Diverse Heritage Boards

Many heritage sector organisations, from community and volunteer-led ones to very large charities or commercial operations, have a governing board of trustees (sometimes known as a board of directors) that make important strategic decisions, govern finances, and have oversight and overall responsibility for organisational work.

Why are diverse boards important in heritage organisations?

Historic England recognises that the historic environment sector still has a long way to go for its workforce and leadership to represent the country's rich diversity fully. This lack of representation is especially apparent among the sector's decision-makers, including boards. 

We believe there are many benefits to having diverse boards. A diversity of lived experience brings with it a diversity of views, ideas and insights. As Getting on Board has said, board diversity means better decision making and can shape a stronger sector and more equitable society.

Having a diverse board gives access to previously untapped talent, skills and knowledge, strengthening the governance and leadership of an organisation.

What work is Historic England doing on heritage board diversity?

As part of our 2020 to 2023 Inclusion Strategy, Historic England committed to:

  • Seeking partnerships to create a development programme for aspiring board members for heritage organisations from groups which are under-represented on boards
  • Focussing on those who are most under-represented, including people with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic heritage, young people, disabled people, and people from lower socio-economic groups

To fulfil this, Historic England commissioned Getting on Board, a small national charity focusing solely on board diversity in charitable or social organisations, to research barriers to diversifying boards in historic environment organisations. This qualitative research project spoke to individuals and focus groups, including current serving and potential trustees.

View the research report

In summary, this report found several key areas to work on to improve board diversity, including:

  • A lack of knowledge on how to recruit diverse trustees
  • Anxieties over “getting diversity wrong”, resulting in a lack of action
  • A perceived lack of organisational capacity for diversity work, which is often not seen as a core responsibility
  • Fixed views of the nature of heritage, the nature of boards, and the lack of flexibility or change in the processes and procedures of governance

How can Historic England support heritage organisations in developing their board diversity?

In response to the findings of this research and the recommendations made by Getting on Board, the Historic England Inclusion Team has developed a series of actions to develop guidance and resources for the heritage sector. As a result, Historic England will combine internal expertise with appointing a specialist board development organisation to develop resources to tackle some of the issues highlighted in this report. 

From April 2024, these resources will be added to this page, including guidance on: 

  • How heritage organisations benefit from diverse boards 
  • Heritage sector-specific templates for board roles and responsibilities 
  • How to set up shadow boards and trustee traineeships 
  • How board members can hold space for challenging conversations and topics 
  • How to reach out to diverse board members 

Q&A session: heritage board diversity

Watch on Vimeo

Pen:                     Thanks, Matt. Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us for this session, where we will be having a presentation and a bit of a panel discussion and Q&A about the recent report that Historic England commissioned into barriers and enablers to board diversity in the heritage sector. What I think I will do is ask all of the people joining me today — that's our panelists this afternoon — to introduce themselves. So I'll pass on to Penny Wilson, and Penny, if you could pass on to the next person and introduce yourselves. But briefly, first of all, my name is Pen Foreman. I'm one of Historic England’s senior inclusive heritage advisors. So, I work in our inclusive heritage team, which is a sector-facing team where we're working towards making our sector more inclusive, accessible and more equitable for both people working and people visiting the heritage sector. So, Penny, I’ll hand it over to you.

Penny:                Thank you, Pen. Hi, everybody. I'm Penny Wilson. I'm CEO of a small national charity called Getting On Board. We support a wide range of people to become charity trustees, and we undertook the research that we're going to be talking about today. And I'm going to pass on to my colleague Ambreen.

Ambreen:           Thanks, Penny. I’m Ambreen Shah, and I'm an associate with Getting On Board, and I'm the author of the report. I'm also a trustee at a couple of organizations who I've introduced a shadowing program, which is like a gateway to trusteeship. So perhaps we’ll talk more about that in the Q&A, should it pique interest. And I will pass over to Neil.

Neil:                    Thank you, Ambreen. I'm Neil Redfern. I'm the Executive Director of the Council of British Archeology, and I am one of the panel members at the end of the presentation today. And I'm going to pass on to Ade.

Ade:                    Hello. Thank you. Hi, Neal. My name is Ade Rawcliffe. My day job is, I'm the group director of Diversity Inclusion at ITV. But the reason I'm on this panel is because I'm also a trustee for the National Trust, and have been so for just over five years. So, really great to see everybody. I'm going to pass to Minder.

Pen:                     Oh, for some reason we have not got the audio of you. Although you don’t appear to be muted.

Neil:                    Sorry, Minder. If you go to that little microphone icon at the top of your screen, there's a little dropdown menu. And if you use that dropdown menu, select the correct type. Yeah, there you go.

Minder:              I don't think I did anything, but… Hi, my name is Minder. I'm a trustee of the Heritage Trust Network, and in my day-to-day life I am a freelance writer with a portfolio career, working mostly in events, producing and marketing in arts, culture and heritage.

Pen:                     Brilliant. Well, thank you to all of our panelists. Now, we are going to pass into our main presentation in a moment. I was just going to say that our video will be off for this presentation. So, it's just the slides that you will see and our voices that you will hear. So, don't panic. We are still here. We are still present in the chat, but video will be off for the next part. So, Matt, if you could please pop the slides for us. Thanks, Matt. So yes, just a brief overview of what we’ll be going through this afternoon. So I'll do a brief introduction as to how this work came about, why we've commissioned it. We’ll then pass on to Ambreen and Penny to have a presentation about the research, and then we'll pass on to a panel discussion, and finally wrap up with a bit of a Q&A. So, most of this housekeeping has been going over, I don't need to reiterate these points, but just to say that we are recording it, some of these slides are a little bit wordy because I wanted to give plenty of context of some of the things in it.

