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New report shines a light on disabled representation and inclusivity in voluntary sector leadership

Hidden Leaders: Disability leadership in civil society explores how charity leaders’ network ACEVO, and other senior leaders in the voluntary sector, can create a more disability-inclusive approach to leadership. ACEVO commissioned the report to support its aim of creating a more disability-inclusive staff team, board and membership.

Co-authored by disability activist Zara Todd and researcher Ellie Munro, Hidden Leaders draws on new desk-based research conducted for this project, and ten in-depth interviews to provide recommendations for ACEVO, and other voluntary sector organisations that want to build more disability-inclusive approaches to leadership.

The report includes sections on stigma and disclosure, the dynamics of disability in civil society, and learning from disabled leaders. The recommendations in the report are built around seven key building blocks for disability inclusion. These are:

  1. Knowledge and data
  2. Approach and ethos
  3. Access
  4. Policy and procedure
  5. Training, learning and development
  6. Representation
  7. Working at the intersections

There is also a specific set of recommendations for ACEVO to assess the accessibility and relevance of its offer to disabled leaders.

While the work’s primary focus was to support ACEVO’s commitment to creating a more disability-inclusive organisation, there is learning within the report that could be applied to other voluntary sector organisations working towards the same objectives.

The recommendations are broken down into three sections based on what stage in its inclusion journey an organisation might be. These three sections are:

  1. Inclusive foundations
  2. Building good practice
  3. Leading the way.

Each section covers seven key building blocks for disability inclusion; knowledge and data; approach and ethos; access; policy and procedure; training, learning and development; representation and working at the intersections.

Vicky Browning, Chief Executive of ACEVO, said:

Hidden Leaders is an important piece of research that will help ACEVO better understand the action it can take to match its commitment to being a disability-inclusive organisation. Increasing representation and inclusion within civil society leadership has been a priority for ACEVO since 2018 and will continue to be in our upcoming strategy review. I am committed to working transparently so that our members can hold us accountable for the action we take and hope that others in the voluntary sector can learn alongside us.

“All the recommendations in the report will now be reviewed by a working group comprised of members of our board and senior leadership team who will regularly report on progress.”

Zara Todd, a co-author of Hidden Leaders, said:

“The voluntary sector has a long history with disability, including many exceptional disabled leaders. However, our research showed that the sector has work to benefit from more disabled leaders’ expertise. We hope that the report and its recommendations will be a catalyst to support organisations in developing and celebrating disabled talent and our contribution to the sector.”

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