It's Big Advice Day

It's Big Advice Day

Small Charities Week Big Advice Day: Tackling Racism and Discrimination in Small Charities 

Normally on Big Advice Day it is straightforward to come up with all sorts of advice on funding, governance, finance and planning, to name but a few.

But this year feels very different. There are some big things going on right now – Coronavirus, Brexit, the Black Lives Matter movement – it can feel overwhelming and difficult to know where we can be the most effective. So, what advice can I give when times are so strange and uncertain?

Having thought long and hard, working during and after coronavirus is of course a key topic (and we do have lots of advice and support on our website) but I feel strongly about talking about, and more importantly acting on, the Black Lives Matter movement and what we in the voluntary and community sector can do to make a positive impact on BAME equality and anti-racism.

As VCS organisations we have a responsibility to look long and hard at our own practices – do we practice what we preach? Do our internal policies and processes, board, staff and volunteers reflect the society we live and work in? What is the level of BAME representation at all levels?

Southwark is an extremely diverse borough; over 120 languages are spoken here, and 11% of households have no members who speak English as a first language. Just over half (54%) of Southwark’s population is of white ethnicity, a quarter (25%) black and a third of Asian (11%) or other (10%) ethnicities. 

(Overview of Southwark’s Population JSNA Factsheet Southwark’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment: People & Health Intelligence Southwark Public Health: July 2018)

Community Southwark are taking some time to reflect on our practices and improve our own diversity. I want to share four key areas of our learning with you as ‘advice’. 

Firstly, the most important thing I have realised is that we have become complacent. We have always been a diverse organisation and so have rested on our laurels and now we are not as diverse as we used to be, or as we should be. So, what are we doing about this?

We have created an equalities subgroup to focus on anti-racism and discrimination. This subgroup is carrying out an audit of our policies and processes from board and staff recruitment, to induction and training, and inclusion and diversity.

We do need to understand inequality as a whole, but it is worth spending time to really understand the Black Lives Matter movement, the systemic inequalities and racism black and other ethnic minorities face. It is tempting, at a time like this, to start trying to look at all inequality, especially the nine protected characteristics under the 2010 Equalities Act. We don’t want to fall into an ‘All Lives Matter’ trap here but it is important to remind ourselves of the intersectionality between race, socio-economic factors and other protected characteristics, and that we must also be mindful of how these contribute to, and reinforce, racial discrimination - inclusivity breeds inclusivity. We must therefore face up to Britain’s’ extremely uncomfortable past and recognise the terrible legacy of colonialism and the slave trade and make positive changes in our organisations.

  • What policies and processes do you have in place and is diversity explicitly mentioned in them?
  • Do your staff, volunteers, board members and even your beneficiaries know you have these policies?

Secondly, as we put together our yearly staff development plan, we are ensuring that key training around Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and Unconscious Bias are included. We are putting together a list of educational materials ranging from films, documentaries, podcasts, books, essays, and so on, to help individuals educate themselves more on issues of race both inside and outside of work.

  • What training do you already do with staff?
  • What could you do?

Thirdly, we are naming an Anti-Racism and Discrimination Lead on our Board of Trustees to ensure the organisation is scrutinised regularly. If systemic change is to happen, it has to happen in the boardroom and the staff room.

Throughout all of this work, we will be talking as much as possible with our members, the community and of course our staff/volunteers to understand what is needed from us, what support and information, and what networks are required. While we talk to people, we will also be keeping in mind that this is an emotional and painful topic for BAME people. Empathy and support in the workplace, and in all our activities, is crucial. 

Lastly, we want to support and promote the many BAME VCS organisations in Southwark by showcasing their work, sharing their websites and funding pages, and highlighting their impact in a more effective way.

Here are some other practical suggestions that employers can do to support BLM:

  • Provide time off to attend demonstrations (online demonstrations may be best due to coronavirus but attending protests should be an individual’s choice)
  • Provide time for white staff to educate themselves and for BAME staff to reflect and heal.
  • Ensure diversity on your recruitment panels
  • Anonymise all job and volunteer applications including trustees.
  • Use local platforms to advertise roles and put them through BAME networks
  • Be open to conversations around racism and discrimination, no matter how uncomfortable these may be.
  • Ensure you have a clear complaints policy and form so that any complaints can be dealt with transparency and fairness.
  • Look at how meetings are run, does everyone have their voices heard? 

Useful Resources 

Find a comprehensive reading/listening list at

White Fragility essay by Robin DiAngelo

Forest Hill School have created a page of useful resources

#CharitySoWhite has published a paper that provides an overview of the risks and impact of COVID-19 on racial inequalities within the UK.

Ubele has a dedicated page collating the work it has been doing in response to Covid-19 and how it affects BAME communities, including research and case studies.

ACEVO hosted an online event to discuss what charities can do to ensure they have equity and racial justice at the centre of their decision making and designing when responding to COVID-19. Watch the recording HERE or read the summary HERE.

Leeds Migration Partnership has published a really interesting blog about video calling and the potential costs to marginalised communities. The blog also offers advice for addressing these inequalities.

You can read a bit more about the Equalities Act on our website here

You can read the Equalities Act 2010 here

Small Charity Week Activities

See what's happening through the week on the Small Charity Week website here.

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