by Siobhan Corria
I didn’t think twice when I saw a shout out for contributors to ‘Great Charity Speakers’. When founder, Mandy Johnson suggested I write about inclusion and the charity sector, I jumped at the chance. Firstly, a bit of background as to who I am and why I am involved in championing equality, diversity and inclusive (EDI) practice in the charity sector.
A BIT ABOUT ME
I have been the Head of Inclusion for Action for Children for five years. Before taking up this post, I was a local councillor in Cardiff. Prior to that I did a degree in Criminal Justice and Policing, worked as a Case Manager in Youth Justice and a Social Worker for looked after children before entering politics (during which time I was Scrutiny Chair for Children’s Services and education and Cabinet Member for Children’s Services). My interests lie in social justice, inequality and social inclusion.
I have seen women struggle, I have seen that struggle made worse by working within some of the oppressive structures that exist within society.
It was during my two and a half years in politics that I experienced what it was like not to fit a stereotype, to experience a subtle culture of sexism and to not fit in. When I was appointed as Head of Inclusion for Action for Children, I couldn’t quite believe it. I could combine championing diversity and (indirectly) improving outcomes for children, young people and families by supporting colleagues to fully be themselves.
There are not many posts like mine within the charity sector and I don’t think there are any UK wide inclusion posts that are based outside of London. I am based in Cardiff. Diversity tick box #1.
WHY DOES THE CHARITY SECTOR NEED INCLUSION EXPERTS?
We are the charity sector. Surely our values and principles are sound, and we can sleep tight at night. Well, the sector may think its values and principles are sound, but what about its behaviour?
The sector can sleep tight at night because it doesn’t reflect on its behaviour.
It doesn’t have time to reflect, because it doesn’t factor in reflection as a key activity in ensuring excellent services, successful campaigning and lobbying are inclusive and representative of our diverse communities.
THE SECTOR IS COMPLACENT
Managing a diverse, creative, imaginative and innovative team is more demanding because breaking up the status quo is much more difficult than maintaining it. Sometimes, when individuals in the charity sector get where they want and/or need to be, they deviate from disrupting how things stand. Jobs like mine are the conscience in a comfortable sector.
WHY IS EQUALITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION ESSENTIAL WITHIN THE THIRD SECTOR?
Winning contracts, increasing supporters and recruiting and retaining the most talented staff are requirements across the sector, so why is inclusion so important?
An inclusive and diverse working environment is crucial within service delivery so that staff and volunteers feel inspired and supported to develop new ideas and concepts.
When working operationally, it can feel that the emphasis is on meeting key performance indicators, so imaginative, innovative and radical concepts from a diverse mix of employees must be encouraged.
FIVE REASONS WHY INCLUSION IS IMPORTANT
I believe there are five key points that needs to be considered when thinking about the importance of inclusion and improving outcomes for children and young people:
- The staff and volunteer complement need to reflect the backgrounds of the children, young people and parents who access the service. This will immediately assist in building trust between the service users and the practitioners.
- Practitioners who are supported to be themselves within the workplace will feel more motivated, supported and encouraged to develop creative interventions.
- Ensuring and championing the participation of children, young people and parents will create a relationship of confidence and help to ensure interventions meet the needs of individuals and groups within a service.
- Staff engagement within the sector must be meaningful and based on wanting to develop pioneering ways of working during the continued period of diminishing budgets. The practitioners on the ground not only know the work and how to make it effective and efficient, but they want to be involved in policy development and new ways of working.
- It’s not enough for practitioners who work in service delivery to say they understand equality, diversity and inclusion. Annual objective setting must include specific inclusion objectives, particularly with regards to raising awareness of equality issues within the organisation.
The structural inequality that exists throughout all organisations and society must be regularly highlighted and challenged by those who entered the sector with a passion for improving outcomes.