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Meet Malcolm John

Megan Raybould

07 October 2020

We're excited to introduce Malcolm. Malcolm has been a trailblazer in addressing inequality in boardrooms and the lack of racial diversity. He founded Action for Trustee Racial Diversity (ATRD) as part of this.

As part of our ongoing work in support of Black Lives Matter, we will be sharing spotlight stories throughout October to celebrate Black History Month.

This week we’re excited to introduce Malcolm. Malcolm has been a trailblazer in addressing inequality in boardrooms and the lack of racial diversity. He founded Action for Trustee Racial Diversity (ATRD) as part of this.

In this blog Malcom explains what caused him to start the campaign, and what you can do to help.

You can read more from ATRD and why their work is crucial in this blog and find out more on their website.

What are you passionate about?

Apart from a lifelong obsession with playing squash and tennis as often and as energetically as I can without doing myself permanent injury, I’m really really passionate about problem solving. If I see something that’s not being done well, I have the urge to leap up and see if there’s something that I can do about it. My serial trusteeships over some 20 years have given me lots of scope for indulging this passion!

The challenge for me though is that, as a trustee, you can’t just decide to do things on your own. So I’ve had to work out how I can solve the problem by working with the other trustees. Fortunately that helps to give me another problem to solve!

Tell us about your professional/trustee journey, how did you get to this point?

That’s a good question as it’s been a pretty interesting journey over the last 20 years. Where has that time gone! It’s been a tale of eight charities ranging from the very small, a charity seeking to increase the representation of women in the construction industry to the very large, a national charity concerned with the rehabilitation of ex-offenders .It’s included a social housing charity, another charity aiming to get more people from Black and Asian backgrounds into middle management positions, an international development charity and an umbrella charity supporting other charities working with children and young people. My latest and current is the Association of Chairs which arguably is an appropriate organisation to now be after the experience gained from the previous seven.. Whilst they show the rich variety of charities, the overriding theme has been social justice - another passion which I’m not ashamed to confess to.

Remarkably, the majority of my trusteeships have been because of personal and professional contacts rather than through applying to open adverts and getting formal interviews. I’ve happened to be in the right place or the right job at the right time or have known the right person socially or professionally. But that’s definitely not the approach to trustee recruitment that I would and am championing with my current campaign.

What is Action for Racial Diversity about?

You asked about my current 18 month old campaign - Action for Trustee Racial Diversity. When I left my international development charity after seven years as a trustee and the last three as Vice-Chair, there were no other Black or Asian trustees left on the Board. I didn't think this was acceptable for a global social justice organisation. So I offered to help them recruit up to three new Black or Asian Trustees, which - after some challenging internal discussion - was strongly supported by the Chair and the CEO. By being explicit in our recruitment advert that we were specifically seeking up to three Black or Asian trustees to address under-representation on our Board, we succeeded in recruiting three high quality trustees from Black and Asian backgrounds.

It was whilst doing this recruitment, that I became even more aware of the lack of trustee racial diversity. My campaign research identified that the lack of access to Black and Asian networks and the all too common practice of informal recruitment through familiar networks meant that the chronic situation of Boards being disproportionately filled with white, older, middle aged and middle class trustees was not likely to change for a long time yet.

I really hope that the unique database of currently over 350 Black and Asian network organisations that my campaign has now put together will literally change the face of charity Boards.

What can people do to support the work you're doing and be a good ally to the movement?

The most significant thing that charities can do to support Action for Trustee Racial Diversity is to commit to open and formal recruitment of all their trustee vacancies. But that in itself isn’t enough.

My campaign networks’ database shows that the excuse of organisations saying that they can’t find quality Black and Asian candidates or that they don’t exist is entirely unfounded. However until the profile of trustee Boards changes dramatically, young aspiring Black and Asian trustees are highly unlikely to approach charities to offer themselves as trustees. So it’s important that charities wishing to diversify their Boards start thinking about how best they can engage and attract more diverse communities within their area of operation.

My two other tips are don't only recruit one Black or Asian trustee and ring-fence vacancies for Black and Asian trustees with the requisite skills to avoid recruiting the familiar type of trustee.

Any tips for people applying for trusteeships?

Yes loads but I’ll stick to three:

First do your research on the charity from their website and the Charity Commission information to make sure you know as much as you can about it before you apply.

Secondly arrange to talk before any interview with the Chair and/or the CEO to make sure that the charities’ values and approach to inclusion fit yours.

Thirdly, be very sure that you have enough time to carry out your role and responsibilities as a trustee. Chairs often want a bit more than individual trustees expect!

Malcolm and the Action for Trustee Racial Diversity (ATRD) do incredible and essential work. We’d really recommend you take a look at this blog and support their work.

You can also read ATRD's key findings from mapping report, here.

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