So, please don't worry about noting it down or reading it as it is on screen. We will circulate both a PDF of this afterwards, and this recording will be available on our inclusion advice hub as well. We’ll be uploading it there. So please don't worry about the fact that you might not catch all the text first thing. As Matt said, please use the Q&A function to ask your questions, but we are going to be keeping an eye on the chat as well. And follow-up questions if something comes to you after this meeting, you’re very welcome to take them through my email, which would be at the end of this presentation. It's really good to have a continued conversation after this. I want to state that the focus on this session is about practical ideas and support going forward for diversity for organizations. We’re focusing less on the case of why it's important, because we think people attending this session already got a commitment or they're already interested in board diversity. So, what we're doing here is a sense of having diverse skills and voices in this boardroom to guide the work of the organization.

So, I will talk a little bit about: why did Historic England commission this research? And firstly, the thing that we always have to put first as context when we’re writing about a project is: where does it fit in our strategy? That's both Historic England's corporate plan and our inclusion diversity equality strategy. And there's a really good basis within our corporate plan for working on inclusion work, specifically about sector development work, and board diversity really fits into this part because we want to make sure that we're embedding good inclusion practices at every level. So, that’s governance, leadership, grassroots - every level. And it's important to say that it doesn't sit alone as well. It's been a much wider context of work that myself and my team, the Inclusion Heritage Team, will be doing. It looks at workplace diversity, it looks at building grassroots organizations, volunteering sector and board level. So it's part of a really wider picture of upskilling, support and guiding, helping the sector to really work on inclusive practice.

As well as that policy basis, it's also really based on strong evidence. We knew anecdotally already that a lot of not just the heritage sector but the wider third sector struggles with representation on board level. And we commissioned this research to give us some good evidence to base that as well. The first quote here is from that Getting on Board report. We knew that there was quite an age imbalance in trustees. We certainly know from other research that young trustees are very underrepresented. Some things aren't even very well measured, like working class representation and disability representation on boards. It’s just not really measured well, so we can't get a grip on who is not present, why they're not present and what the barriers are. So we really wanted to, based on that already evidence of what's missing, to figure out, okay, what are the barriers and enablers there? How can we work on that?

And beyond that, there's just a very firm belief within HE, and within our team especially, that there are so many benefits to having a diverse board, that diversity of lived experience really influences decision making, influences the kind of projects and programming the organizations work on. It influences decisions - when previously, if you're deciding upon something, for example, a visitor attraction, if you haven't got lived experience at board level, for example, of physical disability, it's very easy to miss out on things and to not consider options that should be there. So it's really important for that really quality decision making to have a good level of different lived experience to inform your decisions. And it helps make us sustainable. We know every sector is currently facing struggles. There are many economic, climatic, social issues in this country at the moment, and helping to address these by having lots of different people with different backgrounds and identities in your governance means that you can really have a wide understanding of issues from lots of different perspectives, and that makes us really sustainable.

So that's a bit of a setting as to why we commissioned this report, and I will now pass it over to the people we did commission, which is Getting On Board, Penny and Ambreen.

Ambreen:           Thank you very much, Pen. So, I just wanted to kick off with just giving you a sense of what we're going to cover in the next 15 to 20 minutes. Penny is going to talk through the wider context which Pen has just hinted at, of what diversity looks like currently within the charitable sector at board level. And then, I'm going to spend a little bit of time telling you about the research we did — I see that there are many people on this call who were interviewed as part of this work, that's great — and give you a sense of what we found. And Penny will end with what we recommended to Historic England. And Penn will then go on to say what Historic England have done as a result. But without further ado, because I'm conscious of time, Penny, do you want to talk about the wider context?

Penny:                Thanks, Ambreen. So, I'm going to talk a bit about who's underrepresented on charity boards. I'm aware that not all the organizations that are here and not all the organizations we're talking about are registered charities, but actually we have a real lack of data on board diversity. So, the closest we can come to is the national data on trustee representation across England and Wales. And it really had to help set the context, I think. It helps us see where we might be in relation to this. And of course these are averages. So for individual organizations that are represented here today, you might see your organization in some of these bullets and not other bullets. And of course, that's how averages work.

So let's just run through some of the statistics. Most of them come from 2017, from a report commissioned by the Charity Commission called Taken on Trust. I'm on that. So, age: two thirds of trustees are aged over 50, as Pen already said. Women are only 36% of trustees. People of color are 8% of trustees versus 14% of the wider population. And then, we don't have good national statistics for other minority groups. So, to take disabled people as an example, we have local studies which evidence that disabled people are hugely underrepresented at trustee level. We also have studies from other boards in other sectors that show they're underrepresented as well. But we just don't have any statistics for charities nationally. And then moving on to class, 75% of trustees are from households above the national median household income, and nearly 60% of charities say their boards don't reflect the communities that they serve. And actually, we think that board diversity goes beyond protected characteristics, the characteristics protected by law, into class, lived experience of what the charity's trying to tackle, neurodiversity, geography, and actually even broader than that, board diversity is having a relevant — and I think that's quite a key word — a relevant mix of skills, knowledge and experience, professional and personal experience on your board.

