Hands up

How do we step up to address the imbalance of power in our organisations?

We have just signed off our Annual Report where, for the first time, we share an update on our progress on anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion.

This is part of our initiative to be more transparent about how we address power imbalances and move towards being a truly anti-racist and inclusive organisation.

Back in 2020, Bond committed to ‘addressing the systemic failures and root causes that perpetuate discrimination’ and to ‘play our part by promoting an inclusive and anti-racist sector that practices what it preaches.’ We are proud of the work that we are doing to support our members to decolonise the sector. We have run an 18-month-long catalytic project on accelerating locally led development, taking a systems view. We have worked with CEOs and the People of Colour Working Group to build a framework for decolonisation. We now have an Anti-racism and Equity Manager, the brilliant Lena Bheeroo, dedicated to taking this work forward.

To ensure practical progress, we have engaged over 100 CEOs and Board trustees and have a vibrant CEO group on anti-racism taking the work and discussions forward. We have changed our language as international development professionals and are engaging journalists on how to mainstream the use of language that promotes equity over charity.  

We have fantastic working groups challenging assumptions and driving the agenda forward – from the Disability and Development Group to the People in the Pictures Group. We also have a brilliant Advisory Group who guide our locally led working groups and hold us to account. We are now working on ways to support policy directors and policy staff to be anti-racist and inclusive in their advocacy asks.

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Bond is on its own journey too. We need to match the leadership that we ask of the sector. We put together our policy and areas for action when we made our initial commitments. This included recruitment, contracting, staff engagement and training, and to understand and address structural racism. We have our language guide to ensure that Bond words do not wound and instead support solidarity and agency in the countries where our members work. We have long been committed to no all-male and no all-white panels at events we run and speak at, and have signed up to various external commitments too, including show your salary and BITC Race at Work Charter.

We continue to see increasing diversity in our staff team. In 2019, 57% of our staff identified as women and 9% identified as people of colour. In 2022/23, 71% of employees identifying as women and 30% as people of colour or other (non-white) and in our latest survey staff identifying as people of colour has risen to 31% plus 6% other (non-white). On top of this, 80% of the board identify as women and 60% people of colour. A third of our Directors and Heads of team identify as other than white. In 2022/23, 13% of staff identify as gay or bisexual, 8% have a disability or long-term illness and 21% had access to free school meals when at school. Our data for this year shows increased representation across all these groups.   

We are seeing the immeasurable benefits from increased diversity in our work and the sort of insights we have as a team. However, representation is not the same as inclusion – it is an important, but not the only step. Back in 2021, our Racism, power and truth report shone a light on the negative experiences of people of colour working in international development, with 89% of people feeling that their organisations are not truly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion. The need for ongoing commitment and faster progress is laid out in recent blogs from our people of colour working group. Clearly there is more work to be done to support those harmed by racism in our organisations and structures. We will see what the forthcoming follow up survey says, but I hope we are making steps in the right direction.

Thanks to our great team, we are doing a lot to support the sector. and we want to do more. But we need to work hard to maintain our momentum. Talking to other CEOs, and looking at organisations that report on progress, the gap between commitments and practice can be hard to reconcile. We need to be transparent about what we are doing and humble about our contribution. We also need to start with ourselves. Like meditation or exercise, I try to constantly challenge myself to check my privilege, to listen to the lived experience of others, and to use my power against oppression.

For white leaders, anti-racist practice can be based on fear of getting it wrong. I have had moments of that myself, and it can make you freeze when you need to act. But I am a ‘go towards’ person and the benefits of being an inclusive, anti-racist organisation and the compelling need for equity and justice are much more energizing than fear. We are certainly not there yet, but we are setting our direction of travel and checking our progress.

Racism and colonialism manifest themselves in distinct ways within the international development sector – be it inequities internally within an organisation, the power structures we work within or in our partnerships and programmes. Ultimately, racism and colonialism undermine the work that we are doing and prevent us from addressing the white bias within the system.

We may never be actively anti-racist while still working in a racist system. It is not something we are ever going to tick off our to-do list, but it is something we must strive towards both as individuals and together. I hope that Bond’s work, and that of so many of our partners, will ensure we redouble our efforts to tackle the ideologies that hold us back, acknowledge our own power and privilege in order to address the things that are not working, and be true allies in the journey towards an equitable sector and society.