Our approach

Being held back because of who you are or where you’re from is not acceptable. But some groups and communities face inequalities and injustices in the way opportunities and resources are shared in society. At the Community Foundation, we value diversity and treating everyone fairly. We comply with equality and anti-discrimination laws and regulation. But we also seek to go beyond legal requirements to understand, implement and promote greater diversity, equity and inclusion. We also want to tackle prejudice, discrimination and unconscious bias at the Foundation and across everything we do.

The meaning of these words to us is as follows.

  • Diversity: means people’s different experiences, identities and points of view. Our focus is the diverse characteristics and backgrounds of our area’s population. That includes legally protected characteristics and other things which can affect people’s life chances, like appearance, gender identity, caring responsibilities, being from a working-class background, or being a migrant, refugee or asylum seeker.
  • Equity: means everyone, no matter their background or characteristics, getting fair treatment and access to opportunities. This means recognising that some people experience inequality and injustice. So, for us, treating everyone the same (‘equality’) is not enough – we must strive to remove barriers.
  • Inclusion: means everyone feeling they belong, being safe and respected, able take part and realise their potential. For us, this involves striving to reach, listen to and involve people in our work who tend to be under-represented or whose voices tend not to be heard.
  • Prejudice means an unjustified, usually negative, attitude towards a person or a group of people based on their different characteristics or background.
  • Discrimination means treating a person or a group of people unfairly because of their differences. 
  • Unconscious bias is where, without actively intending to, people favour others who are most like them. 

Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy sets out in more detail how we approach our responsibilities. It includes information on how we address these areas when we recruit trustees and staff.

What have we been doing?

In October 2019, we announced a focus on philanthropy’s role in addressing equity and inclusion. We set out to celebrate our region’s diversity while shining a light on the work of organisations who help communities with lived experience of racism, homophobia and other types of discrimination. We wanted to widen the lens of whose giving gets to be in the philanthropy picture. And we wanted to address some uncomfortable truths, because we and others have a responsibility to do more to tackle prejudice and build inclusion so the North East can be a more equitable society. Our key messages were that we knew we needed to do more, we didn’t have all the answers but we hoped we were asking the right questions.

In March 2021, we published our Vital Signs reports on diversity, equity and inclusion. They examine the experience of five groups whose contribution to the vibrancy of our region is often inhibited by deep-seated inequalities: women; people with learning disabilities; Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities; disabled people and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

We've also taken time to look at our own practices. Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy came as a result of listening to our membership of individuals, voluntary organisations, businesses and public bodies. Our strategy to 2025 commits us to address diversity across our goals. For 2021-22, our objectives are to agree and publish benchmarks for the diversity of our staff and trustees against which we will measure ourselves. We’re also going to work to engage more diverse donors and supporters. And we’re going to be looking at ways to ensure better support for organisations led by and serving communities experiencing racism, sexism, homophobia and discrimination against disabled people.

Benchmarking our own diversity

The Board has agreed benchmarks for the diversity of our staff and trustees against which we will measure how well we reflect our communities. The data below has been updated at March 2022.

  Benchmark Our Board (13 people, March 2022) Our staff (22 people, March 2022)


50% women : 50% men

38% women : 62% men

50% women : 50% men


20% self-identify as disabled




At least 5% from a Black, Asian or other non-White ethnic background



Sexual orientation

At least 3% identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual



Socio-economic background

63% from intermediate or working-class backgrounds



Why benchmarks and not targets?

When we say benchmark, we mean a standard against which we measure ourselves. Whereas a target is something that must be met. We think benchmarks are more helpful than targets, as they give us a way to ensure we are consciously considering diversity and checking how reflective our trustees and staff are of the communities we serve and are from. While we might not always perfectly fit a benchmark, if we move too far from it, we will say so and set ourselves actions in response. For example, we might review our recruitment processes or target under-represented groups. And, sometimes, these actions might require a target. Benchmarks also allow us to recognise change in our region’s demographics. For example, a greater proportion of younger people in North East England are of Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds than in the population overall.

How has each benchmark been set?

We have taken account of demographics in North East England where possible, as the area we serve and where our staff and trustees live and work. For ethnicity this means our benchmarks may be very different to those of organisations based in London.

  • We chose 50:50 as our gender balance benchmark to reflect the whole population, especially given our Board is drawn from our diverse membership. However, we note that data on the UK’s voluntary sector workforce shows 60% are women.
  • We chose our disability benchmark based on the percentage of disabled people in the working age population in England and Wales. However, we recognise that there are challenges in ensuring staff and trustees feel confident in self-identifying as disabled as defined by the Equality Act 2010.
  • Our benchmark for ethnicity is based on 5% of the population of North East England identifying as being from a Black, Asian, Mixed or other non-White ethnic group in the most recent census.
  • For sexual orientation, census data shows that 1.5% of North East England’s population identifies as lesbian, gay or bisexual while, nationally, 1% list their sexual orientation as ‘other’. We have chosen 3% as our benchmark as significant numbers of people don’t respond or say ‘don’t know’ to this question and ONS figures suggest the numbers of younger people identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual is increasing.
  • On socio-economic background, analysis by the Social Mobility Commission shows that 63% of the UK’s population as a whole are from working class or intermediate backgrounds based on parental occupation at age 14. Working class covers technical and craft occupations, manual and service jobs and people long-term unemployed. Intermediate covers clerical roles, other non-managerial ‘office’-type roles not requiring professional qualifications and small business owner

What about other aspects of diversity?

We are considering publishing benchmarks on age. From ONS data, we know that 35% of all adults in North East England are under 40, while the proportion of the working age population aged 21-39 is 39%. We’re going to do some more work on what our benchmarks should be and would welcome any suggestions.

What's next?

We will update our benchmarking data every year based on anonymous surveys of our staff and trustees. Our immediate priorities are to encourage more disabled people, younger people and people from Black, Asian and other non-White ethnic backgrounds to apply for Board and staff vacancies when they arise. We also want to move back closer to our previous 50:50 gender balance on the Board. 

We are also working on diversity, equity and inclusion in our grant-making. Using data from our new grants system, we plan to analyse and publish further information about our reach to diverse communities and how well that reflects where we think we should be.

As ever, none of this means our conversations are over – but we hope what we are saying and doing shows our commitment to addressing inequalities and injustices.

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