At NPC we’ve been actively trying to improve our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) for a few years, internally and externally. Through our Walking the Talk initiative, we worked in collaboration with others to get the social sector talking more about how charities ‘do’ DEI and what might be holding the sector back. We’ve considered our brand; how we recruit, select and induct new staff; our professional development, training and employee well-being programme; and the opportunities presented by our public resources, training and events. And yet, in common with many organisations, it was the shocking murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 and the subsequent events across the world that, quite rightly, brought about a review and instigated a renewal of our long-term commitment to DEI.

At NPC, our goal is to transform the social sector through our research, guidance and debates, so as to increase the positive impact our sector has on the people and communities who need it most. It is important that we ask what it means to apply a DEI lens to this mission. We recognise that there is no easy answer, and we certainly won’t pretend to be able to offer one. However, this time last year, I shared our long-term commitment to embedding diversity, equity and inclusion into all aspects of our work at NPC. It centred around four themes: (i) embedding DEI into our consulting work; (ii) using our influence in the charity sector; (iii) embracing a listening and learning culture; and (iv) transparency. So, one year on, what have we achieved across each of these four themes, what has worked well and what have we learned along the way?

Embedding DEI into our consulting work

Our consulting team typically has around 70 live projects at any given point in time. Each project is different. In the last year, we have started to incorporate DEI into conversations with clients, both new and existing. For some clients and projects, there are quick wins on how DEI principles can be included in the work. For others, the conversation is more nuanced and involves more trial and error and the need to build longer-term, trusting relationships. This is especially the case if we are to be able to encourage some philanthropists to shift their thinking. Our Director of Consulting, Angela Kail, shared some examples in her recent blog on incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion into our consulting work.

Thinking back over some of the projects that we have done in the past, we now think we would have done some of them differently. Whilst we have long considered issues around DEI in our work, we have often not given it sufficient attention in our analysis. There’s still a long way to go, and there are many things we are still working out.

To support our staff in moving this conversation forward, we have worked with an independent consultant to help staff feel more comfortable about having DEI conversations with clients; created an internal knowledge hub that summarises DEI resources from across the sector; we are updating our project planning processes to help us think about how DEI principles can be incorporated into work; and have pulled out DEI as a separate strand in our consulting team business plan.

Using our influence in the charity sector

In the past, we have held DEI focussed events, but for some time we have found it more useful to embed DEI across all our event topics, highlighting how this issue intersects with so many other ideas and challenges in our sector. For example at this year’s NPC Ignites, our flagship annual conference, DEI was discussed during various sessions, and through a variety of lenses, such as growing inequality in the UK and the impact of the climate crisis on different communities around the world. Our Head of Communications, Rebecca Goodbourn, shared more on how we are embedding DEI into our events programme in a recent blog.

There is still more to be done on our externally facing work. We are keen to widen our networks and feature an even broader range of voices at our events and on our blog. We’d love to hear from you if have a great story to tell or are passionate about an issue affecting the charity sector. Looking ahead, we plan to update NPC’s thought leadership resources, with an emphasis on evaluation and measurement practices. Specifically we hope that our new strategic partnership with Equitable Evaluation Initiative (EEI), the Charity Evaluation Working Group, the Centre for Youth Impact and the Social Investment Consultancy will coalesce around the aim to develop equitable evaluation practice in the UK, influenced by EEI’s Equitable Evaluation Framework in the US.

Embracing a listening and learning culture

I personally, as well as NPC’s board and senior management team, recognise the role that leaders must play in improving DEI. Our trustees play a vital role in terms of oversight and at each board meeting they keep us accountable by reviewing and challenging NPC’s progress against our DEI plan. However, earlier this year we also engaged an independent consultant to help us on our journey and we’re trying to listen and learn from others, for example the Baobab Foundation, whose membership programme we have joined as an associate member (the foundation is led by the Black and ethnic minority community organisations it supports).

Championed by our internal DEI group, we’ve tried to create time and space for staff to explore issues associated with DEI, in a way that best suits them. Examples range from attending external events to self-directed learning and peer led sessions on topics such as NPC’s approach to addressing bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Embedding DEI into our recruitment processes remains a vital area for us and one of continual learning and improvement. We subscribe to several schemes that promote DEI, such as the London Living Wage employer scheme and the Show the Salary  pledge. Plus, we seek to engage in sector programmes that provide work experience opportunities for underrepresented groups and offer opportunities for us to learn—such as Change 100, a programme that coordinates work placements, professional development and mentoring for university students and recent graduates with any disability or long-term condition; 2027, a programme that works with front-line professionals from working class communities, and prepares them for decision-making roles in grant-making and impact investing organisations; and Charityworks, a graduate recruitment programme that promotes positive action.

Transparency

In the last 12 months, we’ve taken time to reflect on the transparency of our internal working practices. We have refreshed our values; introduced a new code of conduct; updated our diversity, equity and inclusion policy; updated our competency framework; benchmarked pay for all roles; and published workforce diversity statistics in our annual report, including voluntary reporting of our gender and ethnic pay gaps.

But, of course, all of these activities mean nothing unless they result in positive change. As outlined by our Chief Operating Officer, Sarah Broad, in a recent blog, we are thinking very hard about how we assess the impact of our efforts. Data, such as workforce diversity statistics and sector and UK-wide benchmarks, provide valuable information but in and of themselves do not provide a complete picture, especially for small organisations where one staff member represents 2-3% of the organisation. Earlier this year, our DEI group designed a survey to help us baseline where we stand as an organisation today, and from there we can better track our progress overtime. Importantly, this includes qualitative data, as well as quantitative data, recognising that equity and inclusion are more about feelings than statistics.

Moreover, at NPC we believe that bringing in people with different perspectives, different outlooks and different experiences will result in new ideas, robust debate, better decisions, and ultimately better impact. At board and staff level, we regularly complete a skills assessment which helps inform our recruitment and the training that complements our existing skills and experience. For example, in 2021 we specifically targeted recruitment of trustees with lived experience of equality and inclusion, philanthropy, fundraising and entrepreneurism and were delighted to welcome Fiona Rawes and Albert Tucker to our board. We know that this is an area for continual review and improvement here at NPC and across the whole charity sector, so we’re keen to keep learning through our own experience and through that of others.

So where do we go from here?

We’re in the process of reflecting on our learnings from the last year, the feedback from staff in our recent DEI survey and the points raised in sessions facilitated by an external DEI specialist. This information will help inform our priorities and next steps, both short and longer-term. We still have a lot to learn and we’re eager to keep facing up to the task in hand.

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