So just to articulate: why diversify board membership? Now, Pen already said that the people who have come to this and who are watching this afterwards are likely to be pretty sold on this already. But it's really important that we can articulate this, and that we can articulate it to others as well. So, the first reason is that challenge and difference are at the very heart of effective governance. If we're going into our boardrooms and we're just agreeing with each other and nodding things through, we probably haven't got the right board composition. We should be debating and discussing, and really thrashing out the best ways that our organizations are going to do something. Secondly, research shows that a relevant mix of people on our board is one of the absolutely best ways we can build organizational resilience. Third, boards should be close to the changing needs of current and potential service users. Fourth — and this is my absolute favorite — why miss out on all of that talent? If you went into any cafe, any train, any workplace, you'd find that probably 90% of people knew nothing at all about trusteeship. And that is just a huge goal in terms of the talent that we're just not accessing. And then last and absolutely least, board diversity is more and more essential for credibility with our funders, with our other stakeholders. Number five isn't enough. It's not enough as a reason to want to diversify your board, but it's becoming a more and more important consideration. Ambreen, back to you.

Ambreen:           Thank you. So just in terms of the research methodology… I’m clearly on the wrong slide, apologies. Stay with me. Not a good way to start, is it? There we go. In terms of who we interviewed. So in total, this research was based on conversations with 36 people, some of which were staff at Historic England, some of whom are in the sector. But also, three of the experts that we interviewed were EDI experts outside of the sector. So, to give that sense check. We also spoke to, via 1-to-1 interviews and focus groups, those people who were trustees within the sector to try to draw out their experiences, but also people who were aspiring trustees. So, people who are interested in heritage but haven't quite made that leap into securing a trustee role. And then, to reflect the diversity of people, we've clearly got some young people in there, people with Black and Asian and other minoritized backgrounds, people with disability, those who would identify themselves from lower socioeconomic groups, but also people who identify as from the LGBTQI+ community. So, a range of perspectives was sought.

in terms of what we then found… So, one of the first things I wanted to say was that one of the… Sorry, I'm not doing very well with my slides. Bear with me. So, the current state of play. Generally speaking, it was felt that the sector as a whole could be considered to be quite elitist in terms of the type of organizations and people that sit around those board tables. And this is particularly felt for the larger organizations, where it was felt that they perhaps were more thinking about who funds them, and had less flexibility, perhaps, to think about- and were focusing on buildings rather than the culture and the people side of heritage- were perhaps less diverse. However, it was felt that good progress has been made in the sector in terms of getting better gender representation and representation from people from the LGBTQI+ community. However, poorer progress, generally speaking, around people with disability, people from different ethnic groups, class and young people. So that was a general sense of what was happening within the sector.

In terms of… Sorry, I'm struggling with my slides. In terms of thinking about- however, it was felt that some of these barriers were systemic and built into the sector, where only certain types of heritage are valued. As one somebody said: “If what you value is collections and buildings, what you look for in governance is people with expertise in collections and buildings, and that could be at the expense of expertise in the experience of people that we are seeking to serve.” So really, having a fixed view of heritage felt like a real barrier within the sector, rather than seeing heritage being redefined every time somebody is born, and recognizing that the very notion of heritage needs to be flexibly adopted. So in doing this work, I suspect there will need to be a moment of challenging assumptions of the way things have been done traditionally, and thought about, and ask critically at every step of this journey: Does it really have to be like this? Just because we've done it like this for many years, does it need to continue to be like this?

A number of barriers were identified. Let’s see if I can get to the right slide. Yes. So, a number of barriers were identified, and many of these barriers are quite generic to many organizations within the sector. As Penny has already indicated, lack of diversity is not solely a problem within the heritage sector, it is across the board. But there were some specific things in terms of the way that played out in the heritage sector that I will highlight as I speak. First of all, a lack of attention. and leadership can be a major barrier to making change in this area. At its very worst, I guess, there is a sense that maybe it's not a priority within the organization, and therefore people aren't looking at it. But even where, like many in the audience, I suspect, who feel that diversifying your board is something that you feel should be done, it's seen as something that might improve, not transform your organization. So for some people looking at this critically, some of the stuff that's happened could feel quite performative, a way of managing the news to make the organization look good rather than creating lasting change.

But as well as the intention and leadership, another key barrier is anxieties. Even where leaders feel that they want to do something about it, it felt like there was quite a lot of anxiety about not having the right skills, perhaps not knowledge, the expertise, don't know how to go about recruiting diverse trustees, and just generally a lack of understanding of how to take this agenda forward. However, I wanted to read out this quote, because I guess it's a bit of a challenge to those sitting in that situation. and I'll just read it. “If those organizations had a financial misappropriation issue or safeguarding issue, they would find a way to do something about it, even if they had little or no skills. If you feel you have a crisis in your organization, you find a way to get the help to address it and view it as an emergency.” So, I guess the challenge back is, not feeling like you have the right skills isn't a good enough reason. You just bring those skills in.

There was a lot of fear, I guess, a fear of diversity, of bringing different people in. So people said, well, maybe young people, people are scared of young people because they might bring in radical ideas that the sector can't adopt, or feel that they can't adopt. For minoritized people, people talked about how some people might feel that if you are prioritizing getting people in for minoritized groups, are you then compromising on getting the best quality board member you can. Personally, obviously, I’m going to say that's a misconception, but there is that sense of, you know, if you prioritize one, then you do not get the best people for the job. In terms of disability, they recognize that maybe there's a fear of the expense of it all. To make adjustments, to make your buildings accessible, to make your meetings accessible can not only be expensive in terms of cost, real cost, but also time-consuming. So, there is a general sense of fear within the sector.

