Duncan Thorp considers whether social enterprises need to do more to ensure they are embracing diversity and inclusion
Social enterprises and the third sector are leaders in many ways when it comes to inclusion and diversity.
Indeed many of them exist with a specific social mission to improve lives for socially excluded groups, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities, for example.
However, it’s important not to make assumptions about our success and in fact we should challenge our social enterprise community when it comes to inclusion.
Do people from different backgrounds really feel welcome in our organisations and in our social enterprise community? If we want to find out if minority groups feel excluded then we must ask them.
We also need to be more open about having what are sometimes awkward conversations regarding race and ethnicity, gender identity, disability and other characteristics that make up our communities.
We should all feel able to confidently discuss these issues and challenge uncomfortable truths. Of course it’s equally as important for us all to help give a platform to those without the means to express their voice.
In addition there are other characteristics that are rarely talked about. For example, how can social enterprise workforces reflect the communities they work in? What can we do to encourage people in poorer communities to become social entrepreneurs? Do we really recognise and measure non-visible disabilities or neurodiversity?
Aside from the headline success of women’s leadership of social enterprises (at 65% according to Census 2019), are women otherwise paid less than men in our sector? Are LGBT+ people able to play a full part in our business community? We need to look at board membership as well as staff teams and volunteers to be truly representative.
Currently we don’t have good data on other characteristics in terms of diversity. The only other statistics in the Social Enterprise Census are in terms of economic equality, with good figures on the real Living Wage and small gaps between highest and lowest paid being recorded.
Social Enterprise Scotland recently hosted a webinar on the topic with a number of expert speakers and an opportunity for participants to discuss the key issues.
Zahra Hedges of the Diversity in Social Enterprise project group has been looking into the issues involved and, alongside others, produced the diversity website. She said:
"I don't think anyone in our sector disagrees with the principles of diversity and inclusion, but it's sometimes easier to talk about than to do effectively.
“At the start of the year Megan Veronesi and I began to work with others across the sector who feel that, while we are very inclusive in the people we support, that doesn't often extend to board or staff positions.
“This is not a new conversation, but we have seen a real momentum building over the summer and would invite everyone who hasn't yet had their say to take part in our short diversity survey."
Many social entrepreneurs are driven to set up social enterprises due to their own experiences and background.
Passion 4 Social CIC is a social enterprise that works on sustainable employment opportunities for people with disabilities or long-term health conditions. Bruce Gunn said:
“As a disabled social entrepreneur, I feel valued and my ideas are welcomed. As a business leader, I am embraced and listened to. However, not everyone with a disability or health condition has my resilience.
“Socially minded people have a certain acceptance of people that are a bit different. But as one in five people in the UK are disabled there are still a lot of improvements that can be made to make people with disabilities or health conditions feel included.
“The social enterprise community feels like my family, I only wish there were more disabled brothers and sisters here.”
It’s clear that the conversation is just getting started. We need to build an inclusive social enterprise community, not simply talk about it.
In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and an increasing recognition of the human rights of trans people in Scotland, some level of awareness is emerging in wider society.
It’s this challenge that social entrepreneurs and their support bodies need to take forward to really practice the spirit and values of an inclusive business community.
Duncan Thorp is policy and public affairs manager at Social Enterprise Scotland