Paul Streets: Diversity must be driven by those people we help

For equality, diversity and inclusion to be meaningful, it should run right through a charity’s approach and outlook.

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As a sector we have rightly turned the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion spotlight on ourselves and been found wanting. Various commentators and organisations – including the Association of Charitable Foundations – have pointed to the lack of diversity on the boards of trusts and foundations; and concerns have been raised about the make-up of panels at sector conferences and, more broadly, about the lack of diversity at senior levels in the sector.

But if we look only at what is visible, we see only the tip of the Iceberg. Although what we ‘see’ matters we must focus on ensuring it affects what we ‘do’.

At Lloyds bank Foundation, we recently defined our own commitment to addressing inequalities and promoting greater diversity and inclusion in work, how we do it and how we communicate. We believe that to do this effectively we need to ensure our approach is grounded in the experiences, concerns and challenges of the charities we support and the people they reach.

As part of our journey, we spoke to Alison Moore, chief executive at Refugee Women Connect (RWC), one of our partner charities. It supports women asylum seekers and refugees to help bring about social justice and equality to some of the most vulnerable in society. Moore shared her thoughts on what EDI means to them.

She told us that creating a women-only safe space to begin the process of getting help is essential to RWC. “A concern for us is the wider dispersal that now takes place, meaning asylum seekers will be moved to areas outside of main cities with no support or specialist service providers, putting them at further disadvantage,” says Moore. In response, the charity has expanded its reach and the support it offers in response.

It also gains the input of its service users, some of whom regularly volunteer and provide suggestions for service development. Last year, RWC employed two previous service users who received their status and recently both staff and service users attended the ‘All Women Count’ lobby in Parliament together.

Moore says they found the experience really empowering. “This isn’t just about us as an organisation working to bring about change, but also to create a movement for women refugees and asylum seekers to be part of the debate, to lead on the discussion and to have the tools and resources to fight for their equality,” Moore adds.

Her reflections demonstrate that for EDI to be meaningful, it should run right through a charity’s approach and outlook. It’s also key to improving services.

The women at RWC need more than a women-only space to feel safe: they need the support of a charity that understands and responds to the cross section of the issues they face. The lesson to us all is that it’s not enough to just have the right people in the right places: we must respond to, and be driven by, the needs of those we exist for.

That’s quite a journey for charitable trusts and foundations that often embody the power and privilege of society’s structural inequalities.  But we’re beginning by looking to many of those we fund as exemplars of what it should mean. We hope they hold us to account when we miss the mark.

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