Diversity in the social investment field  

Stephen Bediako and Gemma Rocyn Jones

Just over year ago, a number of organizations in the social investment market came together to better understand our diversity and inclusion. We were spurred on by research from the Young Foundation which found gender equality to be a blindspot in our sector. We wanted to understand what is really happening.

Our first step was better data. We needed raw data on the diversity of those working in social investment. To start building this picture, the  Social Impact Investors Group  and Big Society Capital conducted a sector-wide survey.

We received 227 responses from 32 different organizations, including intermediaries, financial institutions, charities and social enterprises, and consultancies. Even from this small and imperfect sample, we can see that the emerging picture is not bright.

At the management level and operational/working level, our sample suggests we have a balanced gender split, with 52 per cent and 56 per cent female representation respectively.

However, these figures should be treated with caution given that there was only one response per organization and many of the sector’s organizations are small with less than ten staff. But without knowing the data for how many women apply for management roles and are successful, we can perhaps be encouraged by the relative gender balance at this level. 

The challenge comes at executive and leadership levels. Here we see just 28 per cent female representation. There is a clear drop-off in women either transitioning or being hired into decision-making levels, which is troubling. This appears to be less marked at board level although we know there are cases of boards and investment committees with just one or even no women. 

There is a clear drop-off in women either transitioning or being hired into decision-making levels.

If we assume as a sector that we are more likely to encourage internal progression, the gender balance at managerial levels gives some hope for optimism in the longer term. But the relative lack of women in executive roles is stark. We can no longer say that gender inclusion is not a problem in the social investment market. 

A bleak picture for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) inclusion
There is even further for us to progress here. We have 30 per cent BAME representation in operational roles (compared to around 14 per cent at the national level, and broadly in line with figures for non-white British representation at this level in London).

From this, we see a significant dip in transitions to management roles with just 9 per cent representation. 

This lack of transition from operational roles into management positions is a real concern – even more so if we hold the assumption that we do more internal recruitment than most. Under-representation of BAME is a huge problem for the UK charity sector: over half of charities in the top 500 have ‘all-white governance’.

Out of a total of  5,988  trustees listed by the  Charity Commission,  just 6.3 per cent of trustees are from BAME backgrounds.  

How do we move forward from here?
Since our initial discussions last year, diversity and inclusion, particularly gender equality, have featured strongly in discussions at sector-wide events and conferences.

The overwhelming message coming back to us has been positive – our peers recognize the current situation isn’t good enough and welcome help in tackling it together. 

Our immediate focus is to find out what is driving the gender and ethnicity disparity, and identifying the actions (no matter how small) we can take to improve recruitment, development and promotion of people from diverse backgrounds.

A cross-sector working group[1] has now been established, committed to improving the diversity and inclusion of our organizations and organizational practices. It will be a long but essential journey.

Our immediate focus is to find out what is driving the gender and ethnicity disparity, and identifying the actions (no matter how small) we can take to improve recruitment, development and promotion of people from diverse backgrounds.  

But we know that diversity is more than just statistics, and while we will look to collect better data, this is just the starting point. We call on all organizations in the sector to identify a ‘Diversity Champion’ who will be part of this group and start taking action today. 

Stephen Bediako is CEO of The Social Innovation partnership.
Email stephen.bediako@tsip.co.uk 

Gemma Rocyn Jones is head of financial resilience at the Big Lottery Fund.
Email gemma.rocynjones@biglotteryfund.org.uk  

Thanks to David Dinnage, communications director at Big Society Capital, for contributing to this piece 


  1. ^ For more information about the working group, please contact the authors

Comments (1)


This is a great place to start, and congratulations on taking the initiative. For follow-up, I would encourage you to broaden your scope a bit and include 'trans' or 'other' in your gender options, ask for sexual orientation, as well as disability. I believe this will likely yield important - and actionable - data. Thank you!

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