Diverse raised hands isolated on a white background.

What happens when you put 10 trustees in a zoom room to learn about EDI and anti-racism? Trustee alchemy that generated magic

In December 2021, 10 trustees of UK-based INGOs participated in Bond’s pilot programme on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and anti-racism for board members.

Saravantu, from the Karuna Trust, and Justin, from the Kendleshire Kids Foundation, reflect on the journey the programme has taken them on.

What was your experience of the programme?

Saravantu: It was moving and insightful. And very engaging. I hadn’t expected to enjoy it as much as I did!

The tutors, Srabani, founder of Full Colour and Lena, Bond’s engagement and equity manager, put us at ease and created a really safe space for learning. And that’s not something I’d take for granted when the topic includes racism, which often makes people nervous to some degree – whether you’re bracing yourself to cope with the next micro-aggression or feeling tense because you might say the wrong thing.

Justin: The course triggered deep reflective thinking and responsive actions…

10 months on, the reflection has continued and is shaping my purpose as a trustee, my actions and responsibility as a custodian of governance. The subject matter is emotive…

Each of the sessions stayed with me. They are, in fact, still with me now, influencing my thinking, my approach as a trustee, as well as a professional and a human. that wants to ensure Anti-Racism, Decolonisation, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (ADED&I) is held responsibly within what is a newly established, micro/hyper local charity, that was, before this programme, being asked to influence internationally.

Saravantu, what are your top takeaways from the course?

Takeaway one: Getting a clearer sense of what diversity and inclusion are all about

One of the quotes that’s really stayed with me is, ‘Diversity is who is in the room. Inclusion is who has influence in that room’, a quote from Namira Islam Anani.

It’s such a clear way of communicating what we’re talking about. And building on that metaphor, I’ve been thinking about equity and justice as about who is thriving ‘in the room’, and who isn’t – whether that’s partner organisations, the people we’re aiming to serve, volunteers and staff in UK teams, or board members. Who’s doing well and who’s finding it hard? Do we know?

I think trustees need to understand EDI issues, de-colonisation and anti-racism as a matter of personal and organisational integrity. It’s about acting in line with our values. Walking the talk.

Our organisation aims to address inequalities and discrimination, so then it feels like a no brainer that how we do things needs to be in line with that; how programmes are designed, whose expertise is valued, who’s involved in decisions. Plus all the UK side of things; who’s recruited and who’s not, who gets the promotions and who doesn’t.

Takeaway two: How white privilege shows up in our boards

One of the most memorable discussions was about how white privilege shows up in our boards. I’d previously read Peggy McIntosh’s excellent article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, and I’d thought about some of the substantial and sobering privileges I have, like not feeling seriously afraid if a police car pulls me over, or not expecting my niece to experience crushing racist taunts at school. But I hadn’t reflected on how white privilege might be manifesting in board dynamics.

One white trustee on the programme shared the insight that she’d be quite likely to receive approving nods for raising EDI issues (and the pleasurable feeling of getting to be a ‘good white ally’), whereas a fellow trustee who was a person of colour might instead be seen as having a chip on their shoulder, or a personal agenda, or might simply be ignored.

I’d also recommend a three minute BBC podcast we watched on white privilege. John Amaechi talks about how white privilege can be as subtle as facing a bit less inconvenience.

Takeaway three: How hard it can be for white people to spot racial dynamics

Several of the difficult EDI situations that trustees had experienced seemed to feature an experience of confusion about what exactly was happening … Is it a tricky inter-personal dynamic? Is someone just being difficult? Or is there a racial aspect to what’s unfolding here?

My conclusion is that race is generally – maybe always – ‘in the room’, but that I and other white people are often just blissfully ignorant of it.

Anti-racism and decolonising: A framework for organisations

This framework maps out how racism cuts across all areas of our organisations and shows the necessity of an anti-racist and holistic approach to decolonising our organisations to create a fairer, more equitable and racially just sector.

Find out more

As a white person I was brought up to be colour blind…But I’ve only relatively recently woken up to just how unhelpful it can be to act in a way that basically ignores and denies the realities of how race has shaped someone else’s life.

As a result, white people often relate to others just as individuals, and aren’t aware of how their racial (or other group-based identities) might be affecting what’s happening, and how we’re relating to them.

Takeaway four: Never let a good crisis go to waste

I imagine a lot of organisations are having wake-up calls … Realising the depth of harm caused by micro or macro aggressions in their own offices. Clocking how common it is for white people to go into freeze mode or aggressive denial when faced with an EDI issue. Starting to really look at racially disaggregated statistics for recruitment and promotion, and ask why their boards are so white. Dealing with bullying and harassment cases.

Make it the moment that catalyses your organisation to up its game. Get training. Get support from experts like Srabani and Lena. Check out these ten common EDI mistakes and how to avoid them. And sign up to be the first to hear when the next cohort of the Bond Board EDI development course launches.

Justin, what are your takeaways?

Takeaway one: There is no one solution or single silver bullet that will fix things.

Until we unite ‘our collective and shared Power’ – change will continue to move at the speed of trust.
The charity, like-minded trustees, professionals, beneficiaries and I are not alone – to connect and share, is to build trust. As we know within systems “Change happens at the speed of trust” – to build trust, we need to share power.

Coming from marginalised and mixed nomadic background, I have spent a lifetime holding a perspective that mistrusted the world around me and felt disempowered, isolated, misunderstood and often overlooked by systems. earning about AEDI has enabled me to understand, with insightful and open-minded people, to trust in others, and to openly learn what this means from multiple perspectives, and how we can distribute power, and therefore build trust, across organisations, communities, ethnicities and even international boundaries.

Takeaway 2: Using the Charity Governance Code and the NCVO Governance Wheel will make our board meetings and our time even more effective

Being supported by the facilitators through the Charity Governance Code and the NCVO Governance Wheel, through a perspective of ADED&I has opened up the ability for the board and CEO to work together to take areas of ‘governance responsibility’; to support and effectively learn from each other, in a clear and time-efficient way. More so, this has opened up the training of our young participants who are interested in becoming trustees in the future. This has created a tangible way of creating an ADED&I trustee pipeline for the sustainable future recruitment of lived and representative experience on the board.

On the framework

Bond has usefully created a framework that provides a bigger picture of all the areas that we need to address in organisations, and it’s a great starting point for trustees and others to start having conversations about anti-racism, power and EDI. It highlights why everyone is responsible for taking action in their areas of work, and that means that everyone can start to think about what they need to consider and change. For trustees it’s important to remember we have a responsibility to lead by example and take seriously the risk in not doing this work.

Read more about the Bond EDI for Boards programme here.