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Trustee diversity

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Ensuring diversity on the board is a prevalent challenge for charities. Read on to learn why you should maintain and increase diversity and how to go about it.

Introduction

Achieving diversity is a perpetual challenge for charities. In theory, every organisation needs to seek to increase or at least maintain the diversity of its board when recruiting trustees. Parts of the population not traditionally represented on charity boards include young people, people with disabilities and members of minority or ethnic communities.

Charity boards tend not to reflect the population at large nor the communities they serve. According to the Taken on Trust research by the Charity Commission, seven out of ten trustees are men and the median age is 61 years. The Charity Commission estimates that only 0.5% of the trustee population is made up of 18-24-year-olds. 

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that 81% of charities recruit for trustees by word of mouth or personal recommendation, according to The Charity Commission.

Why increase diversity?

  • Many charities risk a disconnect between board members and beneficiaries of their services. A more diverse range of trustees helps to ensure a charity is fair and open in all its dealings, for example in giving grants or delivering services.
  • A diverse board can increase public confidence and accountability.
  • Different types of trustees and a healthy changeover can help keep the board fresh, keep new ideas coming and prevent leadership from becoming stale.
  • A diverse board contains a broader mix of skills, knowledge and experience which should give it greater flexibility to overcome challenges.

Many charities have a public sector legal duty to promote equality, as per the Equality Act 2010, if they are delivering public services on behalf of the government.

How can you increase diversity?

Set limits for trustee teams

This is essential to ensure the length of service is straightforward and that trustees don’t become entrenched or burnt out. In addition, setting in place standard procedures for trustee recruitment and induction can ensure that your organisation is consistently striving to increase diversity.

Use alternative methods of recruitment

Avoid word of mouth wherever possible, you want to try and reach into communities not currently represented on the board. Investigate using trustee brokerage services or specialist recruitment consultancies such as Trustees Unlimited, TPP Not for Profit or Reach Volunteering.

Enlist people with life experience related to your charitable cause

It's important your board reflects the communities you work with. By having trustees with real experiences, your decision making will be more informed and supportive of service users.

For some charities, this may involve looking at your board's gender split, age groups and ethnicity. Whereas, for other organisations, it could involve recruiting trustees from specific population groups. For example, The Advocacy Project recruits trustees who have direct experience of the issues they work on — learning disabilities, mental health conditions and dementia.

Advertise trustee vacancies using specialist job boards

Look for some targeted at local communities or minority populations. Explore advertising on LinkedIn groups focussed on the type of person you’d like to attract.

Recruit people with a range of skills

The diversity of trustee skills is also essential for good governance. For example, The Advocacy Project carry out skills audits of all trustees to analyse the board's existing strengths and gaps in skills and experience. This enables us to identify and address imbalances.

It's important not to rely solely on skills audits though, as this can lead to an over-focus on professional disciplines that overlooks first-hand experience. You need a combination of lived experiences and professional skills to ensure that:

  • service users can influence decisions
  • the board has the skills it needs to drive forward your organisation's strategy.

Organise board meetings that are accessible and convenient for all

You could hold them in the evening or at different times so that trustees who cannot attend one particular meeting are not excluded.

You should have a set policy in place for expenses such as travel and childcare. It may even be possible to provide childcare services for trustees.

Make sure the venue in which you hold your board meetings is in a location which can be easily reached by all and is accessible for people with disabilities.

It is a good idea to have arrangements in place should you need to provide translators or sign language interpreters, or provide audio, braille or large print versions of documents.

Monitor diversity

It's important to regularly review diversity on your board to ensure you have the right proportions of trustees with technical skills, professional experience and those who are experts by experience. As well as skills and experience, many charities also review for protected characteristics such as age, gender and ethnicity.

Establish positive working relationships

Creating a diverse board requires commitment. Ultimately, you want to create an environment where divergent views are welcomed and individuals feel confident sharing their ideas. To achieve this, trust and mutual respect are essential — both between board members and between the trustees and the executive team. Remember, it takes time to build this and there is no shortcut.

Encourage inclusive and accessible decision making

Once you've recruited a diverse board, the hard work doesn't stop there. It's important that you break down barriers to trusteeship by ensuring all board members can participate and contribute to decision making. You need to provide accessible information and adopt inclusive practices. For example, before board meetings, The Advocacy Project holds preparation meetings to ensure trustees understand the items for discussion. They also provide them with financial summaries of management accounts, which present key information in a visual and accessible way.

Inclusive chairing

Chairs of trustees play a crucial role in creating inclusive boards, making sure everyone has the time and space in meetings to raise their views. Other examples are one-to-one discussions with trustees in between formal meetings, these ensure everyone feels able to make a full contribution and effectively utilise their skills and experience.

Finally...

Remember that first and foremost a trustee must have the skills, knowledge and experience required to fulfil their role.

Trustees are there to provide governance and guidance to a charity on the behalf of its beneficiaries. They need to be motivated by the charity’s ultimate aims and it is of no benefit to either party to appoint someone purely to make up a diversity ‘quota’.

Further information

Questions to guide a board discussion on diversity

Knowledge of the Equality Act 2010

Charity Governance Code - Principle 6 Diversity

Chief Executives on Governance (PDF) - ACEVO document

A breath of fresh air: young people as charity trustees (Charity Commission)

Trustee Recruitment (Charity Commission) 

Page last edited Feb 25, 2019

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