Embedding diversity, equity and inclusion: A journey that demands us all to move at speed

16 November 2020

A year on from the publication of the Stronger Foundations report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), our ceo, Carol Mack, reports on ACF's progress towards embedding DEI across our work, and how we are supporting foundations to do the same

It’s now just over a year since the launch of ACF’s Stronger Foundations report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and much has changed.

When we published the report in October 2019 as the culmination of 18 months of member-led inquiry into what excellent diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practice looks like for foundations – we had no way of knowing that over the next 12 months Covid-19 would exacerbate and lay bare the inequality in society for all to see. Neither did we predict that #BlackLivesMatter would shine a spotlight on systemic racism in a way that would so galvanise public attention. But both we and our members knew that change was urgently needed, and this was why, with their support, we began our Stronger Foundations initiative with a focus on DEI. 

Nine pillars of stronger foundation practice in DEIThe resulting report set out nine pillars of excellent foundation practice in DEI, building on the insights that experts and practitioners shared with our working group. Putting DEI first ensures that the right people are in the driving seat and able to inform all of the other decisions that foundations need to make. We explored some of these decisions in our five subsequent Stronger Foundations reports on: strategy and governance; impact and learning; transparency and engagement; investments; and funding practice.

But no report in itself is a guarantor of needed change. It is action that counts. And here, the signs are promising. Foundations are using the pillars of stronger DEI practice, set out in our report, to track their progress. Many foundations are now taking a DEI lens to all of their work; from trustee recruitment and board meetings, to investment reviews and grant-making practice. In the foundation community, groups like Future Foundations UK, Funders for Race Equality Alliance, the DEI Coalition and Grant Givers Movement have all been hugely influential in pushing for and in leading change. And more broadly in the third sector as a whole, ACEVO, Voice4Change and the Institute of Fundraising have all led initiatives to help shift the dial.  Much more work is needed, but I see an energy and commitment that is enormously encouraging.

For ACF itself, we are very mindful of the mantra that we should practice what we preach, and are looking at how we apply some of the Stronger Foundations principles to what we do as an organisation. Like so many others, we are in the early stages of grappling with many of these topics. For example, last October we published ACF’s first ever Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy on our website and twelve months on it is timely to review our progress.

We have made changes to how we recruit our board, which is elected from and by our members. We are finding that encouraging and actively engaging all of our members to promote ACF trusteeship is resulting in a board that is more diverse and representative not only of our broad membership but society itself.

We have also changed the way in which we appoint our staff. We now shortlist with the BeApplied platform that enables you to sift blind, we anonymise CVs, and we don’t ask for unnecessary qualifications and experience. And we’ve Introduced flexible working arrangements.

But we still have a long way to go before our staff team reflects the diversity of the population of the UK, and this will be something we will need to continue to work at.

We are also mindful of the leadership role that we play in the wider sector. Following the publication of our Stronger Foundations DEI report we set up a resource page to support members in their work in this area. We published a DEI Charter with our Social Impact Investors Group. We published good practice principles for integrating a DEI lens into funding the Covid-19 response, developed by Comic Relief and others. And we hosted a webinar that took a critical look at foundation responses to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black and minority ethnic people and communities attended by representatives of around 140 foundations.

But we cannot, and must not, stop there. Becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organisation, sector and society is a journey not a destination. And it is a journey that demands us all to move at speed. As with all journeys, the critical point is to make a start, to head in the right direction and continue to ask hard questions about progress. And that is something we all can do.