More and more charities are adopting the Charity Governance Code, which sets out seven principles to guide charities in their compliance with legal and regulatory responsibilities. The Charity Commission has endorsed the Code and urges charities to apply it. The most recent edition of the Code brings equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues into much sharper focus as one of the requirements of good governance.
Previous editions of the Code had relatively modest references to diversity which were linked to effective leadership. In the latest edition EDI is clearly recognised as an important core aim for any group of trustees. Boards will need to show that they regularly assess their approach to EDI on the basis of data and relevant experiences, and that they define how EDI is important to their charity in its contexts and in the delivery of its aims.
Boards should assess their own understanding of EDI issues and look to identify gaps of understanding. A programme of discussion, learning and research should then be set up to fill those gaps.
The Code addresses head on the need for a board to recognise imbalances in power, perspective and opportunities that are likely to exist. This will include looking at the diversity of trustees' backgrounds and perspectives during the board's regular skills audits, any biases in trustee recruitment, how communities served are included, how meetings and information are made accessible, and how a really inclusive environment is created.
The Code takes further steps beyond the previous Code by requiring not only an audit of experience and diversity but a response to that audit with planned policies, milestones, targets and timelines. These plans and timelines should be monitored by the board and resources should be available to implement the plans and achieve their targets.
This edition of the Code also focuses on how the communities being served by the charity are centred in the decision making process. There will be a variety of ways in which beneficiaries and their communities can be involved and the Code talks about "including and centring" without being prescriptive as to the way forward. Trustees will need to decide how they can practice inclusive behaviours and development to involve the people their charity serves.
In placing the board front and centre on leading progress on EDI issues there is recognition that regular learning and reflection will need to take place if this is to be achieved. More directly it requires boards to regularly publish progress towards achievement of EDI targets and to identify further plans to tackle inequalities and gaps identified.
Where charities want to comply with the Code, which is increasingly becoming a requirement in the sector, they will have to think in much more detail about how their processes and policies address the issues above. For larger charities with over £1 million turnover, the Code is backed up by a requirement to have an external evaluation of governance every three years. Our work in undertaking these reviews for charities is going to focus more heavily on EDI in the coming period. To be confident about meeting these new tougher targets larger charities may find the independent review a useful tool.