In terms of recruitment, it was felt- Penny often quotes that 90% of recruitment is still closed recruitment, where somebody is tapped on the shoulder and told, “Look, is this something for you? And this has gotten so bad that some people on the focus group thought that being a trustee was an invite-only game. So, they didn’t even realize they could apply for roles like this, because so much of it is closed. And obviously, the enabler to that is to advertise and openly recruit, look for people outside your organization, outside your usual networks. And again, I guess within this sector, there is a preference for people who work up through the membership, or through committees, and through engagement, and only those members seem to be nominated for roles. So, this was one that was quite specific to the sector, ways in which you can advertise more openly.

Then there was the sense that perhaps people really don’t understand what a board is for. And actually, we’re still recruiting for prestige rather than diversity of thought, and not recognizing that actually what boards are there for are to provide that critical eye, and diversity of perspective is really important. And perhaps we need to drop that idea of prestige. It was felt that certain skills were valued over others. And certainly in this sector, whether you’ve got a degree, whether you’ve got sector expertise, whether you have a certain level of seniority in your day job, they all trump skill like lived experience or experience with being embedded in the communities that you seek to serve. So, there’s a definite sense that certain skills are overvalued over others, which rules some people out. And then, there was an idea that there’s a narrow pool of people to draw from to become new trustees, and this sense that you can only recruit from within your membership if you’re a membership organization, or people that are experts within your field. And actually, is there another way in which you can bring trustees on board — and I know Minder might speak about this later — and nurturing a pipeline of trustees. How can you build relationships with people before you ever need them, to make sure that when an opportunity becomes available, they are there to be able to jump onto it.

And then, the other very practical barriers that I know that Neil, for example, will comment on, are things like your constitution. What does your constitution currently say? A lack of capacity. So, there was a sense that many of the organizations within the sector were small, mainly volunteer-run, with very few full-time staff. So, who is there to do this work, and how can you take it forward when you don't have the time to think about it? And again, an enabler in this context was to collaborate. There is a sense that- can you collaborate with some of the larger organizations with the sector — and I suppose Historic England are doing this — who have the capacity and the ability to gather the tools that others can then access? But equally, can the smaller organizations collaborate with organizations locally that are embedded in their local communities, that will bring diverse perspectives to the table? And how can that partnership enable you to have greater reach?

And finally, I was going to say that none of this is going to happen overnight. And one of the key things that pretty much was a thread throughout what many people said is that this is a marathon, not a sprint. This is about doing things iteratively, learning from what you do. And if you need to take a step back, take a step back, but don't let perfect be the enemy of good. So, don't close your doors while you think about this stuff. Be open, be active, be engaged, but be brave enough to take the steps forward in an incremental step, and learn as you go.

Penny, I'm going to hand over to you for the recommendations.

Penny:                Thank you. So, I'm just going to pick out- I think we've lost the slide. There we go. So, I'm just going to run through a couple of these recommendations that we made off the back of the research to Historic England, and then Pen is going to come back and talk about some of the things that they're going to be taking forward. So, just to pick off some of these — and these are all in the report that you can download — the first set of recommendations were about support for organizations who want to change the composition of their boards. So that includes webinars, and blogs, and training. And training not just at the recruitment point. Organizations- people were very clear that they wanted support to know how to recruit, but actually that's just a means to an end, isn't it? So, also training in how governance might need to change in order to equip everybody to be able to contribute at board level.

Secondly, a kind of mirror image set of support for people who are thinking that they might want to be a trustee. So, being able to find information about trusteeship and board membership, vacancies, training programs on how to serve as an effective board member and also pipeline schemes. So, things like shadow board programs that allow people to dip their toe into the water. We also recommended that Historic England looked at their own grant making processes. So, whether that's their guidelines, their criteria, how they support people who hold grant organizations that hold a grant. And then, constitutions have been mentioned a couple of times already. So, often people's own set of rules, the organization's own set of rules are stymieing their efforts to diversify their boards. So, one of our recommendations was about practical support to change constitutions. Then, building board diversity into existing programs so that there is food for thought for organizations that are accessing other sorts of support, not just for those that have already decided that they want to change the composition of their boards. And then the last thing I'll pick off on this slide is the National Survey on Board Diversity in Heritage Organizations, so that we have a baseline so that organizations know where they sit in the context of the wider sector, and so that we know whether any of these interventions are actually making a difference.

And then just to pick off, finally, a couple of these other recommendations, we recommended that historic England could look into thematic trustee networks. So, for example, networks of Black and Asian trustees, networks of younger trustees and heritage organizations. And our recommendations was that these might be well supported by organizations like the Action for Trustee Racial Diversity or the Young Trustees Movement. We also thought that Historic England could consider having a designated funding program both for individual organizations, where there were resource implications for them looking at their own board diversity, but also for heritage sector support organizations where they wanted to support their member organizations to improve their board diversity. And finally, before I pass over to Pen, we recommended that this research was published. This absolutely wasn't a given. When we were commissioned to do this research that wasn't part of the tender. And anybody who's read the report will see that the interviewees absolutely didn't hold back. The report hasn't been sanitized in any way, and all credit to Historic England who have been very happy to publish the report. And I think that's been really, really helpful.

So, on that note, I'm going to pass over to Pen.

