Diversity Management Strategy In The Third Sector

Why values-driven organisations struggle with diversity management?

Rachel Gnagniko, Third Sector Diversity Management Strategy Consultant I 6 November 2019

Demographics of voluntary sector employees show a sector 67% Female, 91% White and 44% Lower managerial level.[1]

The third sector is the leader in values-driven businesses and social change matters. However, paradoxically it is still lagging behind in terms of diversity management. The recent third sector's labour force survey highlights failure regarding pay gap and representation. It also shows a specific challenge that the sector faces due to inherent values and beliefs.

"The charity sector supports a diverse range of communities, people and causes. But this diversity is not reflected in its personnel, particularly at management level. As a sector, it lack a real understanding of the value of a diverse team. And it's clear that people find it difficult to talk openly about the issues that drive discrimination and exclusion."[2]

Equality and diversity challenges in the labour market

Since the 1950s, European society's expectation has grown regarding business commitment to the improvement of women's involvement in business and leadership positions. Changes are still needed, and equal pay to be achieved. But the picture in the workplaces is now very different from what it was beforethe Equal Pay Act, the first UK legislation to protect particular social groups in the labour market. The regular reinforcement of the legislative framework until the 2010 Equality Act supports employers in all sectors in taking steps to promote equality. Nevertheless, specific concerns seem attached to the third sector.

"Charity Low Pay by Gender

Women are disproportionately affected by low pay in the sector. 30.4% of women in the charity sector earn less than the Living Wage, compared to 21% of men. This is higher than the UK average across sectors – with 27% of women in low paid work. With women making up 65% of the workforce, overall 73% of people earning below the Living Wage in the charity sector are women.

"Charity Low Pay by Ethnicity

Some ethnicities have low representation in the Labour Force Survey sample, placing some limitations on weighting, but it is clear that charity workers from BAMER backgrounds are particularly affected by low pay, with 62% of 'Other Asian Background' survey respondents, and 30% of Black/African/Caribbean/Black British respondents, reporting that they earn below the Living Wage." [3]

A predisposition of the social change sector

The third sector struggles to achieve improvement. The last NPC report suggested the presence of a "cognitive bias" in the charity sector. Organisations that deliver services to diverse communities seem to assume that equality and diversity challenges do not apply to their industry.

 "The biggest challenge to diversity in the charity sector is the attitude of charities namely that "we are nice people with liberal values" and diversity simply does not cross their mind as being something applicable to their sector.

"One charity head commented that where charities work with diverse communities they may be seen to be practising diversity. 'One of the problems is that those in the charity sector have liberal values around equality of opportunity. The assumption is that because charities are working with diverse communities they are "doing" diversity.” [4]

These views make it difficult for the sector to take advantage of the strengths of diverse teams. It deprives itself of the benefits of diversity: better results in diverse teams, better customer representation and therefore, better client attraction and needs understanding to name but a few. There is a growing danger to see third sector performance weakened by the lack of talent more attracted by sectors that perform much better in this field and are more representative of society. 

For a specific diversity management strategy

Values and beliefs of charitable and social organisations seem to imply particular bias. Consequently, the focus on equality data and communication, that has some effect in the private sector may need to move to other business aspects, if the sector wants to see a necessary change takes shape. In the complex environment of charitable and social organisations with limited resources and significant legal and financial constraints, the third sector may need to review the way it built and commits to its social missions as well as the values and theories of change that result from it. 

The social sector is committed to social change and leading a better society. Still, the specificities and scope of the equality and diversity challenge may require new perspectives and innovative practices at the heart of their missions and values to survive in an increasingly competitive labour market.


[1] From https://data.ncvo.org.uk/workforce/ Source: Labour Force Survey

[2] https://www.thinknpc.org/themes/discover-ideas-and-approaches/diversity-and-inclusion/

[3] https://www.livingwage.org.uk/sites/default/files/Living-Wage-Report.pdf

[4] https://www.thinknpc.org/resource-hub/walking-the-talk-on-diversity/

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