The VCSE sector needs to tackle racism – Here’s how it can be done

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18 February, 2020


Nobody can deny that racism is an issue in the UK’s Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector.

Whilst we live in a more progressive and self-aware society than ever before, the sector is not immune to conscious and unconscious bias, white privilege, racist organisational structures, and a lack of diversity amongst staff and trustees. The social media campaign #CharitySoWhite, and a range of major reports last year, drew attention to the growing need for sector racism not to be brushed under the carpet.

Bristol’s VCSE sector needs to address this; racism should be examined by every local organisation on a regular basis, but we can also help each other push for diversity, inclusion and equality across the city, be allies, and learn from each other’s successes.  

Sector insight into racism

Speakers at last week’s Civil Society event, Race to the Top: Dismantling Racism in the Charity Sector, shared their insight on the lack of racial equality, with a range of suggestions to drive change.

The discussion, chaired by Derek A Bardowell, included points on senior leadership, philanthropy, white privilege, how to be an ally, and priorities for funders.  

  • Asid Afridi, Deputy Chief Executive of equality and human rights charity brap, said the VCSE sector “lacks ambition” to deal with racism. He called for more measurement of racism in the sector, and an end to the “laziness” at confronting the issue and making change.
  • Fatima Iftikhar, creator of #CharitySoWhite and the #POCIMPACT community group, said: “"We need to get more comfortable and honest in embracing the complexity of racism in the voluntary sector."
  • James Fitzpatrick, Director of the Joseph Levy Foundation, spoke of the “glacial change of pace” in sector diversity, and that “diversity is about social justice, not just a business case”.
  • Derek A Bardowell, author of No Win Race, said: “You are not doing your job properly if you are not prioritising equality, diversity and inclusion.”

To see more highlights from the event, click here for a useful Twitter thread by Martha Awojobi, Corporate Partnerships Senior Executive of Refuge, and co-organiser of #CharitySoWhite.

Racial diversity and inclusion in Bristol’s VCSE sector

So, what can we do to achieve racial equality here in Bristol? Voscur teamed up with the University of Bristol, Student Hubs and Burgess Salmon, as part of the Student Hubs Social Innovation Programme, to conduct a pilot study on race inequalities in Bristol’s VCSE sector.

The study was prompted by the current imbalance between equalities-based data collection in the VCSE sector, versus the public and private sector. Each year, Bristol City Council produces a data product that gives a picture of race equality in the city from the perspective of public and private sector organisations. Voscur Chief Executive Sandra Meadows proposed the need to include VCSE data to help produce a more accurate picture for the city. 

Voscur and the researchers also gave respondents the opportunity to ask for support with race equality in their organisation, such as requests for training courses or resources; 78% of respondents asked for support in this area.

Of the organisations surveyed:

  • 38% were small organisations (1-10 employees), 38% were medium (11-50 employees) and 24% were large (50+ employees).
  • 46% of the organisations were equalities-led, which meant that at least 50% of their board is from a specific equalities group, such as BAME, LGBTQ+, or over-65s.
  • 46% of organisations had 18 or more white members of staff (categorized as White British or White Minority), whereas the maximum number of BAME staff was 15. 
  • 80% of employees were white.
  • Only 15% of those surveyed said their senior managers had prioritised BAME representation and equality.

They were also asked consider any work their organisation currently does to promote racial equality. We were pleased to see a range of initiatives, including advertising in publications for BAME readers, using racially diverse imagery in promotions and social media, targeting BAME communities for volunteering, and equalities training for board members.

We look forward to launching a full study across the entire city’s VCSE sector in due course. 

How Voscur can help your organisation tackle racism

  • Bespoke training is available for boards and staff teams on diversity and inclusion. This involves Voscur delivering training in the comfort of your office (or a suitable location), to cover the business case and ethical case for being a diverse and inclusive organisation, and give practical advice on the steps you can take to create positive change.
  • Training on diversity and inclusion will also be available later in the year as part of our open programme. Open courses are also a good way to network with other local VCSE organisations and learn from each other.
  • Sector Leaders is a network open to anyone from a Bristol VCSE organisation who formally or informally represents and campaigns for communities – this might be in certain areas of Bristol, across the whole city, or for a community of interest or purpose, such as people with mental health needs.
  • Many Voscur members actively work to reduce racism and inequality. They include BSWN, Integrate UK and SARI. Membership of Voscur means you’re part of a network of 500+ organisations working to collaborate, share skills and experience, and coordinate services.