This week, in timely fashion following the Black Lives Matter protests, ACEVO (Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) published its report ‘Home Truths: Undoing racism and delivering real diversity in the charity sector’.
The damning report calls on the Third Sector to “more urgently than ever, rethink and reconstruct who we are as a sector, how we work and what we do”.
Nowhere is this question of diversity more pertinent than in Boardrooms where – despite the ‘target market’ of Sport for Development organisations – Senior Management Teams don’t often look, act or sound like the participants their organisations are working with.
Perhaps it’s an apparent dearth of candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds with the qualifications required to reach C-suite level; or to quote Cabinet Minister Matt Hancock “diversity of thought” is what matters most anyway.
What’s really needed across the board – or more specifically, across Boards – is “a bit more courage”, according to Greenhouse Sports CEO Beatrice Butsana-Sita (below) who is mixed race.
“Organisations and their Boards need to represent the make-up of our society better,” Beatrice told ConnectSport. “I think diverse Boards represent the thinking of our society. And that is diversity in all forms, not just gender and race. As an organisation which serves a particular segment of our society, it is important to represent that make-up at Board level and in the leadership teams. In broader terms, you should represent the population, and the population is very diverse in the UK and especially here in London.
“I come from the corporate sector, and I have seen it there too; people tend to hire people they feel comfortable with. That’s how human beings operate, and it takes quite a person to step out of that and have a bit more courage and pick someone very different. You have to force yourself to say ‘let’s go for someone with a different sort of background', or who looks at a problem in a different way.
“I think then, as an organisation, you will make decisions that are in tune with what is needed in society. Especially for charities, it is important to have people who understand what is happening out there and are able to articulate a strategy in line with what is happening on the ground.”
Greenhouse Sports are certainly ‘close to the ground’; its coaches run more than 50 open and inclusive programmes in schools, with 76% of participants living in postcodes classed by Government as 'high deprivation'.
“Your staff must be in tune with the young people they are dealing with, so they can put themselves in their shoes. So that the programmes we put together are truly relevant and will address some of the issues that young people are facing.
“Even myself, as a mixed-race Belgian growing up in a primarily white environment, when I joined Greenhouse Sports, I wanted to visit the schools we work with, talk to the young people and the headteachers, to really understand the issues and I feel I am still learning every day. Some people might assume that because I am mixed-race, I will automatically understand the issues but no, that is wrong.”
“Transformational changes do not happen overnight. People take an awful long time to change. They need time to get used to a new way of doing things. It’s about opening the gates very slowly. Also, people from diverse backgrounds have an understanding that you have to prove yourself a bit more with regards to the standards set for others. That’s what it will take I guess and gradually that’s how change can happen.”
The doors were re-opened this week at the charity’s home, the Greenhouse Centre – a re-purposed church in central London – for some small-scale, socially-distanced activities. So in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, what was Beatrice’s message for the staff and young people who participate on its programmes?
“As an organisation, we just need to stay focused and keep increasing the chances of our young people succeeding in society, whatever happens.
“Whether it’s Black Lives Matter or other campaigns, our job is to focus on working with the young people to understand what they are going through, as much as possible, and keep giving them opportunities to succeed in life. I think, through sport, we can do a lot of that.
“We constantly want to understand how we can increase our impact; what more can we do around employability, around mental wellbeing, with mentoring and providing more academic support?
“Ultimately what I want to achieve is that all of the young people that are going through the Greenhouse programme, get to have the same opportunity that you and I have. There needs to be lobbying and the Government needs to take more responsibility…. but here we must do practical stuff on the ground, so we don’t have a lost generation.”
Find out more about Greenhouse Sports at greenhouse.org.