I have been talking, and learning a great deal about race and representation in global development over the past year. Here are five small, but positive steps, development agencies are taking to improve representation in the workforce.
1. Banning all-white recruitment panels
One leading multilateral agency has committed to banning all-white interview panels for every role within the organisation in order to reduce the potential for bias in recruitment and selection. If managers cannot put together a suitably diverse interview panel internally, they have committed to bringing in outside experts to sit on these panels. Bravo.
2. Positive Action
At least two INGOs are now saying out loud something we have all known to be true; sometimes at interview you will find two or more candidates that meet all the requirements for the role, and are evenly matched. These agencies have made a clear policy commitment, signed off by their trustees, and communicated to the wider staff, that in these circumstances they will chose the candidate who comes from a background that is under-represented in their organisation.
3. Widening the Circle
Too many development agencies rely on a small group of directors to advise the CEO, set the strategy and respond to the big issues of the day. Often these groups are entirely, or predominantly mono-ethnic (read: white). There is then the risk that such groups will recruit in their own image, make decisions in their own interests, and as relationships can go back decades — protect each other at all cost. One leading INGO has decided to think a little differently about the composition of the organisation’s decision-making forum, and expanded the group to significantly increase the number of women as well as Black, Asian and other minority employees, including those from and based in the global south.
One of the most special and inspiring outcomes of the Advocacy Team’s ‘Opening Doors’ events has been the safe space these forums create for people to discuss issues related to race and representation in development, and I am always moved that people speak so openly and honestly about the challenges and obstacles they have faced as they seek to break into the development sector, and navigate careers in international affairs. The employers who have engaged with Advocacy Team events tell me they gain a great deal from hearing these experiences. Of course, listening is an important and necessary first step, but it’s not enough. Progressive employers have moved from listening to action.
A recent report by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) found that in the UK, ethnic minorities are less likely to secure jobs in charities than in the private or public sectors, and just 9% of employees in the charity sector come from BAME backgrounds. Our sector — accustom as we are to calling out the wrongs of others, is now facing more scrutiny and challenge from our own staff and more attention from the media. I hope this scrutiny will drive far more creativity, more innovative practice, more willingness to learn from others, and more urgency to act.
Lorriann Robinson is Founder and Director at the Advocacy Team.