Reshaping your D&I strategy

D&I strategy

Louise Beales, Head of our Charities Practice, discusses the renewed focus on diversity and inclusion in the charity sector and offers suggestions for how organisations can drive the agenda

Diversity and inclusion in the charity sector has been brought to the fore over the last year. From the Twitter storm of the #CharitySoWhite hashtag last year to the gravity of the Home Truths report released in June, and now adding to this is the explosive impact of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the charity sector is at an inflection point in addressing its deeply ingrained diversity, equality and inclusion challenges, with a strong focus on the BAME community. Where the agenda may have been a key priority for many organisations, it has become an urgent concern – one requiring immediate, long-lasting action.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted charities, testing their resilience by stretching their resources further than ever before. Although a greatly challenging time for the sector, it has also opened opportunity for reinvigoration. Charities are now in the process of making meaningful change, with time spent not only addressing the immediate aftermath of the crisis but also considering how they want to improve internal structures and people management, with D&I at the core of these changes.

Here are four suggestions to help begin the process of reshaping your D&I strategy:

Internal Engagement

In recent conversations with leaders in the sector, we discussed the importance of garnering a true understanding of the situation at hand. Critically, there was a consensus on how engagement surveys, although a commonly used tool, should only be used for an initial surface-level measurement as they can conceal an undercurrent of dissatisfaction from those who feel their voice may not be heard. Instead, a more proactive approach is now being adopted to identify key areas for improvement and for putting steps in place to bring about real change.

To enable a deeper evaluation of the internal dynamics of the organisation the creation of representative groups led by colleague champions can truly open up the dialogue. These groups provide a space for individuals to feel safe and secure in expressing their honest views on the matter. But it is not enough to just create a forum, it also needs to be fully endorsed by all levels of staff, evidenced by ensuring the conversations are listened to and suggested actions prioritised.

Work to improve internal engagement in D&I is fundamentally about a culture change. A highly effective means to bring about a cultural transformation is through the provision of robust continuous awareness training for everyone in the organisation. Sessions delivered need to be highly educational as well as confidential in order to safeguard all involved. The content should be aligned to company policy which ensures all forms of workplace discrimination are recognised with appropriate measures in place if it is not adhered to.  

External Perception

As organisations serving the needs of its communities, charities should be transparent in their action on diversity and inclusion. All external communications, whether a website or direct to service-user marketing materials, should showcase diversity and the charity’s commitment to it, perhaps through reporting on progress towards diversity targets in their annual report and actively sharing this information with the community.

Charities should turn to their service users for input and involvement in the development of strategies, including the D&I agenda. In the State of the Sector report published this year, it was revealed that the number of charities engaging with their beneficiaries has grown insignificantly in three years and its ranking of importance for achieving a charity’s mission was alarmingly low. This is surprising considering the positive impact that feedback and engagement with users can have on a charity’s delivery and its ability to meet key objectives in areas such as D&I.


The recruitment process can be a major barrier to entry. From the initial role description through to post-recruitment and on-boarding stages, HR leaders and people managers should ensure there is non-discriminatory open access for all prospective candidates. This is especially important given the recent statistics published showing four in five charities (78%) say they believe their employee-base is not fully representative of the population they serve, with the numbers increasing to nine in ten (88%) for major charities.

A significant hurdle is the extent to which charities value qualifications, skills and relevant experience, evidenced by the latest figures by the NCVO. By upholding these minimum requirements, organisations can be exclusionary to those with less opportunity to gain such prerequisites, such as a degree, and therefore will be overlooked for roles.

To overcome these barriers a more proactive approach to nurturing future talent for the sector might be considered. Currently, only a minority of charities offer apprenticeships and just 28% of voluntary organisations recruit entry-level applicants into their first jobs after education. Through early engagement with the potential workforce, offering mentorship programmes, work experience, shadowing opportunities and insight days, charities can not only spark their interests but can bolster young peoples’ CVs and give them insight into working in the sector.

Board Diversity

Board diversity is an area looking for great improvement – only between 5-8% of executive and non-executive leaders in the charity sector are from BAME backgrounds, for example. “Does the Board fully represent our targeted internal diversity, our charitable objectives or the people and communities we serve?”, should be an ongoing consideration with greater action taken to address differences. To diversify the Board, Trustees need to take responsibility to innovate, think and recruit differently in order to attract and appoint new talent from under-represented groups. Rather than wait for current Trustees to complete their term before recruiting from diverse groups, appoint additional Trustees and increase Board size and diversity at the same time.

Charities should not underestimate the role culture plays in supporting D&I. A visibly diverse workforce supported by an inclusive workplace, means that every member of staff feels welcomed and valued. In discussions with sector leaders, we spoke of how there needs to be more of a “call out culture” which supports staff in being able to highlight any under-representation to the leadership team. Rather than it being a taboo subject, charities need to open the conversation with their staff.

The conversation around diversity and inclusion has presented a powerful opportunity for real, profound and bold change for the charity sector. By capitalising on the new platform created by the recent events, Covid-19 and the BLM movement, and taking a people-centred approach on strategy, charities will now be creating their new world, not looking back to how things were.

For more information please contact Louise Beales.


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