Pen:                     Thanks, Penny. So, I will briefly sum it up because you will see announcements about this being put forward over the next few months. But, we did respond to this report. As Penny said, we didn't want to cut any of it, we wanted it to be as it was said. We really want lessons to be learned from it and for it to inform what we do going forwards. So, we basically had this report, we said, right, we're going to publish it, and at the time of publishing we’re going to announce what we will do afterwards in response. So, the first thing that we did actually before the report was even published was that we put out a tender to action some of these recommendations, and in the first instance get a big suite of resources and guidance, training sessions, and online learning modules, tackling a lot of those points that Penny and Ambreen have pointed out, and the recommendations that they made. So, looking at things like: how do we redraft our Constitution to make it more inclusive? How do we do better recruitment? How do we change the culture of our organization to make sure that when we do that recruitment, the new board members come into a place where they can effect change, they can be their authentic selves, they can come in and actually make progress? So, over the course of April onwards, we will be releasing these resources in sort of branches. So, organizations of any size, any scale across the heritage sector can access these resources, come to our training sessions, undertake our e-learning modules, and upskill themselves.

We're also going to be making much stronger links within our regional offices so that our inclusive heritage team is more visible. We can actually reach a lot more organizations and they can come to us and say, “I need help with X or Y,” or, “We’re really struggling with this.” So, we can either signpost them to our own resources, existing board resources that are more general, not just in terms of the heritage sector, or we can say, “Right, here's a need we haven't anticipated, Let’s commission some more work and resources to help solve that.” Because as Penny was saying, we really want this to be an iterative process. We’ve put some processes in place now, immediately after this report, but it doesn’t really stop there. We want to make sure that we’re continually improving our support for this sector. We’re looking at new ways to help roll out these things, to make sure we’re continually developing new things going forward that help the sector, like our response to this report.

Another point that we wanted to emphasize as well is that we’re also changing the way we work internally, because it was important for us to model that best practice. So, we’re actually changing the way we recruit our internal board. For example, we have an IDE board so we can model things like those better recruitment practices, model different methods of meetings, different flexible working, model the way that we look at roles and how we do delegation in a way that things are much clearer to incoming board members. And by that, we’re saying that we’re testing it out here, we can learn lessons and share that with the sector. So, it’s both an internal and external process that we’re going through. And much later down the road, because we haven't quite got the resources at the moment, we do also want to start those networks that Penny was talking about. So, specific networks for trustee members of the minorities, trustee members who are disabled, so that there’s a very specific solidarity base to go to. So, you can reach out to other people in the same situation, same background, same identity, and go, “I’m facing this challenge,” or, “I want to know how to do this.” And it makes it so that you can directly go to a cohort of people who know exactly what you’re facing, and can really target your support for that one.

And on that note, I’d like to hand over to Ambreen, who’s going to be hosting our little panel discussion. So, these panelists who Ambreen very kindly recommended, are people that were spoken to and interviewed over the course of this research, and they work across the heritage sector in different trustee or different employed roles, and will give us some really interesting perspectives on this issue. So, Ambreen, I’ll hand it over to you.

Ambreen:           Thank you. I think, at this point, we’re going to stop sharing the slides so you can see us all.

Neil:                    Sorry, can I just drop in there before you get started? Just a little reminder for any of our attendees: if you have any questions for our panelists, there’s a Q&A window just below the webcams. Please type your questions in there, and we’ll have a look at those as we move forward. Back to you, Ambreen.

Ambreen:           So, before I begin, I can see that Duncan has put something in there about- basically, how do you see yourselves? So, I guess, the first time you speak, how would you describe yourself? I know that when I interviewed you, I asked you to identify how you identify yourself, so I will leave that question with you to take where you want to. So, one of the first things that I wanted to explore, particularly with Ade and Minder in the first instance, was to ask you to think about your journey to becoming a trustee, and what helped you on that journey, and what could have been better. So, Minder, shall we start with you first?

Minder:              Sure. I’ve been quite open with my board and people who helped me with my journey, because I feel that it was slightly unusual, I don’t know. So, I had no interest in boards, I didn’t really know what they did. I thought they were people who are much older than me, people with very fancy job titles and at very fancy companies. That prestige thing is coming in again. So, I paid no attention. And then I happened to end up working for a heritage site with an absolutely awful board. And so, I started paying attention. I went, who are these people who have this power over all our employees and all the stuff, and are making these decisions? And I got very angry about it. So, I swing wildly between impostor syndrome and, “Wait, I think I could do that.” So, by seeing this board, who I thought were quite a bad board, if these people who had all these fancy titles and jobs and statuses elsewhere could do this, I think I could do a better job than this. So, it just so happened at the same time, but on my Facebook an advert came up for the Heritage Trust Network who were recruiting. So, I thought, that's interesting, I’ll put myself forward.

So, I did, and I got through to the interview stage. And following the interview, they got in touch with me and said that I hadn’t been successful in becoming a full trustee, but that they were interested in offering me a training program, essentially. So, becoming a trainee trustee. And this could have gone two ways. Initially I thought, well, why am I good enough to be a trustee? And I was angry, and my confidence is very high at the minute. But I fortunately had a very good conversation with the CEO, David, who I think is actually attending today- and I'm not sure if I told him this before or not, but that conversation, it was a very positive conversation. So I went, “Well, no, actually, I think this is actually the smartest thing they could do. It was a good decision.” And so, I decided to take up the trainee position, which was the following year. And I think it was the right decision the organization should have made, because it just gave me a chance to build a relationship, actually learn more about being a trustee. They paid for me to have training, and so I got very comfortable in the situation. And essentially I felt very much like a trustee. And then I officially became full trustee last December. But yeah, I feel like I’ve been there for quite a while now.

So yeah, that was my journey into becoming one. But it was… Yeah, it's a little bit unusual. I haven't come across anyone else who's had a similar story. But since then I think it's been interesting because I've started to get- now I'm a trustee somewhere, and it tends to come up in conversations quite a lot, particularly because I'm a freelancer. I meet people all the time from different organizations, and seeing how their boards work, and hearing things, getting taps on the shoulder, people kind of casually asking, “Have you thought about joining another board?” So it's really interesting to see how now that I've become a member of one board, suddenly people go, “Oh, you could be a trustee.” That didn't happen until I became one.

