There was a section at the end of this response to the recent NCVO appointment that really hit home. “Should white men be stepping aside?”
It is a question that needs further consideration and one that I’ve been thinking about for a while – as someone who benefits from all the privileges society has to offer. Whilst the (white, female) CEO of the Charity Commission responded to this question saying she didn’t think it was necessary, I would like to offer an explanation as to why I think it is an action white men need to consider.
If we are to create a sector that is more diverse and representative of the communities, and causes, we represent, perhaps the best thing we can sometimes do as allies is to do…. nothing.
This is not an easy piece to write. I appreciate not all will agree with me. I write with no specific case in mind. These are thoughts I have had for a while and this is a timely opportunity to contribute to a discussion to get us to make changes we all want to see. I absolutely don’t have all the answers, but I think this should be part of the conversation, uncomfortable as it is.
One of my learnings recently was the difference between equality and equity. Its easy to create a level playing field, in fact the law requires it. But we know that there are many factors that don’t make things “equal” and that more effort is required to ensure we have equity. Essentially, equality doesn’t consider systematic and subconscious biases, or the ability to correct historical wrongs.
Which is why, despite our sector often leading on the front-line of creating a more equal society, it is embarrassing that our workforce remains mostly as having privileged characteristics, more so as you reach senior positions. As a result, the Institute of Fundraising launched the Change Collective to find solutions to the issue and create an excellent manifesto for change which will no doubt make significant improvements in this area over the long-term.
So those of us with the greatest privileges can support, encourage and implement the manifesto for change – be a good ally of these under-represented groups. But perhaps we could, and should, go further.
For their 2019 Convention, the Institute of Fundraising encouraged more speakers from different backgrounds to apply to speak. After a few years of speaking there, I decided the best way I could support this drive was to step aside and expect my place to be taken up by someone from a different background to me.
Maybe I am a better speaker than others who want to speak and this doesn’t give good value to those attending. Perhaps I could have used the platform to speak up on these issues. I’m sure there are many better speakers than me from different backgrounds, but what has helped me be a confident, competent speaker?
I had an excellent education, supported by my parents. It helped me get into a good university. This helped me get my first job in fundraising straight after university. This first job helped me get a head start on a career, landing me a managerial job after a few years. And now I manage a team at a large charity. Throughout school, university and work, I have received presentation skills training and had the opportunity to present to a range of audiences to practice my skills.
Am I better presenter than other people, or have my privileges given me the skills and practice to be accepted as a speaker at convention? I realised that in such circumstances, I could best contribute to the Change Collective by stepping aside and allowing others to take my place.
Which brings us to recruitment.
There is an understandable desire to create an equal playing field. To encourage people from different backgrounds to get into the sector, to apply for roles, to have recruitment panels that reflect the candidates. The law also has an influence in making sure things are ‘equal’ or ‘even’. So, the focus is on getting more diverse candidates applying, shortlisted and being interviewed.
But is equal, fair? Will those of us with the greatest privileges often be ‘the best candidate’ precisely because of our privileges throughout our lives – education, getting first jobs, getting promotions and other societal benefits we have been given – sometimes just because we have a ‘native’ sounding name. This puts us in the best position to get jobs, no matter how many widely roles are advertised, no matter what the selection process, no matter who we interview and no matter who sits on the recruitment panel.
So how do we truly break the cycle?
It’s a tough question, but needs to be asked. We are in strange times and, let’s be honest, we are struggling to stop the reverse of the advances our sector has achieved for non-privileged groups as hate crime increases across almost all groups. And depressingly, the current UK political trajectory shows no great balancing up in society for those with protected characteristics. We’re not about to see the fundamental changes needed to education, housing. welfare, justice and all the other systematic barriers people face throughout their lives to create that “level playing field”.
We need drastic action in many areas in society: ensuring nationalism and fascist ideas are left at the margins; defeating the threat of climate destruction; reducing the vast inequalities that are growing in society; ensuring the internet is a force for good, not evil. And if we truly want a more diverse sector, then perhaps one drastic action we can do as privileged individuals is step aside.
People without privileges have been forced to live without an even playing field throughout history. Levelling it up is equal, but not fair. Perhaps it’s time those of us with privileges to create an unequal playing field the other way if we want to achieve true equity in our sector – and in wider society.
This blog was written by a white, male fundraiser. We are not sharing his identity. The purpose of the platform continues to be to increase female thought-leadership in the charity sector. We are publishing the blog’s content as we believe that the opinions within it present one element of a debate that we should all be having.