‘People in and close to power need to play their part – especially in the charity sector, which is built on but does not always live up to higher ethical principles’.*


Recognising your own prejudices, your relationship with power, and the part you play in perpetuating unjust systems, is never easy. Particularly when the view you hold of yourself – your identity – is of someone fair, just and inclusive. This has been a mirror that many individuals and organisations have held up to themselves over the past year. 

As a charity fighting to bring about more equity for girls and young women from the least advantaged communities, it would be easy to be complacent – we understand diversity, we think and talk about it daily. At The Girls’ Network, we talk about intersectionality – in particular, of gender and class, or socio-economic background. But also, of race and ethnicity, of disability, of sexuality. But of course, this doesn’t mean that we don’t need to examine our own practices, our decision-making, our recruitment and our language as much as the next organisation.

We are a small, and fast-growing organisation, led by a white, middle class woman. While we celebrate a woman leading the charity, as the majority of larger charities are still run by men, we acknowledge the privilege that brings, as ‘gender representation appears to be broadly limited to white, non-disabled women’ in the sector, for example.

We needed them to know we stood with them, we were here to listen, we wanted to facilitate conversation, give them a space to ask questions and a platform to have their voices heard.

It is in this context that, when talking as a team about our response to the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, I was struck by a few truths.

  1. First, we were not the experts in many of these issues, and so we needed to speak to those that were. Both in ensuring structural equality in a workplace, but also those with expertise through lived experience. 
  2. Second, that despite being a small organisation without a dedicated HR team, it was essential that we reviewed all that we do through an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) lens. That we ensure good practice is embedded from now. 
  3. Third, that as well as a longer-term strategy to ensure long-term and lasting change, we also needed to respond now. Not just because it was right as an organisation to make a statement of anti-racism, and of supporting diversity, equity and inclusion, but also because this was an issue deeply affecting many of the girls and young women we work with and support. We needed them to know we stood with them, we were here to listen, we wanted to facilitate conversation, give them a space to ask questions and a platform to have their voices heard.

Are we challenging ourselves enough to think about the intersectionality of the girls we support and how we represent that in our movement?

Over the last year, we have been developing an EDI strategy and working group to enable us to look at all the work and practices of The Girls’ Network. We asked ourselves, if we were to think critically about different elements of our work, from programme delivery, communication and our staff, are we challenging ourselves enough to think about the intersectionality of the girls we support and how we represent that in our movement? And if we're not, what message is that communicating in terms of what they might feel they can achieve and how they belong?

As a charity seeking to dismantle injustice, we want to actively engage in a strategy that asks us to hold a mirror up to ourselves so that we don’t reproduce systems of oppression. We want to be courageous in doing this as we don’t believe we can ever fully accomplish gender equity without meaningfully questioning and challenging ourselves.

What’s next?

We are determined that this will be an ongoing process

Step one is to fully understand our starting point. This does not preclude action and change that may need to take place alongside this process, you need to know what the problems are before you can begin to solve them!

It reminds me of my years working with schools across the country, sharing best practice and using this to inspire other schools. It never worked to pick up a practice wholesale and drop it into another school, another context. Student-led projects to improve the school community may have a huge impact on behaviour and outcomes in a school where student-cohesion and agency is a challenge, yet be entirely ineffective in another school with a different context or set of challenges.

Therefore, we need to understand where we are starting from. Where are our blind spots, or our biases? Where do we reward one style of working over another, or have processes that are more difficult to access for some?

We are at the early stages of this journey, but we are determined to keep going, to keep listening, to be open to change and challenge, and willing to make bold decisions in order to ensure we embed a culture of equity, diversity, inclusion in all that we do. We are involving our team, the girls we work with, our mentors and our trustees, as well as experts in EDI. And we are determined that this will be an ongoing process, that is never complacent, that never takes for granted that we’ve ‘got it right’. At its heart a spirit of listening, of questioning, and of improving.

In June we will release another blog written by Claire Hill-Dixon (Programme Development Lead) who is leading this project. In this she will outline some of the learning from our first working group, as well as share some more detail about the progress we’ve made and any set-backs we’ve encountered. If you have any questions or you are an organisation also embarking on this Claire would love to hear from you: [email protected].

by Charly Young, CEO and co-founder of The Girls' Network

*  Home Truths: Undoing racism and delivering real diversity in the charity sector, a report released in 2020 highlights that progress in the charity sector requires strategies for diversity, equity and inclusion.