We need to talk about diversity
A few years ago, my eldest son asked “Daddy, why is your skin and grandma’s skin and Jajja’s – the traditional word for grandparent in Uganda – skin brown, mommy’s skin is pink and mine and my sister’s skin is different?” He had realised, despite the love of our big connected family and our efforts to celebrate our children’s dual heritage and cultural background - Irish and British via Ugandan roots – that we were different.
This gave us the opportunity to discuss diversity, and it’s time for us to have those same conversations at a professional level. It’s not just about doing what’s right or what’s fair, because diversity is more than that; it enables us all to look at life with a broader lens. By surrounding ourselves with people from different backgrounds and lifestyles, and sharing in their experiences, we are able to gain a broader, deeper understanding of the world. Think for a moment. How many times have you discussed your strong feelings on a matter with someone who has an opposing view and come away thinking about it differently?
The fundraising profession has a long way to go before it reflects the diversity of the community, beneficiaries and donors that it represents. We need to embrace the full spectrum of race, gender, sexuality, nationality, faith, disability and age, amongst others.
The Institute of Fundraising has set diversity as one of its own strategic goals and launched a diversity panel to get the ball rolling, recognising that it is not only ethically the right thing to do but that there is a strong business case for doing so. This sends a strong message across the sector that we all need to be taking this issue more seriously. To do that, we need to get the conversation started and that means addressing a few common misconceptions, which include:
“We are so much better at diversity than we used to be”
Many believe that society has moved on; that we are so much more diverse than we used to be. But, it doesn’t necessarily follow that our culture or attitude towards the minorities in our society has become better or that barriers no longer exist when it comes to their recruitment, progression, education and more.
Recent growth in right wing policies across Europe, Brexit and clamping down on immigration reinforces the stigmatisation of ‘being different’; it makes individuals – some who have lived in the UK for decades and longer – fear whether they are still welcome to live and work in this country. At times, the nation can feel more divided than ever and without better acceptance and integration the situation will not resolve itself. Every employer needs to make a concerted effort to attract a more diverse workforce.
“It’s going to cause problems”
Bringing different people to the table will inevitably mean different views, and that’s something that the sector should be welcoming with open arms. Yes, doing things differently and actively seeking a broad range of people may mean differences of opinions and viewpoints, but in a healthy, open, respectful workplace culture this will be beneficial for our teams, departments and organisations.
Fundraising organisations do not typically shy away from difficult conversations or challenges in other respects. Diversity should be no different. As a sector, we cannot let ourselves fall behind or simply welcome minorities that reflect the characteristics of the cause; we have to step out of our comfort zone and make change happen.
“It’s all in hand – we’ve appointed a diversity manager”
Diversity isn’t the sole responsibility of the inclusion representative or diversity manager – if your organisation indeed has such a role. It needs to be brought in from the sidelines and embedded in the organisation’s culture, business plan and strategy, creating workplace environments that recognise, celebrate and harness difference. This makes it a matter for the Board; the key group to influence and drive change. It also means looking at the very make-up of the Board itself.
So if we’re to ensure fundraising becomes more representative of the communities we serve, we cannot just look at any one minority group, but have to foster an inclusive culture and implement recruitment processes that reflect this approach.
Diversity is a large and by no means straight-forward challenge for any industry to meet. But let’s ensure that fundraising steps up to the plate and is a driving force for change, embedding a more diverse workforce and celebrating the impact of doing so.
The question that my son asked me, told me that he saw and recognised difference. I used that conversation as an opportunity to provide context and broaden his understanding, to explore the visible differences, show him that they didn’t matter and encouraged him to focus on and celebrate what united and bound us together. Change in the sector won’t happen overnight, but the IoF’s actions signify that it’s time for us all to look for the opportunity to understand and celebrate diversity.
David Mbaziira in a member of the IoF Expert Advisory Panel on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and Head of External Communications at Home Fundraising