The elephant in the room

Today is World Elephant Day, so I’m taking the opportunity to talk about the elephant in the room – racism and lack of diversity in our sector.

It’s almost two years since an analysis of the top 50 fundraising charities revealed that 88% of Chief Executives were white, and 70% male. In senior management roles 94% were white, and 56% male. This is a sharp contrast to the society that we all live in and yet not much seems to have changed. So, why all the white guys?

As part of my Clore Social Leadership journey, I am currently working with Defenders of Wildlife in Washington D.C. I’ll be here for six weeks and as I’m learning so much here, I explored with the organisation what I might feasibly do for them in such a short time. What are their priorities? I was delighted to hear the response of “We’d like to be an even more welcoming and inclusive organisation”. Given my passion for leaders making decisions with, and not for the communities that we serve, I’m excited to see what I can do.

In exploring this important issue, I can’t ignore a social and political context to discussing diversity in our world today. Racial tensions in the U.S. are high as a result of disproportionate shootings of African American men killed by the police. Recent shootings of police officers have been called ‘revenge attacks’, and organisations such as Black Lives Matter are accused of race-baiting. Worldwide, we are hearing increased political rhetoric that risks inciting or spreading fear and can contribute to a feeling of different=DANGEROUS. I’m fortunate in Defender’s that the organization understands the power of diversity, and have identified increasing diversity as a priority, so I don’t need to have the conversation here. But we absolutely need to be having the conversation in our sector.

In this context I ask myself, how do we have a conversation about diversity and inclusion that can create the change without making the white, middle-class, heterosexual men feel excluded, or even threatened? (Then there’s a whole internal dialogue that argues “who cares if they’re threatened, they need to get over it, but I’m not sure if that will affect the change we need).

Maybe we could start by making ‘diversity’ more inclusive?

Often our sector can see diversity as an HR issue, or we create tick-boxes to monitor how we’re doing. More progressive thinking recognises that diversity goes beyond race, gender, religion, age etc. It recongnises that I’m diverse in the speed in which I learn, as well my sexual identity. Diversity goes beyond the visible. As a sector, we should lead the way in celebrating all diversity. As a priority this must include recognising individual differences that cause disadvantage, such as the people’s race or religion, and making real and determined efforts to mitigate the impact of those differences in our employment practices.

I know that we need the best minds to solve the big challenges that face our sector today, and the more diverse those minds the better. I know that a diverse workforce can help to redress our unconscious bias, and give us the best chance to connect with and understand the communities that we serve. I strive to create an inclusive environment but I look at the teams that I’ve been responsible for recruiting and I know that we don’t represent Scotland’s vibrancy, and diversity. The question I really need to be asking myself is ‘Why?’, and I invite you to do the same.