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As we begin September, it’s natural that we all start to think of this period as one of a new chapter.

It’s a time when we traditionally think about a re-start of schools, colleges, universities; the ‘back in the office’ phase after summer holidays, and a time when we see the political corridors reawakening after recess.

More than ever, with the backdrop of Covid, there’s a real air of ‘next phase’ in our tentative steps forward this Autumn. We all understand that it’s on us to think and behave differently.

That theme is top of mind for me, as I think about the way Community Action Suffolk – and so many of our member organisations – need to move forward and structure our delivery for a changed world.

What stands out most to me, is diversity.

If there’s an area the sector has long talked about, but seen little ‘real’ change, it’s in the make-up of our trustee boards.

You’ve probably all heard the phrase ‘stale, pale and male’, mentioned frequently to describe the typical persona of someone who commits their time as a board member for a charity or voluntary organisation.

It might sound a rather harsh definition, but when you rifle through the stats, it’s still the case that a huge 92% of trustees are white, older, and of above average income and education*.

Pulling the picture apart further, recent scrutiny points to 62% of the country’s largest charities by income having all white boards, and only four charities having all Black Asian and Minority Ethnic BAME boards.

A recent Third Sector article makes the really important point that while numerous charities and organisations stated their solidarity to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ action over social media, the vast majority of those brands and bodies were by their very construction doing very little to evidence a commitment to diversity.

In the piece, Saba Shafi, a founding organiser of CharitySoWhite, says “My concern is that the response was driven from a place of needing to respond because Black Lives Matter was tidal-waving across social media and there was an expectation that organisations had to respond from a PR perspective, as opposed to reflecting on what it means.”

As we all know, diversity of ethnicity is just one element of trustee balance at which a large proportion of the sector is currently failing.

We can just as easily talk about disproportionate reflections of those with disability, those who are young, those who are female, or those who are from the LGBT community.

So when do we stop saying that we ‘understand’ change is due, and when do we start making the necessary alterations to the way our organisations run?

My answer is – now. There really is no time like the present, and it matters more than ever.

We absolutely must reflect the lived experiences of every person in our society, and we cannot possibly hope to do that, if the people around the table are those who all come from a few more advantaged postcodes in our county, or have been educated in the same schools.

How can we reflect how Covid has felt to those of BAME origin, or those with disability, or those among our young population, if every trustee is white, over 55 and an able-bodied male?

As it happens, Community Action Suffolk enters this ‘new term’ period of September on the look for its own new trustees. We currently find ourselves seeking a Chair of our Finance and Audit Committee, and others to join the trustee board who will take us forward into our next chapter.

So yes, without a shadow of a doubt, I am conscious of how important it is that our recruitment approach is very mindful of attracting a diverse pool of candidates from all walks of life across Suffolk.

I hope that, as we head into the latter few months of this challenging year, more and more boards and charity heads will take the same view – that diversity is not a ‘nice to have’, but that it is absolutely critical to ensure effective and reflective delivery of all our services and support throughout the voluntary sector.

Talk is no longer enough. We must all follow intention with action.

INTERESTED IN A ROLE WITH US? If you’d like a confidential chat with me about our trustee opportunities, please email me directly on [email protected]