Friday, 26 February 2010

Diversity - Is the Third Sector really that diverse?

I've worked in the Third Sector for many years - all too often I hear the phrase that the Third Sector sets a good example in embracing diversity. True, if you look at the range of organsiations that make up the Third Sector, there are many organisations that are focused on diversity issues, e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation, disability to name but a few. These organsiations are crucial to ensure that civil society moves forward, is inclusive and that everyone has an opportunity to participate. Without the work of these groups that have championed equality, overt discrimination would be rife (Covert discrimination is still here, but that's another issue for another day!!)

However, taking this a step further - should Third Sector organisations make more of an effort to embrace diversity at all levels? The success of any Third Sector organisation calls for a diverse body of talent that can bring a a whole range of fresh ideas, views and perspectives to their work. Thinking differently and from different angles is key to success. The Third Sector cannot do that if there is a level of "sameness" around the Board table or at senior officer level.

Diversity is no longer as straightforward as a race issue, disability issue, age issue or sexual orientation issue (or any other issue) - it is much more complicated (and interesting) than that. You cannot put people into silos - Disabled people can also be gay, black, old or young - and this is all interchangeable!

Diversity is about where the lines cross - its not only about the crossing over between, what I call, the traditional diversity themes but its also about people's lives. Many organisations face challenges about building a diverse environment. They have a tendency to pigeonhole, placing people in (what they think to be) neat little boxes based on their diversity profile. This is a recipe for disaster! This is the real world, and diversity cannot be (and shouldn't be) easily catergorised.

How should Third Sector organisations start embracing diversity and actually set a real example? My own thoughts on this are quite simple - Walk the walk rather than talk the talk. If Trustee Boards and senior management teams within Third Sector organisations actually advocate that they are embracing diversity - they MUST make it evident and a reality at all levels within the organisation and when I say all levels this includes Board level. For organisations to say that they embrace diversity (e.g. by having policies in place and perhaps by employing a "token" person from a minority group), they need to do more - Actions speak loader than words!!!!!!!!!

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