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10 ways charity communications can help improve diversity and equality

16 October 2018

Equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) is not just a moral issue. It’s a business one. Countless reports demonstrate the more diverse an organisation, the more successful it is – both in terms of financial security, reputation and more loyal staff. And as we have all seen in the media, it’s an issue of increasing national and global prominence thanks to initiatives such as gender pay gap reporting and #MeToo, among others.

However, as we also know, the charity sector does not fare as well as it should when it comes to matters of diversity. Despite being a sector with equality at its heart, it is dominated by white middle-class men. According to the Green Park report into diversity, within the top 20 charities, just 41.3% of leaders are women – this is despite 65% of the sector’s workforce being women – and there is an embarrassing dearth of BAME staff and leaders: just 9% and 5.8% respectively.

The sector recognises that more needs to be done in this area. The Institute of Fundraising, for example, has an ongoing commitment to diversity and recently recruited an expert advisory panel aimed at improving ED&I in fundraising. Meanwhile, the Media Trust is focusing on the way in which marginalised communities are represented in the media via its Stronger Voices Project.

However, diversity will not be achieved if individual organisations don’t improve. So what can you do to contribute? Here are 10 ways to make inclusivity core to your approach.

1. Start by getting your own house in order

How diverse is your own team? People from diverse backgrounds are likely to have different lived and professional experiences from their non-minority counterparts, even if they hold similar qualifications – perspectives that will be particularly valuable if you intend to engage with diverse audiences.

2. Diverse recruitment begins with the advert

Think carefully about where you advertise – for instance, you can use BAME and LGBT outlets to widen your reach, and make sure you use the right sort of language. One organisation which was struggling to attract women reviewed the job description only to realise it said applicants must have 10 years’ continual experience – making it immediately exclusionary to women who had taken time out to have children.

3. Use inclusive language throughout

When was the last time you checked your content, to make sure you were not inadvertently excluding people through the wording? Inclusive language is free from words, phrases or tones that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped or discriminatory views of particular people or groups. These include gender-specific terms or bias like regularly describing women as nurturing and men as strong.

A content audit can be a useful exercise here, as too can a check-list that is consulted prior to publication. Better still, ask people from different backgrounds to review it for you. They may pick up on words and phrases that you miss.

4. Review the images you use

In the same way you should check your words for bias, your images should also be reviewed to ensure they are representative, not only of the people your organisation serves, but also of wider society. Girlguiding has done a great job here – not only on its own website, but in the guidance that it provides to its branches.

5. Who represents you?

From your key spokespeople, through to the people who blog for you and the stories you include on your newsletter, a diverse set of voices running throughout all of your comms, internal and external, is key. Don’t forget that diversity is not a single issue so consider all areas, including gender, age, class, race, disability, sexuality etc.

6. Engage and build relationships with diverse partners

Much support, encouragement and learning can be found within the organisations and networks associated with different demographic groups. These will differ depending on the sector you work in, but will include LGBT networks, BAME recruitment companies, disability campaign groups, etc. Follow them on social media, engage with their content, ask for advice, and maybe even explore ways of working together. For example, Macmillan Cancer Support is working with the LGBT Foundation to better address the needs of LGBT people living with cancer.

7. Work closely with your fundraising team

In a recent blog for UK Fundraising, Martin Downes of Luminous Media argued charities have a gender bias that is deterring men from getting involved in charitable activities, something he believed could be the result of so many women working in fundraising. He might be right – some 70 per cent of fundraising staff are female, according to Institute of Fundraising data. Work with your colleagues to identify potential biases and iron out any issues that could occur as a result.

8. Pitch to a diverse media

When was the last time you pitched a story to The Voice, DIVA, or Saga? There are publications and websites out there aimed at serving the communities you might want to include more, so make sure these publications feature in your media strategy, alongside mainstream titles.

9. Understand your internal culture

Ticking boxes is one thing. Having a culture where people feel included is another. Do your staff, volunteers and other stakeholders feel valued and supported? Do under-represented groups feel doors are open or closed to them? Are there senior leaders who could act as role models, champions and sponsors?

Your internal comms team can play an important part in helping understand the answers to these questions and more, all of which will provide valuable insight into just how inclusive your organisation is. The charity Touchstone is an example of an organisation leading the way. In 2016, it was awarded a number one position in the Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers list.

10. Build it into your strategy

Make ED&I part of your comms strategy by thinking about how to reach a diverse audience and by including relevant targets, linked to all the issues listed above. Make sure the plan is reviewed annually, perhaps staff appraisals could include a related KPI, and importantly, that you have buy-in from senior leadership. Progress can often be hindered by factors such as unconscious bias, which can impact on decision-making, or simple issues such as events being held at times that don’t work for the people you want to attend. Take the time to view all your comms through the eyes of your stakeholders and amend accordingly.

Image: You X Ventures  on Unsplash

More like this:

Check out the slides from the CharityComms Time to act: tackling diversity and inclusion in charity communications seminar for more on this topic.

Read more:

Don’t you think I can lead? One woman of colour’s experience in the third sector

Becky Slack

founder and managing director, Slack Communications

Becky is the founder and managing director of Slack Communications. She is the former deputy editor of Charity Times, editor of Professional Fundraising and publishing editor of Charity Insight magazines. Becky is also a member of the Understanding Charities Group.