Black History Month: Barnado’s Say Charities Must Lead From The Front To Fairly Represent Multicultural Britain

By Hugh Sherriffe  Regional Director Barnado’s


I began my career at Barnardo’s in 1989 – two years after the UK’s first Black History Month.

I joined the charity because I wanted to make a difference. Growing up Black in Birmingham, gave me an understanding of societal injustices and a steely determination to root out oppressive practices. I wanted to put that passion to good use by working to support vulnerable children in the UK.

I started at Barnardo’s at the end of a decade that, for me, was characterised by tensions between inner city Black communities and the police.

A deep mutual distrust boiled over when a sense of institutional racism within the police pushed people to breaking point.

Today, more than 30 years on from the civil unrest in the 1980s, young Black Britons are still more likely to experience poverty, have poorer educational outcomes, be excluded from school, be unemployed, or come in contact with the criminal justice system.

They are also less likely to get the care and support they need if they are struggling with mental health problems.

Just this month, when England’s Black footballers were subject to abuse from fans, we saw that dealing with racism is still the norm for many people. As manager Gareth Southgate put it  they are ‘hardened’ to the abuse from Bulgarian fans because they have to deal with it so often at home.

We have made progress towards a more equal society, but it has been slow and painful – and there’s still a long way to go.

You only have to look at the institutional response to our growing knife crime crisis to get a sense of how the establishment still views young Black men. Black people were already nine-and-a-half times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched even before the police’s powers were extended earlier this year.

This kind of ingrained prejudice doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere fast. Indeed, the rise of far right rhetoric over the past few years has meant that Britain is facing rising and increasingly overt racism, with hate crime at an all-time high and 71 per cent of ethnic minorities experiencing racial discrimination now, compared to 58 per cent before the EU referendum in 2016.

The fact is that we can’t have a fair society when minorities are not represented across all of it.

Since the 2017 general election,  Parliament is the most ethnically diverse it has ever been, yet still only eight percent of our MPs are from BAME backgrounds, despite BAME people making up 14 per cent of our overall population.

Only 7.5 per cent of our police officers are BAME and that figure falls to just four per cent for senior officers at chief inspector level or above. Just seven per cent of court judges are BAME.

One sector you’d think would strike the right balance is the charity sector. If anyone is going to nail how to fairly represent diverse communities it’d be us, right? Wrong.

According to NCVO’s UK Civil Society Almanac, a staggering 91 per cent of the charity sector’s workforce is white. This means we’re lagging behind both the public and the private sectors which have workforces that are 12 per cent BAME.

ACEVO’s Pay and Equalities Survey 2019 – an annual survey of leaders of the biggest 100 charities in the UK – revealed that 93 per cent of charity chief executives are from white backgrounds, and what’s even more shocking is that none identified as being Black.

A 2017 study by policy research organisation Race on the Agenda suggests that BAME people are among the least-represented group as trustees of charities in the UK, with the boards of many mainstream charities having few or no BAME trustees.

It’s not surprising that, with a demographic make up like this, the sector has earned itself the moniker #CharitySoWhite.

How can we effectively serve our beneficiaries when our workforce or board doesn’t represent them, or understand the issues facing them through diverse lived experience?

Three years ago, Barnardo’s embedded diversity and inclusion into our DNA through our 10-year corporate strategy. We’re constantly challenging ourselves to do better and our efforts are beginning to pay off.

We’re leading the way for charities in our efforts to create a workforce that is representative of the communities we support, making us better able to reach vulnerable children and families, and deliver support in the way they need.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan is currently the only visibly ethnic minority chief executive among the top 20 UK charities by income, and our last three senior hires have been from BAME backgrounds.

At Barnardo’s, just over 80 per cent of our employees are white and around 20 per cent of the children, young people, parents and carers we work with are BAME.

To help raise awareness of issues relating to equality, diversity and inclusion and to actively support people from underrepresented groups we’ve paired up senior leaders with more junior staff from diverse backgrounds in a reciprocal mentoring programme.

We also have a target of increasing success rates for appointing BAME applicants to posts by 50 per cent and an emerging leaders programme aimed at increasing diversity at manager level and above. Black people need to be able to see people who look like themselves in senior positions sector-wide. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.

The key to developing the sector’s diverse leadership is more action and less rhetoric.

As charities, we’re supposed to be trailblazers. In Black History Month – and in every month – we need to lead from the front when it comes to diversity and fairly representing 21st century, multicultural Britain.