Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – Time To Act

How equality, diversity and inclusion should impact how we lend, what our processes are and who are staff are in the social investment sector.

We had our away day for Big Issue Invest staff earlier this month. We decided to go to the Stephen Laurence Centre in Deptford, to reflect on our work and where we want to go next. A great day. So why choose The Stephen Laurence Centre? The Stephen Lawrence Trust, which runs the Centre, was established to make sure every young person, regardless of their background, should have the opportunity and support to flourish in a society that treats them with fairness and respect. It was a positive response to the events of 25 years ago when aspiring young architect Stephen Laurence was murdered in a racist attack. Five years after the attack the Macpherson Report was published, coining the concept of institutional racism. This concept helps us to understand how an organisation can behave in ways that individuals within it find abhorrent, and which run contrary to societal and organisational goals around equality and diversity.

Why is this relevant to us in the social investment sector?

Three years ago, a few of us started looking into a pattern we observed in our social investment sector. Survey work by Bonnie Chiu at TSIC and also at Big Society Capital, backed by the Social Impact Investors Group of Trusts and Foundations surveyed the sector and added some data to the visual picture we were observing . Our BAME colleagues were not getting out of back office functions: 30% of the back office are BAME, but just 8% of managers. If they did get into management, they did well and went up the ladder, but it was hard to cross that line. Women were half of the back office and half of management but fell away to well less than a 1/3 of decision making / executive functions. These were just two of the groups not well represented in our sector. We do poorly employing people who are disabled.

Now, as a sector, we operate in a societal context and our people come from the charity, social enterprise and finance sectors. We may be more inclusive than mainstream finance but we probably lag behind the wider social enterprise and charity space. As social investors, we ought to be demonstrating in our own practice some of the change we seek to make through our investments in the wider world. If we don’t pay attention, we slip to a normative view of society – one which is led by men, is predominately white, where LGBT+ stays below the radar and disabled people are absent.

It is not that we are bad people. It is just that society trends us in a particular direction and if we don’t pay attention, we end up not serving the full breadth of society.

To take practical action, we formed the Diversity Forum for Inclusive Social Investment chaired by Gemma Rocyn Jones and myself, with a strong diverse steering group, a set of diversity champions in social investment organisations and a small executive team of Stephen Bediako and Bonnie Chiu. Natalia Fernandez, regional investment manager, is our Diversity Champion here at Big Issue Invest.

Following 18 months of work funded by the Connect Fund, we have a new research report, Inclusive Impact, and a Toolkit that sets out the practical steps organisations can take in relation to training, leadership, influencing and culture to create a sector that reflects the society we seek to serve. You can find the research and toolkit here.

Big Issue Invest’s Access Foundation funded Impact Loans England programme, supported by Big Society Capital and the Big Lottery Fund, shows we can deliver across society.

8% of organisations were BME led (we need to do better), but 45% of investees were new to social investment and 48% were women led organisations.

To deliver this, we’ve not chased targets but sought to change ourselves – how we lend, what our processes are, who are staff are. I’m proud of what our lending and investing teams have achieved, but we have more to do. Our senior staff team here at BII is almost all men, which gives us a poor gender pay gap. If we want to change this, it is not just a hiring decision. It is our culture, and our policies, particularly in relation to maternity and paternity leave, that needs to change. The really good news on equality, diversity and inclusion is that the barriers, for us, are all within our power to -dismantle. The benefits are clear – more investees reached, happier staff and a stronger team. Across the wider social investment sector, the Diversity Forum has received a universally positive response – sign up to our manifesto.

Danyal Sattar