Give me an E, give me a D, give me an I
Lizzie Ellis, Policy and Information Office at the Institute of Fundraising, says that an update to the diversity principle being consulted on as part of the proposed Charity Governance Code refresh would better help charities to have the right conversations at an individual level about equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).
A colleague recently asked me what DEI was. When I said it was the same as EDI, it occurred to me that using an acronym to define an acronym isn’t wildly helpful. But secondly, I thought that maybe the way we talk about these things can mean we lose sight of what exactly each of these letters represents.
The Steering Group behind the Charity Governance Code have been consulting on a ‘light refresh’ of the Code, specifically exploring an update to Principle 6: diversity. The consultation asked whether the diversity principle should be expanded to make sure that inclusion and equality get a mention too, and whether any other recommended practice should go alongside this change.
This was an easy ‘yes’ from us. Equality, diversity and inclusion have been a key priority for the Institute of Fundraising since we launched the Change Collective campaign, bringing together professionals from across the fundraising sector to redefine its identity. But even so, thinking through IoF’s response actually ended up being an opportunity to reaffirm why we talk about all three letters of E, D, and I – and what they actually mean in practice.
‘Organisations cannot achieve excellence without diversity’
The Charity Governance Code lays out best practice for good governance and effective leadership. The first iteration from the Steering Group came out in 2017, and embedded diversity in the key principles.
This is significant in itself – the Code has been developed by the sector, for the sector, as “a tool for continuous improvement towards the highest standards”. Making diversity one of seven principles, recognising its importance in high standards, sends a clear message that organisations cannot achieve excellence without it. With this in mind, it’s clearly important that this principle and its recommendations reflect best practice and understanding as best as it can.
‘Having diverse voices doesn’t guarantee that they’re listened to’
At the IoF, our vision is of an equal, diverse and inclusive profession, where everyone is the right fit. But why do we emphasise all these aspects?
To concentrate purely on diversity is to essentially look only at numbers – how representative of different communities, experiences, and ways of thinking your board is. But recruiting diverse individuals doesn’t mean that they are equally able to contribute and flourish without prejudice or barriers. While the Code highlights that diverse boards “are more likely to encourage debate and to make better decisions”, having diverse voices alone doesn’t guarantee that they’re listened to.
The numbers’ game has a very real danger of being tokenistic, but broadening the diversity principle out to include equality and inclusion can better challenge actions, culture, and behaviours: does the culture of our board actually value diversity and difference or merely tolerate it? Do we actively pursue an environment where all voices are heard equally? How is power and decision-making distributed within the board?
‘Being passive about culture allows the status quo to persist’
I recently heard a representative from #CharitySoWhite speak to the IoF’s EDI panel, and one particular comment stuck with me. Apologies to the person in question if I butcher the delivery, but it was along the lines of: “without inclusion you are simply bringing BAME people into racist organisations”. Being passive about the culture of your organisation allows the status quo to persist – the same attitudes and biases that disadvantage diverse communities. This can have real human consequences for the wellbeing of board members exposed to it, but also implications for how well boards function and how long trustees want to stay in their role. The benefits of diversity laid out in the Code will elude those who overlook equality and inclusion.
Ultimately, expanding the scope of the diversity principle within the Charity Governance Code will better help charities to have the right conversations at an individual level about EDI. But, it will also help to advance change across the sector as a whole – the collective impact of every charity board taking all three letters of this acronym seriously cannot be understated.
Lizzie Ellis is Policy and Information Officer at the Institute of Fundraising