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Why Firstport is Putting Diversity First in 2020

Megan Veronesi, our Head of Business Development and Partnerships, shares her thoughts on inclusion and diversity and why Firstport is putting diversity first in 2020.

Last month I took a road trip around the USA’s Deep South. Travelling from Martin Luther King’s birthplace to where he was assassinated in Memphis, I learnt so much that I’d need another blog to do it justice. But what shocked me most was how relevant it all still felt, half a century on, on the other side of the Atlantic.

The stories arising from the #CharitySoWhite campaign have highlighted that institutional racism in the charity sector is very much a problem of today. A recent report on the social investment sector found gender diversity was even worse than the charity sector, with BME women represented on less than 3% of boards.

In Scotland, the picture might look a bit rosier at first glance. Women dominate Scotland’s social enterprise sector (over 2/3 of social enterprises are run by women). But the census statistics on ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and other areas are opaque or absent, meaning we risk focusing on our successes while failing to act on areas where we fall short.

Our Starting Point

At Firstport, Scotland’s development agency for start-up social entrepreneurs, we are proud of our Board diversity: 55% is female (including our Chair) and 22% are from a BME background. 6% of our grants were awarded to people from BME communities, which is broadly representative of the Scottish population. In our What If…North Edinburgh programme, 11% of people on the programme were disabled.

But there are many areas where we could do better. We lack a nuanced understanding of the barriers that people from diverse communities face in applying and accessing support. We don’t have anyone with a disability on our board or staff team. And there is data we don’t track, like sexuality. Numbers can only tell us half the story.

There is undoubtedly much more that can be done to better attract and support all our clients and staff, and make sure both feel welcomed and understood. With no programme as of yet to coordinate diversity and inclusion in the social enterprise sector, we wanted to share what we are doing to stimulate discussion, share learning and challenge ourselves and each other to be better.

Progress So Far

Work at Firstport towards creating a more diverse and inclusive organisation has been growing since the summer:

  • We created a Diversity and Inclusion Slack group so staff can share interesting blogs, events, and best practice.
  • Our Awards team has begun working with partners like CEMVO to identify and address barriers in our application process e.g. joint meetings with potential applicants.
  • We have signed up to the Equality Action Pledge, demonstrating our commitment to working with the rest of the voluntary sector on this issue.

But we want our progress to be more than ad hoc, to take it from a side project of passionate individuals to something everyone in the organisation has an active stake in. So we recruited a Working Group who have come together to produce a wide-ranging strategy for the next 12-18 months.

Our Vision and Plans for 2020

As we start to think about what 2020 will look like, our goal is to promote diversity, inclusion and equality so that everyone who seeks to become a social entrepreneur has access to the right support to start and grow their business. We want to:

1.Strengthen our capacity to support individuals from all backgrounds
2.Build relationships with Scotland’s diverse communities
3.Influence a more diverse social enterprise ecosystem

We have an exciting year ahead with plans including:

  • Publishing key diversity data on our website and improving how we capture, track and respond to data.
  • Improving our recruitment practices, including ‘blind’ recruitment and ensuring all job adverts are assessed for gendered language.
  • Understanding staff knowledge gaps and providing training on areas like unconscious bias.
  • Running campaigns to champion social entrepreneurs from under-represented groups.

We’ll continue to meet as a Working Group to coordinate progress. Diversity and Inclusion has been added as a standing agenda item at Team Meetings to hold our group to account and engage the wider staff team.

Next Steps

We know we don’t have all the answers and that there is much more we can do. But we hope that by being transparent in our thinking and working closely with others across the sector, we can be more than the sum of our parts.
We want to hear from people who want to work with us, to share their experiences of accessing support (good and bad) and be part of a wider movement for change.

As the civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson said,

Inclusion is not a matter of political correctness. It is the key to growth.

And as the engine behind Scotland’s inclusive growth, we all need to step up to the challenge.

Megan Veronesi is Head of Business Development & Partnerships at Firstport. She also leads the Inclusion & Diversity Working Group. Is your organisation doing something similar? Do you have examples of good (or bad) practice? Join the conversation on Twitter @Firstport @MeganVeronesi and LinkedIn using #socent #diversity