Oct 19, 2023, 9:00 AM

How charities can bridge the gap in Black and Asian representation on trustee boards

By Malcolm John, founder of the campaign organisation Action for Trustee Racial Diversity and a trustee of the Association of Chairs

The aim of Action for Trustee Racial Diversity (ATRD), which I started some four years ago, is specifically to address the significant underrepresentation of people from Black and Asian backgrounds on charity trustee boards.

I’m delighted to have been invited by Action Planning to blog about what charities might need to do to increase the diversity of your board, and to highlight why board diversity is so important.  This article will also showcase the suite of resources ATRD has developed to support charities and suggest actions which charities might wish to consider in their effective engagement, recruitment and retention of more diverse new trustees.

First, the harsh statistics on racial diversity on trustee boards 

71% of trustees are recruited through an informal process 

92% of trustees are white, older and above average income and education 

2.9% of trustees in the sector are women of colour – representing fewer than 5,000 out of 168,000 trustees 

Compare that with the 14% of people from Black and Asian backgrounds in England and Wales. 

Practical resources
A mapping survey we carried out to understand better the barriers to racial diversity on charity boards showed that boards made up very largely of white, middle class and university educated men and women showed a serious lack of knowledge and awareness of the huge pool of unused talents, skills and experience within Black and Asian networks and individuals.   

So we set about addressing these barriers by developing three key resources:

One, we produced in 2021 a practical guide for charities, From Here to Diversity – How to recruit and retain Black and Asian trustees. This reflected that, whilst an increasing number of organisations in light of events in 2020 (Black Lives Matter and the horrific murder of George Floyd in the US) are keen to take active steps to address racial inequalities, more often than not they don’t know how to go about doing it.  

Our second resource is a unique database of currently over 550 Black and Asian network organisations across sectors and across the UK. This addresses the major issue of charities’ lack of access to and knowledge of more diverse networks. We capped it at 500 but there are so many more. The database highlights the thousands of Black and Asian individuals out there with the largely untapped skills, experience and commitment to be effective and valuable trustees. We’ve drawn up the list largely through our own online research – if we can do it, anyone else can, given the right resources and commitment. 

Our third resource is a unique peer support online network, ATRD Connects, solely for aspiring and current Black and Asian trustees. It now has over 550 members.

Awareness of the role
It would be true to say that trusteeship is very largely another country for those of us who are not white, are younger and are below average income and education; significantly more so if you’re young, Black, Asian or working class.

A questionnaire survey which we carried out last year for aspiring Black and Asian trustees revealed a considerable lack of awareness of the role of trustees. Many, where they’d heard of trusteeships, did not think that it was a role for them. Many were at a loss as to how to go about finding trustee vacancies or even, if they found them, how to apply successfully.

Even when they got to the application stage, they would look at the website profiles of existing trustees and would rarely ever see anyone who looked like them. The network seeks to address these challenges. 

This year – and  in the firm belief that diversity and inclusion starts at the top – we launched a new initiative, Black and Asian Future Chairs’ Academy (abbreviated as BAFCA

Action for Trustee Racial Diversity (ATRD) is a volunteer led independent campaign, founded by Malcolm John, working with cross-sector partners to address the under-representation of people from Black and Asian backgrounds on charity trustee boards. ATRD aims to support charities to bridge the 6% under-representation gap (from 8% - 14%) by recruiting an additional 10,000 Black and Asian trustees by 2026.


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