In our latest AVM Bitesize, we chat with Dr Helen Timbrell and Hadji Singh about Helen’s recent research: “What the bloody hell are you doing here?” A comparative study of the experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and White volunteers in four organisations

Improving the diversity of our volunteers and creating more inclusive, welcoming environments is top of the wish list for many volunteer managers. But how do we actually do this? How do we move from knowing there’s an issue around the lack of diversity in volunteering, as established frequently and most recently in NCVO’s Time Well Spent Report, to moving to purposeful action? 

Focusing on experiences 

“Some White volunteers were simply unable to conceive that the experience of a volunteer could be impacted by ethnicity or that their own experience would not be shared by others of a different ethnicity.” (report extract, page 16)

To move to a place of sustained, purposeful action we need to understand more about the actual experiences of volunteers within organisations. What is actually going on for people? Knowing this helps us to clarify where things are going well, so we can do more of that, and where things are tricky, so we can invest in targeted improvements. ‘What the bloody hell are you doing here?’, Dr Helen Timbrell’s recent research, which compares the experiences of BAME volunteers and White volunteers in four organisations, does exactly that.

In our latest AVM BiteSize, which we’re making available to all, we chat with Helen, and Hadji Singh, about the research. Hadji is a volunteer with the Witness Service at Citizens Advice, one of the organisations who participated in the research. To get a copy of the report, do email Helen at [email protected].

Where next? 

“Organisations need clear strategies for their work on equality, diversity and inclusion….those strategies must specifically focus on the role volunteering, volunteer managers and volunteers play in creating inclusive organisations”  (report extract, page 35)

Have a listen or read the BiteSize transcript, and/or read the report and then let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

This is important work helping all those involving volunteers to better understand where we could make a difference to developing an inclusive environment for BAME volunteers to feel they have a place and a voice.

At AVM we are acutely aware of the lack of visible diversity at our events and from those on behalf of our members and would value the opportunity to address this. From a practising volunteer manager’s point of view, we do try to ask what we are doing that’s adding to the problem, and this is an important question for the profession to grapple with – where is volunteer management itself getting in the way?

This is a scary question but with an open mind and an assumption of positive intent (if sometimes unintentionally clumsy practise), we believe we could begin to work in a more inclusive way where those who are seldom heard from can have a voice. This is, after all, the power and strength of volunteering

There is an obvious role for organisational leaders to create the environment for honest dialogue and reflection, and to introduce measures that drive results. As Helen talks about in the BiteSize, there is also a clear need for us, as volunteer managers, to build our own knowledge and skills around diversity and inclusion, in order to then support volunteers.

At the same time, as Hadji says, there is also a real fear of getting it wrong. Learning through doing is crucial here, and feeling a bit scared is usually a positive sign that you’re learning something new, but if people are too scared, and lack support, that’s not going to help.  So how might we, as a community of volunteer managers, support each other on our journey to develop purposeful inclusive practices that make a meaningful difference? As the report highlights, to be successful this will need to be focused on action, not just more discussion!  If you’re interested in joining in this important work please do get in touch [email protected]

BiteSize with Helen Timbrell and Hadji Singh

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