We white male CEOs and Chairs need to step up and deliver on releasing power to BAME leaders

Mark Norbury

Chief Executive

8th July 2020



The appointment of Sir Stuart Etherington, a white man, to become Chair of The Oversight Trust, the body that oversees Access Foundation, Big Society Capital, Fair4AllFinance, Youth Futures Foundation has understandably caused concern that we as a social enterprise and investment sector are just not making the progress we need to around true equity and inclusivity in positions of power.

Amir Rizwan is absolutely right to call out the systemic racism in the social enterprise and social investment sector. Regardless of the strengths or inclusivity of the recruitment process for The Oversight Trust’s chair, the fact is that, like me becoming UnLtd’s CEO, another white man has been appointed to be a sector Chair or CEO.

This is not to highlight or focus any particular individual or organisation. There is real talent in the sector and the folks I know have a wonderful sense of purpose and values to support that. This is a systemic issue. There has been no major shift in the demographics of the decision makers – those with power – since I joined UnLtd four years ago. This means we (me included) have tolerated, and are therefore complicit in, this moral failure.

We have to change this now. Only by doing so can we with integrity – and with best talent and leadership – serve the cause of social justice and an inclusive economy. This means releasing power, it means shifting ownership and decision making, it means more Black, Asian and minority ethnic board members, execs and senior management teams. But first we have to uncomfortably challenge ourselves and each other on our unconscious biases and the comfortable liberal blanket of denial and inaction we weave.

I am a bizarrely concentrated example of white male affluence and power. Privately educated, nice Surrey upbringing and currently nice Surrey home (despite vowing to never return to the land of Daily Mail and golf), dad in the City, Oxford University, wife and three kids. We even have a Labrador. Of course I have done pretty well. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out I’d be an effective fundraiser from white privately educated Oxbridge men early in my career, or that I’d get a volunteering place at the British Red Cross to kick things off, or that I could access and navigate recruitment opportunities to get ahead.

This is not to say I am devoid of talent or character. It’s just to recognise that I have a ridiculous advantage. If I run a marathon in under two hours with rocket boosters, that does not make me Eliud Kipchoge.

I had always been acutely aware of, and disliked, this unfairness. A desire to address it has driven my social and political world view and career as much as the compassion and empathy that my parents fostered and that were embedded through my mum’s, and then my own, life with depression.

But it took unconscious bias training with colleagues (staff, trustees and social entrepreneurs from UnLtd) a couple of years ago to appreciate the full scale, depth and damage of the systemic injustice this all represents.

We at UnLtd are on a journey – described in this blog – towards far greater equity and inclusion. We need to do more and do better. The same is true of the sector as a whole.

So I’m inviting each CEO and Chair to come up with a clear, compelling plan and process, co-developed with Black, Asian and minority ethnic social entrepreneurs and colleagues, to identify how we are going to release power, shift ownership and decision making.

We need to create progression paths within and across our organisations, ramp up succession planning, dismantle the barriers we have created and maintain (unconsciously or not).

We need unconscious bias training and equity audits – but we have to go way beyond diversity and inclusion work. We need to go deeper into the layers of racism embedded in our organisations and in ourselves. We need to educate ourselves and begin uncomfortable conversations.

This may seem like a lot of challenging long-term work, but actually it’s a bare minimum because at the moment the sector is living a damaging lie. Whatever our co-operative, progressive values or intentions, the lived reality of enduring racial and other systemic injustice is corrosive.

How else do we explain the fact that we have not released power and authority to BAME leaders, despite knowing we had a problem many years ago? Foundation boards are 99% white and two thirds male. In the social investment sector, BAME women are least likely to hold directorships in the sector, just 2.8% of all Board Directors. Only 9% of social investment executives are BAME compared to 14% of population (see the report here).

We need to begin rooting out this injustice and it has to be done with real urgency and investment. And this is not the responsibility of the Diversity Forum or #CharitySoWhite. It sits squarely with us white men currently occupying the seats of power.

I will keep you updated on a pretty regular basis (fortnightly is the goal for the next few months) about how we at UnLtd are progressing, where we are failing or stalling, and what we are learning, in our journey to full equity and inclusion.

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