The Case For A Sector-Wide Initiative On Diversity Data

The past few months have seen philanthropic foundations waking up to the challenge of diversity and inclusion, partly because of the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 on people of colour, and partly of the Black Lives Matter movement. But how can we tackle the challenge effectively if we don’t know what the extent of the problem is?

Research shows that philanthropic foundations currently are not capturing diversity data. According to GlassPockets, an initiative advocating for transparency among philanthropic foundations, only 16% of foundations publish their diversity data. A higher percentage, 46% publish their diversity and values policies, so while diversity is publicly recognised as a focus area, very few foundations are actively reporting on their own diversity.

Screenshot from GlassPockets’ webpage

Some of the foundations that do publish diversity data include the Packard Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation. But there are some notable omissions – the biggest foundations such as Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation and Hewlett Foundation, actually do not publish their diversity data. GlassPockets is an initiative focused on foundations in the United States. We do not have a full picture in this regard for foundations in the UK, even though 17 foundations have come together to set up the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coalition, and recently they talked about data. There seems to be momentum in the UK to address the issue of diversity data collection, both for the foundations themselves in terms of their composition, as well as for their funding distribution.

Capturing diversity data seems to be a challenge for many foundations, even those that are explicitly focused on equity and inclusion, in terms of issue areas they fund. A report released in July, titled “Pocket Change: How Women and Girls of Color Do More with Less” by Ms. Foundation, found that of the seventeen foundations reporting that they “very much” prioritize giving to particular populations in their work, only seven (41.2%) track their giving to women and girls of color in a database. This absence of formal tracking contrasts with the report by ninety percent of foundations that women and girls of color are a priority in their internal strategy documents. It is great for foundations to commit to supporting underrepresented groups in strategy papers, but if the strategic commitment is not backed by formal tracking, there is little accountability and transparency.

Back in 2017, the social investment sector recognised the importance of formal tracking and the Diversity Forum, which we helped set up, commissioned a landscape review of the social investment sector with regards to diversity. We even published the survey that we used to capture diversity data on our website, to encourage social investors to use this for their internal monitoring. But our learning is that unless there’s a concerted sector-wide initiative, where a group of organisations sign up to do this together, the momentum can easily be lost. There are a lot of pitfalls indeed with diversity data collection, including GDPR considerations, not having the right incentives, not having the right language, the potential to cause harm and stigma. We will explore these challenges in a separate blog post, but these challenges reinforce why we need a sector-wide initiative on diversity data – they are too big for one organisation to figure out on their own.

In the past few months, we have been involved in a few sector-wide initiatives on this topic of diversity data and we hope to share more updates as these initiatives take shape. If you are interested to find out more, please e-mail

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