Ambreen:           And that's not an uncommon experience, I don't think, in terms of, once you become a trustee, people see you in that role and are tapping you on the shoulder. So, thank you for sharing that, and I guess the importance of those building that relationship, and having the opportunity to see a board in action before you step into the board to gain that experience. And that's something that we've done with shadowing programs both at Smallwood Trust and Charity Bank, where I'm a trustee as well. Ade, do you want to come in? I mean, your experience is slightly different, but I guess we talked about open recruitment. But I know that when you and I spoke, there was something important about somebody approaching you and making it known, so I'll pass on to you.

Ade:                    So, I think what Duncan was asking is for me to describe myself. So, I am 5-foot-10, but you won’t be able to see that because I’m sitting down. I’m of British-Nigerian heritage, and I’m wearing my hair very short at the moment, so that's me. My pronouns are she/her. So, to answer your question, I can see real parallels between what Minder talked about and my experience. So, to be honest with you, I didn’t know anything about the heritage sector. I have spent my career in the very much more lowbrow sector of television, which I understood a lot because I grew up watching that rather than going to visit stately homes when I was growing up. So, I didn’t really know a lot about the sector at all. And I was approached by a headhunter who had obviously had someone that had done some research, because the National Trust were clearly trying to diversify their trustee board.

And when they first contacted me, I sort of thought, no, this is not for me, because I’ve never worked in the heritage sector. I don’t have any relevant experience, and I wasn't very keen, if I'm honest. But it was a very persistent headhunter who just kept on at me. And she persuaded me to apply for the job as a trustee, because they were going through the recruitment process. And when I started to do the research, I found out much more about the organization, and I started to get really excited about it, because lots of their values were values that I’ve held professionally and personally. Their founding principle was being for everyone and all these sorts of things. So, they started to get my interest. I went to be interviewed, and I thought in quite a robust way, in a way that I thought was quite robust for someone who was going to give their time voluntarily.

And so I came home and I said to my husband, “That’s it, they're not going to go for me, I’m completely the wrong sort of person.” But it’s been quite interesting to learn more about the National Trust. And then they phoned me up and said, “We would really like you to join us as a trustee.” And I said, “I don’t think I’m quite right for you, because I don’t think I’m like you.” And the headhunter said, “That’s the point, they're looking for people who aren’t like themselves.” But actually, I’ve been on a real journey myself, because it has turned out to challenge my assumptions about what the organization was like, because it wasn’t like I thought it would be once I delved under it. And what I would say, things that I find really helpful in joining as a trustee is, when I joined I joined with two other trustees, which was really helpful.

One was another woman of color, which was really helpful. Not being the only was really good. I met with the chair before I started, and he had a really good conversation with me, and he said, look, we’re really pleased to have you for your lived experience and your experience of DEI, but I’m expecting you to contribute in other areas as well. And that was really important, because that gave me confidence and agency. They gave a really brilliant onboarding process where I met all the exec team, talked to all of them and various different people. I went to properties. So, that really helped. And another thing that helped when I was starting to be a trustee there was getting beyond the executive leadership, and getting into the people actually doing stuff in the organization. So, I think those things really helped me.

And fast forwarding to now, I will step down at the end of this year, because I’ve done my six years now - I’ve found it profoundly useful for myself and my own career. Because since becoming a trustee on a charity board, I then joined the management board of my organization, and having had that experience was really good for me. So, I think as much as we give, I think it’s fine to see how you can gain from being part of organizations in this sector.

Ambreen:           Thank you, Ade. One of the things that is not uncommon or specific to you, is that many people do look at boards, and what they see on the website and in terms of current trustees, is that there’s no one that looks like them. That really puts them off. And people have said to me that they don’t want to be the diversity hire, and they didn’t want to carry the emotional labor of having to take the EDI agenda forward where maybe that wasn’t their area of expertise, just because they happen to be Brown, or Black, or whatever it may be. So, that's really important. It’s something that's rooted within your organization, and governance is one aspect of a wider piece of work. Having said that, I know Neil wants to talk to that point to some degree. Neil, I’d like you to talk about- we know that one thing is recruiting trustees to come in, but once you’ve got your trustee around the table, how do you retain that? How do you create an inclusive culture on your board in order to make sure that people feel their voice is valued, heard, and respected? And it would be really helpful to know what you’ve done in your organization to create an inclusive space.

Neil:                    Thank you. I suppose the first thing to reflect is understanding how differences on the board actually can manifest themselves. And sometimes they can be really simple things to reflect. So, time is a really important factor. So, over the last four years, we’ve moved from four four-hour board meetings a year, which, trying to actually organize them was absolutely crippling, because there was too much effort. There was too much in there. We moved to actually having four two-hour board meetings, where each trustee knows what's going to be on the agenda for each of those meetings. But interspersed, we now have four one-hour briefing meetings which don’t have an agenda, and are just a conversation with our trustees and with a lot of our staff, to actually get them to talk about what we do in a way where they're not necessarily having to make decisions. So, what we’ve really tried to do is empower the voices of our trustees in a more social and open way. And I think that's really important. Actually, we control the structure of the meetings, we can actually control how people feel welcomed in that.

