6 Apr 2020

We are all experiencing the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a charity lawyer, and charity trustee, I have seen first-hand the shockwaves it has sent throughout the charity sector.

Charities have postponed fundraising events, closed their shops, and are facing severe cash flow issues. This is an unprecedented situation and the challenge to the sector should not be downplayed.

However, as Albert Einstein once remarked, “in the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”

An opportunity to improve diversity and inclusion – at service and leadership levels

Increasing diversity and inclusion was important pre-coronavirus, with groups such as #CharitySoWhite and the Young Trustees Movement initiating and driving this conversation. These two principles are even more important now, with the pandemic highlighting the inequalities in society.

As Vicky Browning, CEO of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, said at their recent Covid-19 event, “Although we will all be impacted by Covid-19, we will not all be impacted equally.” This worrying analysis should encourage charities to help those disadvantaged communities who will be disproportionately affected by this pandemic.

There is an urgent need for decisive, considered action. By using this moment as an opportunity to innovate from within, charities can improve diversity and inclusion at leadership level, which will drive success at a time when it is needed more than ever.

One of our recent Zebra Project sessions focused on how diversity and inclusion are intrinsic to business success. Here I want to explore how these two fundamentals can help charities to succeed during this crisis and beyond.

The value of people during a pandemic

Speaking at our Zebra Project session, Taylor Vinters’ Kim Wedral-Rooke  said, “As the evolution of technology continues, leaders will focus much more on essentially the most crucial asset they have, their people. Making sure you have a diverse make-up of employees, who feel included and motivated, will become a top priority in the future for successful business growth.”

This is especially pertinent during the Covid-19 outbreak; now more than ever, charities will have to rely on the hard work of all their trustees, employees and volunteers to help their organisations adapt and survive.

Nurturing key workers

The UK Government has confirmed what we’ve known for some time: charity staff are ‘key workers and critical to the Covid-19 response. During and after the pandemic, charity leaders should continue to celebrate these key workers and nurture their sense of belonging within their organisation, and the sector in general.

This nurturing goes deeper than public acknowledgement. It’s about creating a workplace culture that embraces difference, and enables these key workers to feel respected, valued, trusted and safe. The latter will be helped by charities falling under Rishi Sunak’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, but job security is only a part of making key workers feel included.

Charity leaders should illustrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion by initiating positive institutional change throughout their organisation. This is vital if these key workers are to feel empowered to be their true selves and act creatively during this challenging period.

Time to take stock

Many charities are wisely considering their short, medium and long term priorities in light of the current situation. Whilst this will primarily concern finances, charity leaders would be well-advised to spend part of this time analysing how much their organisation’s culture values difference.

The Director of The Centre for Inclusive Leadership, Linbert Spencer OBE explains, “As a leader, if part of your value set is that you value difference, then you’ll be looking to access difference, in whatever form that may take…. it’s that kind of outlook which brings success.”

Valuing difference provides motivation that can stimulate productivity, which in turn drives success. This should be at the heart of every charity’s short, medium and long term priorities.

Diversity and inclusion should be an intrinsic response to this pandemic

Changing the culture of an organisation can be hard at any time, let alone during a national crisis. However, improving diversity and inclusion should be a top priority for charity leaders, specifically because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Right now, charities will need to innovate and be agile in order to survive and succeed. Key workers with diverse thinking have never been more important to organisations, and the need to provide trustees, employees and volunteers with an environment which empowers them to be their best selves and do their best work, is paramount.

This crisis will challenge those of us working and volunteering in the charity sector, but I do hope that even in the face of this crisis, we can show that positive outcomes are possible.

Please do get in touch if you would like to add to this conversation; I’m very keen to hear your views.