Understanding our diversity

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the diversity of our volunteering team recently. You may recall that we asked volunteers in the Summer to complete a survey to tell us a little about themselves, so that we could build up an overall picture of how diverse a team we are.

I am very grateful to everyone for taking the time to respond to the survey as I believe it to be really important that we understand who volunteers for us, and just as importantly who does not.

I very much want to be sure that as many people as possible are engaged in volunteering for our wonderful Association, and the more people we can have helping people affected by MND the better. So, understanding the diversity of existing volunteers is a useful step in helping us understand who our current activities are successful in attracting, and who may be less attracted to us thus far.

I realise that this is not an exact science, but it is true that both conscious and more often unconscious actions by national decision-makers such as me, or local volunteer teams will send out a public impression about what it is like to volunteer in the Association. The impression people receive may be positive to them, off-putting, interesting or even of no interest at all.

The surveys, admittedly only tell us part of the story. However, I would argue, that by knowing for instance that we are underrepresented by people of a particular faith or gender, this gives us a good clue about where to focus our efforts to make us more attractive to these individuals.

Our own survey, highlighted some particularly interesting challenges and also some reassurances. Firstly we on an Association-wide level are fairly representative in many ways. But we notably have work to do to attract more men into our volunteering roles, especially the AV role. We also have an elder team of volunteers compared to other charities, and thus as we expand we need to think how we can attract more younger volunteers to join our team. With regards disability, we score quite well, but given the nature of our work I think we can do more to enable more disabled people to volunteer with us.

Of course these are the trends across England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined, so the challenges may be slightly different in the areas where you volunteer or work. So I have asked the new Regional Delivery Managers to develop diversity targets and action plans in their regions as part of their volunteer recruitment and retention strategies. I think his is an essential step forward for the Association, and I invite and encourage you all to work with colleagues, and use those creative skills to think about the following questions;

• What can I do that would encourage more new volunteers to join the Association (particularly, men, younger people, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, people with non-Christian beliefs, lesbian and gay people and disabled people)?
• Is there anything we are doing that is discouraging more new volunteers to join the Association (particularly, men, younger people, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, people with non-Christian beliefs, lesbian and gay people and disabled people)?
• How can I encourage my local colleagues to answer the two questions above?

I know the issue of diversity and equality can cause some concerns for some people. So it is important that I am clear on a few issues.

1. Addressing diversity is not achieved by alienating existing volunteers by disadvantaging them or making them feel unwelcome. We need all our good people and do not want to lose any regardless of age, gender etc. Nor do we wish to reject offers of volunteering from new people because we are in some way overrepresented. We simply want to make ourselves attracted to other potential volunteers as well.
2. The numbers are a very useful indication of how we are doing, but the most important thing is that we are all confident that we are not creating unintentional barriers to people who may volunteer for us. For example, does the place where we hold a meeting, prevent people in wheelchairs attending, or does a daytime meeting exclude volunteers in employment?
3. Not all roles are suitable or attractive to all people. So my team are keen to work with local teams to create other useful roles that may be more attractive to different individuals, with different motivations, time commitments etc. We’d love to hear your ideas.
4. We know that MND affects people regardless of race, yet we receive less requests for help from people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. So we need to be reaching out proactively to communities to ensure that people know how we can help and that we are accessible.

In essence, I am encouraging everybody to think proactively about how we meet our stated Association value through our volunteer teams- We respect and respond to people’s diverse needs, backgrounds and views.

All the best

Chris Wade
Director of Engagement
5th December 2014

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