Diversity in Leadership

Jenny Berry, Director of ACEVO North and Leadership Development writes about the importance of diversity among third sector CEO’s and Trustees.

Greater diversity in Third Sector leadership will model the sector value of helping a diverse range of people and will better represent the end users served.

Diversity means difference.   Diverse leadership integrates leaders with a  range of characteristics in a way which cherishes rather than deletes difference and fully utilises the potential benefits of a more heterogeneous leadership.1

Characteristics include: visible differences -age, gender, ethnicity and physical appearance; and underlying differences – religion, nationality, value systems, thought processes, life experience, sexual orientation, family status, heritage, function, skills, interests, perspectives, beliefs, and education.2 Diversity is understanding, valuing and using these differences in every person.

Why diverse leadership?

Greater diversity in Third Sector leadership will mean:

  • Better reflection of the diversity of end users thus creating improved stakeholder relationships and cooperation.
  • Greater generation of new ideas outside the current box by capitalising on the power of collective difference. A trait needed for survival and growth.

Challenges to having a diverse leadership

Though we might like the idea, achieving diversity in leadership presents challenges.  Barriers include:

Bias and prejudice – psychological research reveals that we favour our own group and downplay the strengths of others.3  Thus some people just aren’t in the pool for leadership selection having been given less challenging assignments to develop their leadership skills.

Poor career development and planning  – some people don’t get the advice they need early on and therefore don’t get into  line positions to propel them towards leadership. They don’t get credibility building experiences.

Career versus family responsibilities and commitments creates problems for many groups, not only women.

Lack of diverse mentors and role models means that no one is paving the way for different types of leaders.

Exclusion from formal an informal networks means that some people don’t get  the same advantages that these bring in terms of passing on skills, knowledge, contacts and resources and they don’t get recommended.

Costs of training and development and recruiting from a wider base.

Disruption of team cohesiveness the team may need recreating and building.


Ideas for creating a greater diversity in leadership

Embracing diversity means actively welcoming and involving different types of people.  Ideas to foster this include:

Talent Management – create a talent pipeline for the next generation of diverse talent so they are groomed for leadership roles.

Performance Management – create an atmosphere that is safe for all employees to ask for career progress development.

Mentoringprofile diverse role models as much as you can online, in publications and at conferences.

Networking – include people who are different to you in informal gatherings (lunch, coffee breaks, spur of the moment meetings) and formal events.

Recruitmentencourage applicants who may have been traditionally blocked from the role.  Consider: how another person may complement existing strengths or counteract existing weaknesses in your team; whether the job’s outcomes can be performed in alternative ways such as part-time or job-share. Find diverse talent by:

  • notifying specialist recruitment functions
  • advertising in specialist/local newspapers or other media such community radio, LinkedIn groups
  • advertising on websites of organisations that represent different groups

 Selection – make adjustments to the process ensuring:

  • Applicants can access the interview room easily if in a wheelchair or blind for example
  •  Arrangements are made for those with sight/hearing impairments eg. a deaf/sign interpreter
  • Interview times  take account of applicants’ family/caring responsibilities
  •  There are comfortable chairs for people with varying physical needs including pregnancy
  • A support person or advocate can be present if needed
  • Job materials are available in different formats or allowing the applicant to submit information in an alternative way (such as replacing a written application with a telephone interview).

A little time, effort and doing things slightly different to normal will help foster greater leadership diversity.  For further information on this topic see the ACEVO publication: Improving Equality and

Diversity in Your Organisation: A Guide for Third Sector CEOs (www.acevo.org.uk).

ACEVO also offer support for third sector organisations looking to renew their board or appoint new trustees, for more information please contact Services Manager Olabisi Porteous 020 7014 4619


  1. 1.       Lumby, J., Bhopal, K., Dyke, M., Maringe, F. & Morrison, M. (2007) Integrating Diversity in Leadership in Further Education. Lancaster,UK: CEL, Research Report.
  2. 2.       Norton, J. & Fox, R. (1997). The Change Equation. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association
  3. 3.       Shelton, M.  (2007). Managing Diversity: Organizational Change, Part One ,  January/February issue of Camping Magazine

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