Social investors back campaign to tackle social sector’s “grim” diversity record

Social investment leaders have welcomed a move to tackle what campaigners have branded “institutional racism” in the UK’s charity sector.

The #CharitySoWhite campaign appeared on social media last month, aiming to raise awareness of racism and encourage those affected to speak out. In its first 24 hours, it generated more than 3,000 tweets with interactions from nearly 2,000 individuals, according to a campaign spokesperson, who pointed out that others may have refrained from posting for fear of jeopardising their career. 

Danyal Sattar, CEO at Big Issue Invest, the investment arm of the Big Issue Group, said the wave of reactions was “not a particular surprise,” and that both men and women from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds have told him they have given up applying for senior jobs in the charity sector. He also highlighted a wider context in Britain of increased hostility towards migrants and racist abuse that he said is reminiscent of the 1980s.

The campaign was triggered when training material from Citizens Advice Bureau, listing “common traits” supposedly found among BAME communities such as low levels of literacy, was shared on Twitter. The charity has since apologised and published the results of its investigation.

Among those who weighed in on the #CharitySoWhite thread in August was Stephen Bediako, founder of The Social Innovation Partnership and co-lead at the Diversity Forum, an initiative to drive inclusive social investment. He wrote on Twitter: “Important this is happening. I just think the question for me is how do we change it. Anyone who thought that the charity sector was without racism – well here it is! I just think we need [...] seismic change”.

Bonnie Chiu, managing director of The Social Investment Consultancy and also co-lead at the Diversity Forum, told Pioneers Post the campaign was “much needed” given the “grim statistics” on racial diversity in the charity sector. 

“As a woman of colour, we are the least represented group in senior management positions,” Chiu said. “So it is great to see more awareness, more voices coming from ethnic minorities working in the sector and most importantly, more solidarity for those who are suffering from this issue.”

A Diversity Forum report published in January found that BAME women were least likely to be a board director at social investment organisations, accounting for just 2.8% of directors identified. BAME employees in the social investment sector with managerial responsibilities had fallen: down from 21% in 2017, to under 19% this year. This is despite the creation in 2017 of a network of ‘diversity champions’, in which 30 social investment organisations are represented.

“People are generally well-intentioned, progressive [in this sector]… nobody would say that they’re racist or sexist, yet a particular pattern exists,” said Sattar. “There must be a reason for that. You don’t flip a coin and end up with 2:1 ratio [of men to women] by chance.” Progress on diversity so far, he said, has been “vertical” rather than horizontal – meaning “if you stop pushing you fall back down.” 

Creating a community

While many individuals reacted online to the #CharitySoWhite thread, Chiu said she had not seen organisations engaging with it, and added: “charities and funders need to recognise that there is a structural issue with racial inequality in the sector.” 

Sattar suggested some bosses may have held back for fear of “getting it wrong” or because they’re “conscious of their own failings” – but said that viewpoint was “another trap” that leaders needed to “get over and do something about”. 

The #CharitySoWhite campaigners plan to push for “systemic change” to “root out racism”, according to a blog post shared last month. In the short term, the group will focus on enabling people to share their experiences of racism in the sector and ensuring these are recorded, and on defining clear goals for the campaign. The fields of social enterprise and social investment will be considered as part of this – campaigners expect to engage with the Diversity Forum among others.

Meanwhile, the online campaign has prompted a “surge” of interest in a separate community for people of colour working in the social sector, which was set up by Fatima Iftikhar (who also posted the initial Tweet about Citizens Advice Bureau), who has been working in the charity sector for four years. The group organised its first face-to-face meeting earlier this year in London, which was significantly oversubscribed. More than 200 have joined the community’s Facebook group, half of them in the last month. 

“You are often the only person of colour working in your organisation and this can be an extremely isolating and difficult experience, especially given the institutional racism in these organisations and across the sector,” said the spokesperson.

Header image by SplitShire from Pixabay.