Home truths: Equitable recruitment practice in charities

29 June 2021
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
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In this article from the Change Collective Recruitment Guide Extension Pack, Kristiana Wrixon, head of policy at the charity leaders’ network ACEVO, looks at taking an equity based approach to recruitment and says to do so you must ensure that your charity becomes a radically inclusive environment.

“...we define racism as a belief system based on racial difference and hierarchy that informs actions of organisations.”

In June 2020 Voice4Change England and ACEVO released Home Truths: undoing racism and delivering real diversity in the charity sector. The report was commissioned because the charity sector has a problem with diversity. Racialised and minoritised people are under-represented in the sector and those in charities can be subject to racism and antagonism not experienced by white colleagues.

One of the conclusions of the report was that the charity sector is systemically and institutionally racist.

In the report, and in this article, we define racism as a belief system based on racial difference and hierarchy that informs actions of organisations, legislators, decision-makers and individuals in ways that harm Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic people.

In this definition, racism is ordinary and pervasive, stitched into the fabric of society and profoundly harmful. It manifests in antagonistic acts from one person to another but it is also embedded in institutional practice. It is important to emphasise here that racism is not necessarily about the intention to cause harm or about racialised and minoritised people being ‘offended’, it is about actual harm caused.

One of the consequences of the racism inherent in standard charity recruitment policy, practice and attitudes is the underemployment and under-promotion of racialised and minoritised people.

A radical reimagining of recruitment

It is particularly important for recruiters to challenge and redefine their understanding of who is an ‘excellent’ candidate. Too often job descriptions and person specifications either mirror the skill-set of the person who came before them, resulting in a like for like swap of views, knowledge and experience or place disproportionate emphasis on candidates having previously accessed other racist and elitist institutions, for example Russell Group universities and local or national government.

Further to this it isn’t unusual for marks to be awarded in interviews for things like ‘presentation’ covering anything from how the candidate dresses to how they speak with a clear unspoken emphasis that white social norms are more ‘desirable’ and thus make white British candidates more likely to be employed. In these structures, it is clear how minor changes like adding ‘we welcome candidates from black and minoritised ethnic backgrounds’ is the bare minimum and alone will not create any real change.

“The charity sector should be a place of imagination, a place which nurtures and sees excellence in ambitious ideas to create better workplace cultures”.

Recruiting, retaining and promoting talent from racialised and minoritised people means intentionally and purposefully creating new processes and practices, ones that don’t reward the status quo, particularly the status quo of whiteness.

The charity sector should be a place of imagination, a place which nurtures and sees excellence in ambitious ideas to create better workplace cultures, just and sustainable workstreams and an equitable society. Recruitment that seeks to shortcut the reimagination of what is possible will not create more equitable and inclusive workplaces and will not help us to achieve our true charitable purposes.

Changing the song, not just the singer

Progress on ‘race’ justice in the charity sector requires the development and implementation of purposeful strategies for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Recruiting and retaining racialised and minoritised talent requires charities to take a holistic approach to DEI which is reflected in everything the organisation does. Transformation is not just changing who does the work (workforce) but how it gets done (process); the work itself (activity/output); who benefits and how (outcomes). In other words, done well, real progress in DEI not only changes the players, it changes the game itself.

Equity-based approaches to recruitment

We argue for an equitable approach to recruitment rather than an equal opportunity approach. Equal opportunities means trying to provide a candidate or prospective candidate with a ‘fair shot’ at the position they want (EHRC, 2016c). In practice this might mean ensuring that as many people as possible know about the position; that the selection criteria are role-relevant; and that a selection panel is itself ‘diverse’. Under equal opportunities, individual candidates are compared at a moment in time, with the ‘winner’ being the person deemed the ‘best fit’ against the job description and person specification. This approach treats people in the same way at the point of decisionmaking. Equity however, is at its core about treating all people in a just way, but this doesn’t necessarily mean in the same way.

Equal opportunities practices work in a system untainted by racism, but not in a context where the evidence shows that employers as a whole discriminate in favour of white British job applicants and against racialised and minoritised candidates. Equal opportunities recruitment processes will, relatively speaking, tend to favour wellpositioned (male, heterosexual, middle- and upper-class) white candidates whose lives have been largely unimpeded by discrimination. As one interviewee for the Home Truth’s report said:

“I’ve never understood what it [equal opportunity] means. So, you’re going to give these middle-class white folks who have had all the privilege, the same as you’re going to give me who’s coming from a background where I’ve been denied so much opportunity, so much resources. And you’re going to give exactly the same. So, you’re keeping them in that position. And I’ll still stay down here. That’s the difference.”

Equity recognises that some populations are disadvantageously situated in society and emphasises the need for actions that correct these distortions to end built-in group disparities, it is about achieving equality of outcome rather than simply equality of opportunity. This may mean supporting racialised charity people and prospective charity people differently from white counterparts so that a workplace can be made more diverse and inclusive.

The role of positive action

Positive action includes a range of measures that can be taken to encourage and train people from under-represented populations so that they are more able to compete with other applicants. Positive action also means that if there are two equally matched candidates then it is lawful to appoint the person who is from an under-represented group. [See Hiring Manager guide]

Guide Points

This article features excerpts from the Home Truths report and blogs on accountability and recruitment written by the Dr Sanjiv Lingyah, lead author of the Home Truths report. It also references a previous blog guest written by co-author of Home Truths, Kristiana Wrixon, for Charity So White titled #PolicySoWhite.

Kristiana Wrixon
Kristiana Wrixon
Head of Policy at Acevo
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