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Leading Change: Tackling Racism in Civil Society

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As part of our series, Leading Change, Bijal Dailal discusses the importance of tackling institutional racism in civil society through tangible actions.


UK’s Civil Society has a racism problem.  

A report put together by ACEVO and Voice4Change England found that a significant majority of Black and minoritised ethnic individuals reported experiences or witnessed instances of racism over the past five years. ACEVO’s 2023 Pay and Equalities Survey has found that the proportion of charity leaders from Black, Asian, and minoritised ethnic backgrounds has remained at 7% for the second year running and fewer than 1 per cent were Black. These findings underscore a concerning reality; efforts to address racial inequality and foster diversity in leadership positions are falling short. As the sector strives to uphold its values of equity and justice, these revelations serve as a powerful call to action, demanding a concerted effort to dismantle systemic racism and create pathways for genuine inclusivity and representation.

It is not enough for sector leaders to acknowledge this problem but equally they must grasp its underlying complexities, particularly the workings of institutional racism. Whilst race is a social construct, built upon historical hierarchies and power dynamics, racism is a harmful ideology that systematically discriminates against individuals based on racialised identities. This means that institutional racism functions in far more subtle and insidious ways than prejudiced attitudes and explicit discriminatory actions. It manifests through various mechanisms, such as unequal distribution of resources, implicit biases influencing decision-making processes, reinforcement of systems of privilege, and resistance to meaningful change. Often done without explicit racist intent, these dynamics continue to perpetuate disparities and injustices.  

Addressing institutional racism requires a comprehensive and concerted effort from our civil society leaders. To effectively combat institutional racism, it’s crucial for civil society leaders to first grasp the complexities and nuances of this systemic issue. Recognising this reality is the essential starting point in a journey towards meaningful change.

However, understanding alone is not enough. Tangible action is imperative. This encompasses a multifaceted approach, including but not limited to policy reforms, diversity initiatives, and sustained anti-racism education and training. Policies must be revisited and revised to ensure they actively promote equity and diversity, rather than inadvertently perpetuating discriminatory practices. Diversity initiatives should not be mere token gestures, but robust, inclusive strategies aimed at amplifying underrepresented voices and experiences within organisations. And anti-racism education and training should be ongoing, ingrained in the fabric of organisational cultures, continually challenge biases, and promote allyship.

The third sector must be committed to fostering genuine equality and justice within their ranks. It's not just about meeting diversity quotas or ticking boxes; it's about creating environments where every individual, regardless of race or ethnicity, feels valued, respected, and empowered. Only by championing diversity and inclusion within our own organisations can we authentically serve the diverse communities we aim to support.