Two-thirds of the 700,000 charity trustees in England and Wales are male and 92% are white. Image: iStock

Slow progress in increasing diversity of charity trustees

Caroline Parry, Issue 119/12, 01.12.2019
Museums and galleries are among the charities that are trying to diversify their trustees in order to better reflect the communities that they serve
The lack of diversity among trustees across the charity sector was highlighted at this year’s Trustee Week, held in early November to showcase the work of charity trustees.

According to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, there are 700,000 charity trustees in England and Wales. Two-thirds are male, 92% are white and the most commonly represented age group is 55- to 65-year-olds.

People from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, young people, LBGT people and those living with disabilities are particularly under-represented on boards.

According to Action for Trustee Racial Diversity UK, only 9.6% of trustees in 100 major UK charities are from a BAME background, and just 2.9% are women of colour. The Young Trustees Movement highlights that just 3% of trustees are under the age of 30.

Slow progress

The need for a greater diversity of voices and more inclusive board representation is widely acknowledged, but progress has been slow, including in museums.

Arts Council England’s Diversity Report, published in February, shows that BAME board representation across Major Partner Museums was just 3% in 2017-18, and 2% for people under 30. The representation of people living with disabilities among Major Partner Museums halved from 4% to 2% in 2017-18, while LGBT representation stood at 1%.

All arts council National Portfolio Organisations must demonstrate how they contribute to the Creative Case for Diversity through their work, and the organisation is also seeking to address specific issues around diversity through the Transforming Leadership fund.

Doing things differently

Several arts organisations have recognised the need to do things differently so that they reflect the diversity of their local communities and audiences.

In March, Tate announced its first youth engagement trustee, Anna Lowe, who was appointed to bring the views of the next generation to the board. Eastbourne’s Towner Art Gallery, meanwhile, is recruiting two trustees through an open process for the first time. Director Joe Hill says it realised its board was not representative of society, although diversifying will be a long and slow process.

“We need to completely rethink how we approach recruitment and look at recruiting specifically into some roles,” he says. “We also have to rethink our expectations, as we are asking for a big commitment from people – and it is voluntary.”

Hill says the board has thought carefully about how to word adverts and how comfortable the gallery is with targeting people from specific groups or backgrounds. “We don’t want people to feel they are only there for the sake of diversification,” he adds.

Cambridgeshire’s Wysing Arts Centre is also actively seeking to recruit trustees from different backgrounds, groups and communities. The ongoing process began with its programming but has led to the organisation setting targets around change in its business/action plan.

Director Donna Lynas says: “Our open calls include our aim of addressing the need for a multiplicity of voices. We have done a lot of work, but it evolves all the time, and we still have work to do.”

Ghanian artist Harold Offeh has been a Wysing trustee since March 2018. Offeh, who has previously been a trustee elsewhere, decided to take on the role having just undertaken a residency at the institution.

“I’d had such a positive and constructive experience that when the opportunity to be a trustee came up, I wanted to contribute,” he says.

While Offeh admits work and travel commitments can make it challenging to be at all the meetings, he says taking on the role is still manageable. But he believes many people who would make excellent trustees are often under tight financial constraints or time pressures.

“Organisations need to do more to promote the benefits of being on a board,” he says. “The positives are being an influential and valued voice within an organisation.

As an artist, I have learned about the workings of an arts organisation and the strategic planning that goes into it.”

Reflecting the diversity of today’s society across the programme, learning and governance is essential for an arts or cultural organisation to remain relevant.

“I can’t understand why any organisation wouldn’t want to embrace diversity,” Lynas says.