Potential charity trustees put off by ‘experience and expectation of racism’, says report

Trustee and board diversity
26 August, 2020


A report into the barriers facing potential new trustees found that young people were put off applying to join charity boards by an “experience and expectation of racism” and the perception of board membership as “a club filled with old white men”.

Those with trustee experience described “micro aggressions” from other board members towards people of colour, and a sense that being younger meant their opinions were less important than older trustees.

Ettie Bailey-King, writing for Getting On Board, described how ‘the intersection of race, age and gender can give a double or triple whammy of discrimination for trustees who are “different” to the existing members of the boards they are joining.’

The report, from the charity Getting On Board, was based on findings from two focus groups and a survey. Penny Wilson, chief executive of the charity, described the findings as “deeply shocking and upsetting”.

It’s no secret that trustee diversity is a problem; the Charity Commission’s Taken on Trust report (2017) found that only 8% of trustees in England and Wales are non-white. Of the 700,000 trustees across England and Wales, two thirds are male. The average age of a trustee is 55-64, and that age bracket rises for smaller charities, where the average is 65-74. Also in 2017, the Young Trustees Movement found that one in 12 trustees are called David or John.

Quotes from the focus groups painted a picture of frustration and, at times, intimidation:

  • Worries about “being pigeon-holed as a guardian for my demographic” and “having my experience invalidated due to my age”.
  • “As soon as an Asian or Black person puts out their views, they are openly and subtly ignored.”
  • “If you ask too many questions, you feel like you are being demanding. It also just felt like a tick box exercise [to have been accepted on the board].”
  • “As a younger woman, I found that some of the senior people I have had to work with are a bit disrespectful.”

Furthermore, some participants hadn’t realised that you can apply to be a board member and you do not have to wait to be invited.

Getting On Board listed a range of recommendations to help charities be more inclusive and welcoming when recruiting trustees:

  • Charities should end requirements for new trustees to have prior experience on a board.
  • An end to informal recruitment processes.
  • Use new networks to advertise vacancies, so you reach different audiences.

Voscur would add to this:

  • You can list trustee vacancies for free on the Voscur website, and we’d also recommend posting on social media (using appropriate hashtags such as #Trustee and #Bristol). You could consider contacting local youth websites and organisations, like Rife magazine, or the alumni networks of Bristol’s two universities.
  • Your website is the shop window of your organisation, especially during COVID-19. If the images on your website aren’t diverse, this suggests your organisation has a narrow target market and isn’t interested in appealing to a wider audience, through its board or its services.
  • Voscur can help your board deal with governance issues related to inclusion. Our development team can provide support, and our training and events team can provide bespoke training for the board. We also offer courses on Being a Good Board Member and Being an Even Better Board Member.

2020 has certainly been a year of upheaval and disruption, but it’s clear there is some much-needed upheaval and disruption due to take place on boards if we are to make headway with diversity and inclusion.