Hardwiring equity diversity and inclusion into our governance at NCVO

Interim chair of trustees, Anne Heal, reflects on NCVO’s work on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), what we have learnt as an organisation so far and the changes we are making to ensure the organisation is a place where everyone feels welcomed and empowered.

This is part of a series of blogs on our equity, diversity and inclusion work:  

Since January, NCVO has been undertaking in-depth work on equity, diversity and inclusion. You can read more about this in part one of our EDI journey and part 2 of our EDI journey. As we conclude the first phase of this work, I would like to thank staff members across NCVO who have committed a huge amount of time and emotional energy to helping us to grow our understanding of the issues.  This work has challenged us to focus on the essential culture change we want to create at NCVO. 

The first phase of this work was led by a cross-organisational working group with the support of an external consultant, Pari Dhillon. It focussed on developing a deep understanding of the current culture at NCVO.  This was done through creating safe spaces to hear the experiences of everyone who works here.

This part of the work is now complete, and the findings provide us with a detailed insight into NCVO’s culture and behavioursand, in the interests of pushing us to be the best we can, a focus on things that have been wrong or are wrong. 

The findings from phase one

At its heart, this is about power and privilege. Campaigns such as #CharitySoWhite and the recent ACEVO/Voice4Change report on racism in charities have starkly shown that the charity sector, like other sectors, continues to be systemically racist.  Sadly, the same is also true for sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and disablism.  Our EDI work has confirmed this is the case at NCVO and it is important to acknowledge that head on.  

The findings include some reflections on us as an organisation that have been painfully difficult to hear – and even more importantly – especially painful for those concerned to describe. The work has revealed deep-rooted cultural traits, negative behaviours and practices that are limiting the ability of NCVO to be inclusive, socially just and relevant. 

We heard about incidents of inequity and injustice that have had a real-life impact on people at NCVOas well as inequitable power dynamics and a lack of shared knowledge on EDI.  Our internal and external research also found that NCVO sometimes ends up ‘doing to’ or ‘doing for’ the organisations and people we seek to support, rather than amplifying their voices.      

NCVO’s commitment to change 

As trustees, we are working alongside our senior leadership team to take action to improve NCVO’s approach to equity, diversity and inclusion across the organisation. What we heard about NCVO is not what we want the NCVO of the future to be. Because NCVO should be nothing less than exemplary. Our people should feel proud to work here and a lack of inclusion should never be an issue.  

As trusteeswe feel the strongest possible moral obligation to improve equity, diversity and inclusion. We also want to know that the charity is accountable to the communities we serve. We cannot, as part of a sector dedicated to social change, hold a light up to other parts of society if we haven’t demonstrated the courage to face the shortcomings of our own work and culture. 

For NCVO to play a leadership role in the sector, we must continue to drive change internally to our culture and behaviours. This is a hard thing to tackle. But it is the right thing to do. Doing the right thing is often not easy, and it may take time. But doing the right thing is what we must do now and we as the trustees are determined that this will happen.  

We’re taking a number of steps to help us achieve that: 

  • We now have a board subcommittee dedicated to equity, diversity and inclusion. This sounds bureaucratic, but it is critical that EDI is embedded into our governance structure if we are to hold the organisation to account for this work. It is a full and permanent subcommittee of the board, not simply a working group. As well as ultimately being chaired by an independent chair, the subcommittee is drawing on external experts.  This is in order to help us create the necessary safe spaces to further understand and respond to some of the weaknesses we understand we have as an organisation, and to guide our future work supporting the whole sector in this area. We will shortly launch an open recruitment process for this independent chair.  
  • In parallel we’ve committed further substantial funding to support the changes we want to bring about. We’re looking to work through practical ways to ensure we are doing all we can now, and we know some of those actions will likely involve expenditure, so we have ring-fenced funding for that.  
  • We have made a commitment to ensuring that all staff will be supported to engage with equity, diversity and inclusion. This includes coaching for senior staff and training for all staff members. Contributing to this work has been time-consuming for some staff, and of course for some it has required significant emotional labour. In future we want to make sure staff time is carved out and protected for working on achieving our EDI goals, because we won’t be able to get there if we don’t give staff the time needed. 
  • Through our new strategy work, we are collectively imagining a different future for the organisation and setting out a road map for how we get there. Equity, diversity and inclusion are absolutely central to NCVO’s future. 

These have been our immediate actions but given the nature of this work, we want to involve all staff in developing a comprehensive plan for addressing the findings of this work. As Karl Wilding, our chief executive writes in his blog, this is only the beginning of our journeyThe EDI working group’s findings and recommendations are being used to develop a comprehensive EDI action plan. We will share our progress on delivery of this plan in future blogs.  

I’m determined – as we all are at NCVO – that we should become an organisation that always works to challenge and dismantle unfair structures of power and privilege, internally and in the world around us. It’s an honour to work with so many talented and committed people across the organisation who are determined to make that change happen.  

Today we are sharing a range of reflections on this work. I hope you take the time to read their reflections here and I would like to thank them again for what they have done and their personal courage in so doing and helping us build the best organisation possible. 

We are all committed to NCVO becoming a truly inclusive organisation, where challenge and accountability are embedded throughout all of our working structures, processes and, most importantly, relationships. 

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Anne Heal Anne Heal became interim chair of trustees at NCVO in November 2019. Anne chairs a charity, Volunteering Matters (formerly CSV); she is a trustee of the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and BalletBoyz. She chairs the Governance and Nominations Committee of Diabetes UK, is a trustee/director of the London Design & Engineering UTC and a Brownie leader.

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