The other really important thing we did is actually reflected that we’ve got a vast age range on our board now, all the way through from young employed people, young parents, all the way through to fully retired people. So, we actually shifted the time of our trustee meetings so no one board meeting is at the same time as the one that preceded it. And that is to ensure that we don’t hit one person’s critical time. So, if you’re a young parent and you’ve got parenting duties between 5 and 6, there’s no point setting a board meeting at that time every single time. So, we’ve staggered them throughout the day. A lot of our trustees are employed. They can’t give a whole afternoon’s time to sit on one of our boards. So, again. We’ve looked really hard at how we can create a place that's easy for trustees to engage in. but if they can’t, they're not going to fall into a sequence of missing meetings. So again, it’s actually about having a really open conversation with them.

The other thing we’ve done is have two set trustee training sessions a year. So, again, the whole moving to zoom means we have two in-person trustee meetings and two hybrid ones. When we have the in-person meetings, one training session is with the entire staff body, so trustees and staff all get together. The other one is bespoke for the trustees. So, this is where we've done a lot of work around creating a more inclusive board culture. So, again, that's been a very simple thing to do.

And the final thing we’ve really focused on now, and we’re nowhere near finished, are our activities around creating an inclusive board. And I really go on that point. This takes time, and it's a conversation. But the final thing that we've actually done is ,we focused really hard on doing some really tiny, simple things. So, no one member of our board is responsible for inclusion and equity. It's everyone's responsibility. And we changed our board papers to reflect that. So, our board papers have a sort of policy section at the end. One of those policies is how the issues in the paper address topics around inclusion and equity. And we've been really, really clear on that. So, actually we've made it simple. We’ve got to write something about it, and then everyone can ask that question. And they’re prompted to actually ask the questions around that, which I think is really important. And again, we've set that agenda right from the top. And I think just picking up what Ade said, we also were really fortunate in being able to fix a position where we recruited to our board in numbers. But that process, I have to say, didn't happen overnight, and it wasn't done through just a straight advertising process. It was actually achieved through setting a really clear vision and then going out and talking to people who might become future board members, and creating alliances and conversations with them to actually create a safe space for them to operate. So, part of our training has been about creating a safe space on the board for everyone to feel valued.

And really interestingly, the biggest conversation I always get in seeking new trustees is people saying, “I'm not an archeologist.” And, you know, I flip over head over heels and excitement, and say, “Excellent, I don't need any more archeologists. I really need all of these other skills.” And so, please, don't be an archeologist, be a human being, because that's the really valuable thing.

Ambreen:           Thank you. Thank you, Neil. I'm going to move on to our last question. Minder and Ade, I welcome you to think about what you valued in terms of how the spaces that you've operated in at board level have felt safe to you. Because, again, one of the issues that was raised within the interviews is that there are lots of unwritten rules to navigate and it can be really hard, and does this feel like a safe space to say what you think? So it's really, really, really helpful to hear your experiences. But within the context of- if you think of a good example- this could be within your own organizations or organizations outside the sector — because I think the sector can learn from others as well — about where you think an organization has really got this right, and what's the one or two things that they've done that really stood out to you in terms of addressing those barriers to both diversity, and then getting that diversity on that board. So again, I'm going to just open this up to each one of you, and Ade, I'll come to you first about, whether within your own experience or something you've seen, that you've thought that that's hit the nail on the head.

Ade:                    So, another place that I'm a trustee of as well in a different sector is BAFTA. So, you know, British Academy of Film Television and Arts. And I think what they have managed to do is, they've managed to mobilize their membership. So, mobilize the membership to help them with this sort of work, but also to be very specific about what skills they need on their board. And I think sometimes some skills- what you've got to be careful of in the organizations is that there's no hierarchy of skills. And I love what Neil said about not wanting any more archeologists, but sometimes a skill like archeologist or sector expert is seen above lived experience. And I think, in your recruitment process, seeing those skills as equal is something that I've seen work really, really well. So, when you’re being very intentional about what skills you need on your board and getting those across the range, as opposed to saying, you know, just to come in the door, you need to be this, because that will always mean that you just keep recruiting the same people you’ve always recruited.

Ambreen:           Thank you. Minder.

Minder:              So, I don't know if I've got a specific example, but something I found very interesting in the training that I’ve been conducting- I’m part of a training program based in Nottingham at the moment, which is focused on trustees from global majority backgrounds… And so, through that I get to hear about other boards that we're learning from. So whether that's the consultants we're working with and who are training us telling us about the boards they've been on, where they’ve been shadowing other boards, and we started to hear about common issues that boards might have. And I mean, one of the things I keep going back, the Heritage Trust Network, I realize how lucky I’ve had it in terms of board- I don’t want to jinx it, [47:38 inaudible], but one of the most common things I keep hearing about is, the number of people on board who feel they're out of their depth and they don’t know what they're doing, but it turns out there's a lot of people, and in a lot of cases people are doing the wrong things because they're worried about looking like they're stupid, or they don’t know. So, the training that Neil mentioned, not assuming that everybody knows- I think finance comes up as quite a common one for quite a lot of trustees. But not assuming that everybody knows how to do everything already, and that somehow you’re less than if you don’t have this particular expertise… Particularly because, from what I’m hearing, it often turns out that other board members, not just newer, or younger, or less experienced board members, but there’s other people who’ve been on the boards for years who actually quite appreciate somebody going, “I don’t actually understand. Can somebody explain this to me?” So, I think a lot of boards can benefit from that, and sort of being a bit more open-minded to those expectations that we have of board members. So, that's been really useful.

