Action for Trustee Racial Diversity – Why are BAME People Under-represented on Charity Trustee Boards?

Action for Trustee Racial Diversity – Why are BAME People Under-represented on Charity Trustee Boards?

This week's guest blog is written by Malcolm John the Chair of the Young Harrow Foundation. Malcolm looks into the apparent lack of diversity of charity among charity trustees, highlighting barriers to diversity and suggesting ways to promote inclusiveness.
Malcolm John

William Shakespeare is probably not the first person to come to mind when you’re about to hear a presentation on the benefits of racial diversity in light of the casual racism of plays such as Othello and the Merchant of Venice. However, in the context of this campaign to increase racial diversity on charity boards, I’d like to kick off with a quote from the best known of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, Hamlet “Suit the actions to the words, the words to the action”.

When I took inspiration from my own eighteen years of trusteeship to start a campaign to increase the woefully small number of black and Asian trustees on charity trustee boards, I was determined not to add too many more words to the considerable bibliography of evidence and good practice

Nevertheless a few facts shout out: 

  • 62% of the top charities by income have all white boards)

  • 2.9% of trustees in the sector are women of colour

  • 92% of trustees are white, older, and above average income and education (Charity Commission 2017)

  • 71% of trustees are recruited through an informal process

  • The level of ethnic minority individuals on large charity boards is just 6.6%, representing 418 of a total of 6338 trustees.

To put that in context, 14% of the England and Wales population is from non- white background. In London, the figure is 36.8%.  


So it’s long overdue for trustee recruitment to reflect these stats. Charities cannot truly claim to serve their communities if their leadership does not represent the people they serve. The challenge for the sector and for this campaign is to change these damning statistics, which have evidently not significantly changed over the years and even worsened in some respects.

Action for Trustee Racial Diversity aims to promote practical actions to address the significant and longstanding under-representation of people from Black and Asian backgrounds on charity Trustee Boards across the UK. To my knowledge this is the only campaign specifically focussed on this issue!

The campaign aims to provide charities with knowledge, resources, toolkits, networks and specialist advice to enable them to take practical steps to increase the racial diversity of their Boards.                                             

The report highlights some important findings. They result from a mapping questionnaire survey sent to over 30 key and umbrella organisations which are committed to address diversity within the charity sector.

In summary:

  • There is a strong willingness to engage, to pool resources and to champion this campaign.

  • Often other organisational priorities take precedence over diversity. This project presents an opportunity to refocus attention on addressing the issue of under-representation

  • There’s an overwhelming need for more access to and knowledge of Black and Asian networks

  • There’s a lot of good practice out there but not always widely known.

  • The barriers are wide and attributable to lack of knowledge, lack of resources, lack of commitment and often resistance to cultural change.

  • The solutions are largely understood but I believe are generally not being driven in a partnership, action-focussed way to achieve significant impact.

The key barriers cited were:

  • Lack of access to Black and Asian networks, especially from corporate sector and too much reliance on extant networks

  • Lack of diverse “pipeline*

  • Not enough Black and Asian applicants

  • Lack of Black and Asian talent!

  • Not enough proactive approaches to increase diversity; a need to focus on targeting diversity because of the skills diversity brings

  • Lack of organisational commitment to diversity


The key support areas identified were

  • Access to Black and Asian networks

  • Promoting the importance of diversity

  • Recruitment guidance

  • Training for Board members

  • Central place to promote trustee vacancies

  • Diversity Advisers

  • Challenging unconscious bias

  • Highlighting best practice     

And finally - to end with Shakespeare - and this time from a prominent female lead, Lady Macbeth

 “Screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail”.


Submitted by Anil Ranchod (not verified) on 31 Oct 2019


I'd really love to know. I've applied many times over the years, and even though I have more than 25 years experience working in the sector, have never made. It's hard not to feel that it's because my face doesn't fit or I'm not part of their club. So now, I avoid the disappointment and don't apply anymore.

Hi Anil, I'm really sorry to hear about your experience over the years. I suspect it's not a rare occurrence! However over 2000 trustee vacancies are advertised every month. I think it might be both a case of finding the right organisation which fits you rather than you having to fit them. Often organisations - particularly the larger charities - put too restrictive skills and experience criteria which means that only those already on the ladder get further up. An aim of Action for Trustee Racial Diversity is to seek to change that working with others in the sector with similar aims. You should contact the organisation Getting On Board which provides excellent training and advice and lots of good trustee opportunities.

Submitted by Laura (not verified) on 29 Nov 2019


We are a Deaf and Disabled people-led charity that does struggle to attract people from a number of sections of the community, including BAME communities. As a membership-led organisation, trustees are elected from the membership, by the membership so, recruiting new trustees is dependent on recruiting new members. Unfortunately, we don't have the staff to do anything much about recruitment and, despite having advertised for volunteers to undertake this work, we have been unable to find a single person willing to do it.

One of the key barriers we have faced is that our trustees must be Deaf/Disabled people themselves and, when accessing BAME networks, those who want to volunteer don't fit this criteria - or, at least, aren't willing to admit they fit it.

Anyone got some good ideas to share?

Submitted by Pamela Odukoya (not verified) on 22 Oct 2020


Interesting perspective on this issue. My experience of being a trustee has been positive. I am planning to do a talk on this topic for Black History month and the issues raised here are pertinent. I will make reference to them. Thanks. Pamela Odukoya

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