Little progress on tackling racism in the voluntary sector, report finds

Charity

The voluntary sector has made little progress on tackling racism over the past three years despite warm words from many organisations, a new report has found.

Warm Words, Cold Comfort: UK Civil Society’s Ongoing Racism Problem, which has been published today by the charity leaders body Acevo and Voice4Change England, is the first piece of work in the Home Truths 2 programme, which aims to challenge and support mainstream UK civil society to take practical action on anti-racism and race equity.

The programme is a follow-up to the first Home Truths project, which in 2020 found that about 70 per cent of black, Asian and minority ethnic people working in the charity sector had experienced, witnessed or heard stories about racism in the civil society sector.

The latest research, which is based on a survey of more than 130 black and minoritised ethnic people working in mainstream civil society, found that 77 per cent of respondents had experienced or witnessed racism in the past five years.

It found that almost three-quarters of participants felt that mainstream civil society had a racism problem, while 68 per cent said they needed to “tone down” their behaviour to fit into mainstream civil society.

The report says that on a range of practical measures, from ongoing learning and development on anti-racism and race equity to publicly reporting on ethnicity pay gap and action plans, “the proportion of organisations not acting is (sometimes much) greater than the proportion that are”.

It says the situation on reporting racism is “similarly bleak”, pointing out that only 16 per cent of those who had raised concerns said they were satisfied with the institutional response, compared with 64 per cent who said they were dissatisfied.

“In some cases organisations appear affronted by reports of racism and choose ‘fight, flight or freeze’ responses instead of facing claims in an open way,” the report says.

But the report says there are signs of hope, in that 46 per cent of contributors felt race equity was taken seriously in their organisation and 65 per cent said they were hopeful that progress will be made in their organisation in this area.

“Whether this hope is well founded will depend, in part, on the courage and commitment of mainstream civil society leaders and organisations and whether they are willing to undertake the hard emotional labour that moving towards anti-racism and race equity entails,” the report says.

“If there is enough willingness, transformation is possible. If not, then mainstream civil society will be deemed to have offered warm words on racism, but these words will offer cold comfort and count for little.”

Sanjiv Lingayah, co creator of the Home Truths 2 programme and author of the report, said: “The testimonies of survey respondents show the ongoing and harmful problem of racism in mainstream UK civil society.

“While civil society organisations have positioned themselves against the idea of racism, too few take necessary action against it, such as publicly reporting [their] ethnicity pay gap and plans to address these.

“Words and realities are at odds.”

Jane Ide, chief executive of Acevo, said the report was a “clarion call urging us to push boundaries, be brave and dismantle the status quo”.

Kunle Olulode, director of Voice for Change England, said: “It is time for mainstream civil society leaders and organisations to not only increase partnership with black and minority ethnic civil society but also value the resource adequately to move beyond warm words towards transformative action against racism.”

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