Diversity statistics in the UK not for profit sector

Whilst the charity sector is often celebrated for its diverse and inclusive values, that is not always true of the senior and executive teams within them.

The latest NCVO demographic statistics show that 9% of voluntary sector employees are from ethnic minority backgrounds – a lower proportion than the public and private sectors (both 12%), and lower than the UK population as a whole (13%). Also, in ACEVO and Voice4Change‘s collaborated report: Home Truths: Undoing racism and delivering real diversity in the charity sector, they document an Inclusive Boards (2018) study which found that in the 500 largest charities by income, only 5.3% of senior leadership teams were from an ethnic minority background.


Considering that most charities are headquartered in London and UK cities – namely Birmingham and Leicester where over 40% of the population are minority ethnic people – it is difficult to view these statistics as anything other than disconcerting.

Is the not for profit sector as diverse as we like to think?

Many charities are focusing on racial diversity in their recruitment and are employing more people from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Despite these crucial steps, there still appears to be an inadequate focus on culture change and long-term strategy.

As an executive search specialist, I find it imperative that we work with organisations to spark conversations around their diversity and challenge them on how this can be changed for the better.

Whilst many organisations are beginning to spur the uncomfortable and exposing conversation of racial diversity across their senior teams, there simply is not enough being done to challenge and change the cultures within them. Recruiting diverse leaders and supporting their development and success should not be aspirational; it should be standard practice.

Diverse leaders should feel encouraged to impact and ignite change. Joining organisational cultures that have a commitment for diversity to flourish authentically and not merely conform to history and predetermined culture.

How we as trusted partners can be more proactive sponsors in sparking sector wide change

Following an eye opening and humbling conversation with a well-respected philanthropist, we explored the distressing reality that – whilst there is a commitment to recruit diverse leaders – we are a long way off this not being merely tokenistic and actually in aid of positive challenge, change and organisational culture shifts.

Many aspiring black leaders take it upon themselves early in their management career to seek mentors and – whilst an important contributor to career success, confidence and support – it is actually sponsors that are needed now more than ever. Sponsors who can stand as advocates for talented black leaders and give them the platform and opportunities that they deserve.

I am currently co-producing and designing a Diversity Sponsorship Programme with a cohort of black leaders across Peridot’s network and the wider not for profit sector. It became immediately apparent following this conversation that another mentor programme was not enough to tackle the issue of racial diversity across the not for profit leadership sector. Something that proactively challenges an organisation’s culture is far more essential.

Organisations talk of diversity at leadership level being a journey. I cannot help but pose questions to many across the sector: how long do you intend this journey to take? What is the ultimate goal?

Whilst it would be good to see financial investment in improving diversity, it is not essential and there are several best practices that can be instilled with little to no financial implication:

  • Foster an inclusive culture. Create diversity committees with representatives from all levels and make diversity a transparent part of your strategic plan. This can be as simple as including flexible working schedules, accommodating religious holidays in different faith traditions, and adopting diversity-friendly dress codes.
  • Creating career paths. Whether this is through more inclusive training and development programmes, more robust succession-management processes or more proactive promotion conversations/preparations, it is critical that organisations place stronger emphasis on encouraging and supporting diverse staff at all levels of the organisation with their career aspirations.
  • Proactively identify sponsors for your employees. It would be great to see more organisations encouraging internal or external mentoring and sponsorship for diverse employees. It is these employees that are less likely to receive organic sponsorship and networking opportunities than their white colleagues.

Diversity Sponsorship Programme

If you are an existing or aspiring leader in the not for profit sector and are interested in finding out more about being a sponsor, or receiving sponsorship yourself, please get in touch with me, Lucy Mavers, to find out how I can help through the upcoming Diversity Sponsorship Programme.

Also, if you are an organisation open to support and mentoring around how you can challenge and change your culture to allow diverse leaders to truly flourish, then please contact me for further information on how we can support you through our charity mentor scheme.