation when it comes to culture and inclusion.  We have seen for the first time with the real rise of true hybrid working and the real rise of flexibility and the vulnerability that has come with it, where people are on video, more than happy to have the kids come in, have pets on their desk. If they need to dial off to go and do the school run, people are much more comfortable now than before the pandemic began.

The heart of inclusion is three things:

Are you creating a psychologically safe environment? You will never really get inclusion embedded if people don’t feel safe; safe to challenge, safe to speak up, safe to be authentic and be themselves, safe to have an opinion. So many of us are fortunate to be in environments where we are able to do that but not everybody feels like that.  We have a responsibility to listen. We have a responsibility to make our organisations safe, but you can also help people develop and grow in their ability to speak to that truth. So how do you give everybody the skills to be able to speak up?

The second is creating a sense where people can do their best work. So how do you create an environment which enables people to be the best version of themselves? Whatever that might be, whatever they are doing. But making sure they are the best version of themselves.

And then the third part is about business results and performance.  We know that truly diverse organisations have increased shareholder return – research has shown us this. They have increased innovation and they have higher levels of retention. We know that individuals are ten times more likely to leave an organisation based on a toxic culture than they are on pay and reward. We give so much energy to a pay and reward environment, when actually the culture of an organisation is a game changer.

Other themes coming from the discussion

Hybrid working or entirely homeworking has formed some barriers as not everybody has had the facilities or the opportunity to work at home. For example, some individuals have said “I’m in a household of eight people”, “I share a bedroom and I’ve got three other family members who are now all working at home whilst I can join a call, I can’t have my video on and I can’t have sound on.’’ Whilst hybrid or entirely homeworking may be great for some, it needs very careful thinking through to ensure it works in practice and doesn’t exclude people.

Power and decision making: whether as an organisation, you are actually mirroring what you are trying to espouse externally, and being consistent. This is particularly important for organisations operating internationally as to who are the power players and where are decisions being taken? Are they close as they can be and dispersed as they can be?  You might have an organisation where 85% of the operation is in Africa, India and APAC, and yet the head office is in Europe. So that mirror piece is really interesting.

Having the time: Many organisations are losing out on having younger people in trustee roles because, as an example, they just don’t have the time to take on additional responsibilities; the same no doubt applies in other areas such as volunteering. How do we recognise that and ensure that everybody has the time to participate. The same often applies to those from less privileged backgrounds as well. So recognising that time means different things to different people and finding ways to make it work is very important.

Don’t be a bystander. The best question is around what are you prepared to ignore as trustees; that is a very powerful question because often things can be brushed off by saying/thinking ‘Oh, he was only joking’, ‘Oh, she didn’t mean it’. It is important that we ask ourselves that question, what are we prepared to ignore.

Leadership in the sector:  The diversity of those in leadership roles is limited. How do we change that? We have conversations about inclusive titles for example, chairman is no longer an inclusive word, and words matter.

Intersectionality: The last two years has been hard for everyone but it has been even harder for people who are already feeling excluded and not belonging.  Some organisations have been doing some brilliant work around intersectionality taking into account that an individual is never one thing, we have many attributes eg our culture, our religion, our sexuality, our view of the world, our perspective, all our experiences and values. Values, for example, as a human are formed by the age of seven; of course they change and they adapt but our core values built very early on as a human being.

Biases: We have over 200 types of bias. The way we see the world, affinity bias, and benevolence bias, are the two most prevalent in the workplace. We hire, we promote, we recruit people that are like ourselves. Benevolence bias is the bias around assumptions about what is best for you and it often negatively impacts minorities. So some people say, oh, she’s got engaged. She’s clearly going to have a baby soon. So let’s not look for that work opportunity in Hong Kong or I know he’s struggling, let’s not ask him to do that stretch assignment. So benevolence bias can be a really difficult one to manage.

Data: What are the best way of engaging with organisations and gathering data around EDI? Questions should be asked around why are we gathering the data? Are you gathering it because you are reporting it? Are you gathering it for a wider purpose? But ultimately, why are you gathering data?

The second part is that we need to take a multi-channel approach to hearing views around an organisation. What are we measuring? So why are we measuring it? What has become very common is around this notion of pulse but people need a multi-channel approach otherwise engagement levels will be low.  Anything you can do that allows quick ways of measuring pulse is really important.

Finally what are we doing with the data when we have it? So there is something around what do you do when you’ve gathered the data? People get very disengaged, if you don’t act on the voice.

So why are we doing it? What are we measuring? And then what are we going to do on the back of hearing people’s feedback? The reality is you don’t need to do a survey to work out if you have got a problem. You walk around the floor.  People will very quickly get tired of saying, this is the issue. This is what we need to do, if action isn’t taken. Sometimes organisations need to start small, take action, build a bit of momentum and then move on to the next thing.

Empowerment: Many organisations will find that there are people with a passion who really want to move things forward and live life differently. So instead of worrying about how we persuade the people who don’t, unlock the energies of the people who do. Empower people, give them a specific voice, help them channel their energies so that we bring change from within. Everything seems to be top down, but there’s so much energy that can be brought through an organisation bottom up by the unlocking the passions of those who have passion to move things forward. Nothing is perfect in business or life. We’ve got to take risks. We’re going to make mistakes. When we make mistakes, we need to learn and then we need to take more risks. But also we need to feel how we can create the best environment to execute on change. And we can wait for the data; we can talk about getting our culture right. But cultures are evolutionary and quite often the power for that change can come from within.

Experiment with new things: We need to create an experimental environment. So what many are doing now is something called swap rather than mentoring. It takes away status and it takes away hierarchy; it’s all about seeing with another perspective. So actually somebody on the board could have a conversation with an apprentice. There’s no power, there’s no hierarchy. I’m seeing your view of the world. I’m experiencing how you’re experiencing the organisation. And that globally is a game changer because it takes away the power structure that sometimes comes with mentoring. We need to not be afraid to experiment and there is an element of not using ‘getting it wrong’ as an excuse for consistent poor behaviour.

Create forums to enable change: Sometimes creating a space where specific communities can come together so they can share and learn which will help them understand that actually they are not the only one who is feeling in a certain way. To create that safety and community can be game-changing. What we cannot then do though, is create minorities within minorities eg gender and pay isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. So there is something around how do we make sure we celebrate, we build, we give it a platform to community whilst not making even more boundaries and more minority groups within the groups, in terms of how we operate.

Key headlines to takeaway:

  • Inclusion is for 365 days of the year, not just one day.
  • Are you creating a psychologically safe environment?
  • Are you creating an environment which enables people to be the best version of themselves?
  • Truly diverse organisations do actually have a better set of results at the end of the day.
  • Do people really realise the impact of their language?
  • What are you prepared to ignore? Something that might be banter to one person, may not be to the other person on the receiving end.
  • Core values are built by the time we’re seven so what are we doing to influence the younger generation.
  • Don’t be afraid to say the wrong word and, if in doubt, ask the question!
  • History shows that we teach our boys to be brave and we teach our girls to be perfect. So be careful what you wish for, careful what you teach.


Our next Charity Trustees’ roundtable will be taking place at 9am on Wednesday 20 July 2022 where we will be joined by Will Lifford, Board Member at the Charity Commission discussing the View of the Regulator. Contact Louise Hughes: lhughes@hwfisher.co.uk to reserve your place.

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