And I think the other thing that we touched on earlier, the idea of creating your own funnels. So, building those relationships early on. And it may not just be the training program, it could just be building relationships that might turn into something later, or it might be… Through my work now with the Heritage Trust Network, as a trustee I go, “I know people from different backgrounds, and I think they’d make really good trustees.” So, I’ve been pushing them to apply for other boards. So, building up those networks, I think, is really useful. But anything where you can communicate with people, build relationships, talk to people, build up their confidence… And also teach them what boards are, because so many people don’t… I was one of those people. So many people don’t know what they are, and they don’t know how much power boards have. So, educating people and creating those funnels, I think, will make recruitment much easier.

Ambreen:           Thank you, Minder. And again, you know, I'd argue that there is something about … Ade, you reflected on this, but it's absolutely vital that the trustees get something out of this, as well as putting their voluntary time into the board. So, actually, that training and that support is really important because actually the leadership skills that you're harnessing as you go through the trustee role are really helpful for wider work. Neil, final word to you on this before we move to the questions.

Neil:                    Okay. So, for me, I'm looking at it from the point of view of an executive trying to set an agenda for the organization that I run. And I suppose inadvertently, I sort of started at the very, very top. Well, what is our purpose? What is our vision? Where are we actually going? And so for me, part of my challenge that I see in archeology, we actually need to shift the perception of archeology. It's got actually nothing to do with the past. Archaeology is a process done in the present, and I am absolutely committed to this concept that actually to write meaningful narratives about the past, you need to reflect society today. It's as simple as that. Otherwise, heritage just becomes this happiness thing of where we think it's all roses and simplicity, where actually it isn’t. And archaeology very much is about exploring what I call the trauma of deep time. You know, that's what we uncover. So, actually, reflecting society becomes a core component of the organization. Once we set that out, actually understanding how our trustee board starts to live that conversation and actually breathe that conversation becomes really important. So, for me, it was about having a really clear vision, a set of values, and then we created a set of behaviors. And the behaviors we can be really open about at both board and staff level to bring them together. Because ultimately what we want to do is, we want our trustees to thrive as much as we want our staff to thrive. Because actually, if they go away with a great experience, they will stay connected and they will actually stay interested.

So, for me, this wasn't about a numbers issue, or a diversity issue. This was actually having the right people to do the very best archeology that you can possibly do. And for me, that is about making it a conversation within the present, with as many people engaged in that conversation as possible. So, in a sense, for me, you've got to embed it through the core of the organization. You've got to go and find the core mojo of the organization and actually work out from that.

Ambreen:           And that's a really important point to end on because actually, as you say, things will flow if you recognize the importance of it, for you to transform your organization from the top. I'm just conscious of time, but we have a question around training, and what particular training topics that have gone down particularly well with board members. I don't know if anyone wants to come into that. I know there's been interest in the shadowing program as well, and just to say that that program is about demystifying boards. It's about giving people the confidence to step into a role should it become available. Because actually, often what I find — particularly for women, I find this more so — is that having the confidence to step into a role, to go, “Oh yeah, that is for someone like me,” is almost like the biggest barrier. It's ourselves, because we don't see ourselves in those spaces. But anything about the training points, and then I'll hand back to Pen, I think, because we've only got a couple of minutes left. Any particular training, just a couple of words? Anyone's got anything that's worked really well?

Neil:                    Well, from our perspective, It’s not seeing training as a one-off, but establishing it absolutely as a regular occurrence. And I think the best thing we did is, we did an audit. We actually did a questionnaire to our trustees about how they felt they were doing, whether they understood the organization, and we will run that annually with them. So again, it's about understanding how our trustees fail to then match training to what they're asking.

Ambreen:           Thanks, Neil. Ade and Minder, do you have anything to say, or should I…

Ade:                    I just want to say that the point that Minder made earlier, I think, is really important. That training should be for everybody. Because you're trying to get everyone up to the same level, and everyone has different levels of experience in different fields. So, it should feel like it's for everybody. I think that's really important.

Ambreen:           Final word, Minder? Or you don’t have to, it’s your call.

Minder:              I think we’ve covered it. I think it’s the demystifying thing. I think finance just seems to be a common thing that comes across when I’m speaking to people. A lot of them are scared. It’s the basics of governance, it’s what is expected of you. And also, more specifically into how your own board actually runs and the culture of the board. Because they're so different from one organization to another. So, I think it’s often quite useful to have, whether it’s an induction or some sort of thing. And maybe also the possibility of questioning what that culture looks like and the way things are done, I think that's quite interesting.

Ambreen:           Thank you. I'm sorry, Pen. I've literally given you a minute.

Pan:                     Don't worry. Thank you to all our panelists. So, just a very brief note on our last slide. Thank you all again for coming to this. It'd be really great if you could pass on what you've learned or heard onto your organizations, even to other organizations. It's great to spread that word with people. To keep up with the new resources that will be coming, the first ones will be in April. There's a link there to where our inclusion advice hub is. There’s a specific page on there for our board diversity work. Please do feel free to contact me. My email is on here, and it'll be circulated after this presentation. Follow-up questions, comments, requests for particular training you think might be helpful - ultimately, I'm very happy to have follow-up conversations about it. As I've mentioned in the chat, if you do have questions that we haven't had a chance to answer, I will circle it to panelists and we'll get answers sent out to the mailing list and uploaded alongside this recording. Just a final note, please do support the really excellent work of Getting On Board. As Penny did say, they're a small charity who does an enormous amount of work for a small organization. They’ve got a fantastic trustee learning program, a newsletter where you can find out all about the resources and training that they're doing, and they have some great sector-wide free guides and resources on their website as well. A massive thank you, again, to all our panelists for giving their time, what is basically lunch time, and thank you to all our participants for coming and attending today.