Diverse Heritage Boards
Many heritage sector organisations, from community and volunteer-led ones to very large charities or commercial operations, have a governing board of trustees (sometimes known as a board of directors) that make important strategic decisions, govern finances, and have oversight and overall responsibility for organisational work.
Why are diverse boards important in heritage organisations?
Historic England recognises that the historic environment sector still has a long way to go for its workforce and leadership to represent the country's rich diversity fully. This lack of representation is especially apparent among the sector's decision-makers, including boards.
We believe there are many benefits to having diverse boards. A diversity of lived experience brings with it a diversity of views, ideas and insights. As Getting on Board has said, board diversity means better decision making and can shape a stronger sector and more equitable society.
Having a diverse board gives access to previously untapped talent, skills and knowledge, strengthening the governance and leadership of an organisation.
What work is Historic England doing on heritage board diversity?
As part of our 2020 to 2023 Inclusion Strategy, Historic England committed to:
- Seeking partnerships to create a development programme for aspiring board members for heritage organisations from groups which are under-represented on boards
- Focussing on those who are most under-represented, including people with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic heritage, young people, disabled people, and people from lower socio-economic groups
To fulfil this, Historic England commissioned Getting on Board, a small national charity focusing solely on board diversity in charitable or social organisations, to research barriers to diversifying boards in historic environment organisations. This qualitative research project spoke to individuals and focus groups, including current serving and potential trustees.
View the research report
In summary, this report found several key areas to work on to improve board diversity, including:
- A lack of knowledge on how to recruit diverse trustees
- Anxieties over “getting diversity wrong”, resulting in a lack of action
- A perceived lack of organisational capacity for diversity work, which is often not seen as a core responsibility
- Fixed views of the nature of heritage, the nature of boards, and the lack of flexibility or change in the processes and procedures of governance
How can Historic England support heritage organisations in developing their board diversity?
In response to the findings of this research and the recommendations made by Getting on Board, the Historic England Inclusion Team has developed a series of actions to develop guidance and resources for the heritage sector. As a result, Historic England will combine internal expertise with appointing a specialist board development organisation to develop resources to tackle some of the issues highlighted in this report.
From April 2024, these resources will be added to this page, including guidance on:
- How heritage organisations benefit from diverse boards
- Heritage sector-specific templates for board roles and responsibilities
- How to set up shadow boards and trustee traineeships
- How board members can hold space for challenging conversations and topics
- How to reach out to diverse board members