Increasing Board Diversity: Three reasons why it’s important

31 August 2022 | By Emma Cook

The role of trustees in a charity is to lead and direct the organisation, ensuring that the charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit. Trustees use their expertise and experience to help charities achieve their aims and can bring a diverse range of skills and abilities to their roles. 

Board diversity has been a hot topic for several years. In 2017, the Charity Commission’s Taken on Trust report showed that 92% of trustees were white, two thirds were male and the average age was between 55-64. Since that time, some progress has been made, but there is still more to be done to make boards more diverse.


But what does a diverse board really mean, and why is it important?

A diverse board contains a broad mix of skills, experience and expertise that will help an organisation to be connected to the people it aims to work with, support and serve. Having trustees with lived experience of the causes your charity supports is a real asset to a board and therefore diversity can look different to each organisation. Diversity comes in many forms and is more than ethnicity and gender – it also covers age, sexual orientation, disability, and neurodiversity. 

We want the diversity of audiences, leaders, producers and creators of creativity and culture to reflect the diversity of contemporary England.”

Arts Council England


So what does contemporary England look like in terms of diversity?

Increasingly, socio-economic status is being considered alongside other measures of diversity. Arts Council England (ACE) has been asking National Portfolio Organisations to report on the socio-economic backgrounds of their workforce since 2018/19. 


Why is board diversity important?

  1. It’s good practice

Having a diverse board is generally good practice and encourages better and more balanced decision making. The Charity Governance Code (refreshed in 2020) is a practical tool to help charities and their Trustees develop high standards of governance. It has seven guiding principles, of which number six is ‘Equality, diversity and inclusion’. This principle is that the board has a clear, agreed, and effective approach to supporting equality, diversity, and inclusion throughout the organisation and in its own practice. The code states: “Boards whose trustees have different backgrounds and experience are more likely to encourage debate and to make better decisions[1]”.   

When considering your Board’s diversity, a regular skills audit will be a good starting point. Consider your trustees’ backgrounds and perspectives in the context of your organisation’s work and think about any gaps and imbalances that exist. Good practice seeks to remove any bias in recruitment and selection and aims to make meetings and information accessible. Boards that only meet in the afternoons on weekdays are likely to make it difficult for people who work, attend college or further education, or have caring responsibilities, to join. We’ve written previously about how important inclusive onboarding of trustees is for developing a more diverse board.


  1. It will improve your organisation

A Board with broader representation of the community it serves can be more effective as it will reflect different perspectives, experiences, and skills. A more diverse range of voices at Trustee level will help to make sure that your organisation is fair and open. Trustees with lived experience will enable more informed decision making and can help a charity be more supportive of service users. People from different backgrounds and different stages of life will bring a variety to the Board’s collective knowledge and skills to position it more strongly. For example, young people can bring a different perspective and help organisations to engage more effectively with younger audiences (see our blogs about young trustees and incorporating youth governance). 


  1. It is becoming more important for funding

Research has found that organisations with more diverse leadership are more innovative and more like to achieve financial success above their industry average.

Additionally, funders are beginning to ask more questions about diversity at board level. As part of their 2023-36 National Portfolio Organisation funding application, ACE requested information about board and management members that covered ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability status, sex, gender identity, socio-economic background, and neurodiversity. They specifically asked if organisations were diverse led, and their most recent findings demonstrate that their funded organisations are moving towards having more representative boards[2]:

  • 49% women
  • 18% Black, Asian or Ethnically Diverse
  • 9% disabled people
  • 8% identified as LGBTQ+
  • 8% aged 20-34, with less than 1% 19 or under

The National Lottery Heritage Fund states that that every project they fund must achieve ‘a wider range of people will be involved in heritage’. Whilst they don’t specifically ask for demographic information about board members, applications for larger projects will need to include information about the skills, knowledge, and experience of board members. 

“We believe everyone should be able to benefit from our funding, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, faith, class or income.”


Further reading: NCVO have created a useful introduction to equality, diversity and inclusion at board level. Charity Awards have explored how you can diversify your board, and Charity Digital have written about what you can learn from board diversity. 

By committing to improving the diversity of your board, you will be better placed to provide a good service to your audiences and visitors. It will help keep your organisation relevant and in touch with your communities and should help you to become a stronger organisation.

Have you been actively diversifying your board, or is this something you are planning to do? Let us know on Twitter @TrusteeLeaders.


More by posts by Emma Cook

Increasing Board Diversity: Three reasons why it’s important

31st August, 2022 | By Emma Cook

Having a diverse board of trustees is becoming increasingly important for organisations. Here, we explore what diversity means for a board, and why it is something all boards need to be thinking about.

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