VSSN’s Equality Diversity and Inclusion commitment

VSSN Steering Group statement on equality, diversity and inclusion in our work and voluntary sector research

In recent years there has been an increased focus on failures within the voluntary sector to provide a space that is equally accessible for all, free of discrimination, and inclusive of people from different backgrounds. Several research reports into racism in the sector, sexual harassment and gender inequality, barriers to people with disabilities, and the class-based exclusion that takes place, among other issues, have come to the fore. Recent disclosures from leading charities about bullying, racism, and discrimination that have taken place within their organisations show that the sector is frequently not living up to its internal and external expectation as the part of society that should be working to challenge such behaviours.
Voluntary sector research is not immune from these problems. While a great deal of research takes place to illustrate discrimination and exclusion within charities and community organisations, volunteering, charitable giving, and leadership, the make-up of the research environment is not a diverse space. The Voluntary Sector Studies Network exists as a membership body for people in the UK and around the world interested in researching all aspects of voluntary action – running an annual conference and day seminars, publishing an academic journal and blogs, offering grants to fund small research projects, and providing networking opportunities and discussion spaces around related issues.

As the elected Steering Group of the VSSN, we wanted to acknowledge that there is a mismatch between what the wider voluntary sector research community does and who we see at our events and the makeup of our membership. Partly this is because of wider structural inequalities within the field of academia, as university researchers make up a lot of our members and attendees. But we realise there may be many individuals and organisations (especially researchers and practitioners of colour, researchers and practitioners with disabilities, those from the LGBTQ+ community, people from working class backgrounds, and those whose identity intersects across these identifiers, and others) who may not feel that VSSN is a space for them.

We understand that our organisational culture could be off-putting to those not already embedded in it. And we do not always get it right – for example, our annual conference in September 2021 ran over the dates of Rosh Hashanah, thereby excluding members of the Jewish community. This was a poor mistake on our behalf, and we have embedded new processes around the planning of our events to make sure this does not happen again. We will work to ensure that our events are as accessible as possible, and barriers to our community are reduced. We will work to have more direct engagement with people who are not regular attendees of VSSN events, and to support the many variants of voluntary sector research that take place, especially in the UK, where most of our members are from, and our work is located.

Over the coming months, VSSN will be working to implement new ideas as to how to better support and be more inclusive of a wider, more diverse community of researchers, and increase the diversity of our Steering Group. These include, but are not limited to:

– launching an equality and diversity policy which we will hold our actions to, and it will be an expected commitment for those standing for election to the Steering Group to uphold the policy;
– annual monitoring and reviewing of our EDI policies and actions;
– making sure more of our events focus on EDI issues within the sector;
– proactive communications to spread the word of what VSSN does to more individuals and research actors;
– encouraging EDI-focused applications for our annual Development Opportunity Grants funding;
– making our Annual Conference more affordable.

We are a volunteer-run organisation, relying on the time of the Steering Group and associates, and therefore we will not always get it right or be able to do everything as quickly as we would wish. But our core charitable objective is the promotion of public education about the voluntary sector, and we are not doing that if we only speak to certain people and issues.
If you have any questions about this, or would like to discuss it further, please let us know: info@vssn.org.uk.

Our 2021 Annual Conference focused on the theme of ‘Leadership, Diversity and Civil Society’, and you can view the videos from our plenary sessions and award-winning prizes here:

Beyond Home Truths: Towards a life-affirming, race equity-focused voluntary sector | Sanjiv Lingayah.

Leadership, diversity and civil society | Carol Jacklin Jarvis, Joy Warmington, Celestin Okoroji.

The role of the third-sector in disabled people’s experiences of COVID-19 | Jane Cullingworth et al.

Using vignettes to explore leadership practice in small charities | Sally Vivyan.