a board meeting in progress

More diverse boards ‘not beyond our imagination’

Published: 19/06/22 | Categories: Influencing, Author: Malcolm John

Malcolm John, founder of the Action for Trustee Racial Diversity campaign, outlines the work they’ve been doing to encourage more trustees from Black and Asian backgrounds.


Action for Trustee Racial Diversity’s vision is to significantly increase the numbers of Black and Asian trustees on charity boards. We aim to achieve this vision by providing organisations who genuinely want to recruit and retain Black and Asian trustees with guidance and resources to enable them to do so.

The latest statistics suggest there are more than 100,000 unfilled charity trustee vacancies in the UK. Nearly three-quarters of charities report difficulties hiring trustees and people with professional skills. However, the fact that over 70% of charities recruit informally and through their existing networks results in a startling lack of diversity among trustees.


  • In England and Wales, only 8% of trustees are from Black and Asian backgrounds and only 2.9% are women of colour (fewer than 5,000 out of 168,000 trustees!). This is in the context of 14% of the England and Wales population being from a non-white background and highlights a damning picture of over 40% under-representation
  • 92% of trustees are white, older, and above average income and education (Charity Commission 2017)
  • 62% of the top charities, by income, have all white boards
  • 34 out of 100 UK major charities have all white senior leadership (both voluntary and professional) (Green Park 2017)

The Action for Trustee Racial Diversity campaign readily acknowledges that diversity embraces a broader range of attributes and characteristics than race alone. However, we are not shy to suggest that the figures above reinforce our belief that the issue of racial diversity is where there has been least progress.

During my own experience of more than 20 years of being a trustee on several charity boards, varying from very large to very small, I have only occasionally found my peer trustees to be also from a Black or Asian background.

It’s also true to say that for most of these boards, the opportunity has come from my own personal networks and contacts rather than any open recruitment process. Not a desirable situation from any equity, diversity and inclusion perspective.


The benefits of embracing diversity are well documented. Diversity helps draw on a wider talent pool bringing different experiences and different ways of thinking through and finding solutions to organisational issues.

A more diverse trustee board helps organisations reflect more clearly and represent more effectively those they support, their communities and wider society. Diversity helps avoid groupthink and collective blindness on Boards where all trustees are from the same social, cultural and educational background.


The campaign’s engagement, particularly with younger people from Black and Asian backgrounds, reveals that trusteeship is ‘another country’ to which they don’t have the right passport and find one difficult to get. It only takes one dispiriting experience for a Black or Asian person applying to become a trustee to abandon any future attempts.

Many report that they’ve been told they either don’t fit or don’t have the required skills and experience. Or those thinking of dipping their toes into the uncharted waters of trusteeship are discouraged by not seeing very many people like them on the glittering online trustee profiles of charities of all sizes.

Action for Trustee Racial Diversity wants to paint a less surreal picture: a picture vastly more representative of the demographics of the 21st century.


However, we know we can’t achieve our vision on our own. We want to work with other key partners such as WCVA in the charity and other sectors to pool resources and achieve greater impact.

Our longer-term aim – starting this year – is to develop local capacity and local partnerships which would focus on raising awareness of the benefits and the barriers to more racially diverse Boards and build sustainable links between local charities and local Black and Asian networks. We will share our learning from the campaign’s activities and highlight the three key resources we’ve developed.

  • Our database of currently over 500 Black and Asian network organisations (BANOs) across sectors – corporate, charity, professional, student, membership, staff networks etc – represents thousands of potential trustees with the skills and experience which charities are crying out for
  • Our groundbreaking guide – From here to diversity – A practical Guide to recruiting Black and Asian charity trustees
  • Our social media network of currently over 300 aspiring and current Black and Asian trustees within which charities might post their trustee vacancies. If you’re a Black or Asian individual who’s passionate and keen to play a key role in charity sector leadership, then sign for the network here https://action-for-trustee-racial-diversity-uk.mn.co/invite


There are 100,000 trustee vacancies every year. Another 10,000 trustees recruited from people from Black and Asian backgrounds will raise the percentage of Black and Asian trustees from 8% to 14% and reach the promised land of proportionate representation.

There are 168,000 charities in the UK. It only takes 5,000 of them – 3% of the total – recruiting two trustees each from Black and Asian backgrounds to reach the magical 14%! Surely that is not beyond our commitment and imagination. With the active support and engagement of WCVA and similar infrastructure organisations across the UK, we can achieve this.

If this is an important issue for your charity and you’d like to support us, please contact: Malcolm John, Founder, Action for Trustee Racial Diversity, malcjohn18@gmail.com.

Malcolm John is the founder of the campaign Action for Trustee Racial Diversity and a trustee of the Association of Chairs.