Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – what should charities be doing?

Carla Whalen, Partner in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, charity law and not for profit team,
Carla Whalen
3 min Read

2020 saw thousands of people across the UK take to the streets as part of the Black Lives Matter protests and many more engage through social media. Several charities published statements expressing solidarity with the movement and pledged to take action to make their organisations more diverse and inclusive. So what next?

More than just policies and basic training

Most charities have policies designed to prevent unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 – for example, equal opportunities, anti-harassment and bullying, and accessibility policies – but taking action to improve equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) means more than just having a suite of standard policies and rolling out the same basic training to staff and trustees year after year.

In the recent case of Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that a Tribunal had been entitled to conclude that a company’s equality and diversity training was “stale” and no longer effective to prevent harassment. It did not matter that the company was relatively small – the Tribunal said that it could have reasonably taken more effective steps. In the words of the Appeal Tribunal, “brief and superficial training is unlikely to have a substantial effect in preventing harassment nor will it have long-lasting consequences”.

Updated Charity Governance Code

In December, the Steering Group responsible for the Charity Governance Code published a refreshed version of the Code replacing the previous “Diversity” principle with a new, more detailed, principle on EDI. The update followed consultation with the charity sector in which boards told the Steering Group that they wanted more guidance on how to improve EDI.

The updated Code now sets out four EDI stages that all charities should follow:

  1. Reflect on why EDI is important for the charity and assess current levels of understanding of EDI across the board and the wider organisation.
  2. Make plans and set targets tailored to the charity – this will mean different things for different charities and could range from changing recruitment practices, to making events more accessible, to refocusing grant-funding priorities.
  3. Monitor and measure how the charity is doing against those targets – self-assessment and external audit will help to identify what’s working and what’s not.
  4. Be transparent and publish progress – charities are encouraged to be honest about sharing their successes as well as challenges and learning opportunities.

The Code sets out recommended practice for small and larger charities but, as these four steps make clear, it’s important for all charities to begin by reflecting on their own work, systems, cultures and context.

While it may be tempting to rush straight to putting in place actions, there’s no 'one size fits' all EDI solution and imposing someone else’s ideas on your charity could lead to tokenism or might even make things worse.

We’re working with trustee boards to review and refresh existing EDI plans, and to think about new ideas and set new targets. For further information, please contact:

Briefings Charities Russell-Cooke charity team Equality Diversity and Inclusion ED&I Carla Whalen Jane Klauber