Leading charities and public sector firms in Suffolk are stuck in the 1970s because they fail to represent modern communities at boardroom level, it has been claimed.

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Urgent action is needed to address the under-representation of woman, young people and ethnic minorities in senior positions at civil society organisations in the county, the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) and Big Society Funding Community Interest Company (CIC) said.

They studied the makeup of board members at charities and publicly-funded bodies and found that, despite the Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) community comprising 11% of Ipswich’s population, only 4% (six out of 142) charity trustees came from BAME backgrounds. Only 34% are women.

It said none of the New Anglia LEP’s board members come from a BAME background, with only 15% being women, while the least gender-diverse body was the Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, with all eight board members being men and none from a BAME background.

It found 18-to-24-year-olds make up only 4% of charity trustees in the east of England, while only 8% of charity trustees identified themselves as having a disability, despite 23% of people using their service being disabled or experiencing a long-term health condition.

A spokesman for the Big Society Funding CIC and ISCRE said: “We look back at the some of the attitudes in the early 1970s and like to think how far we have come in our attitudes to gender and race equality.

“Yet in terms of diversity, Suffolk’s leading charities and public sector organisations appear closer to society as it looked in 1974 rather than in 2014. Does modern-day Suffolk really want to look so out of date? If not, urgent action is needed now.”

Phanuel Mutumburi, business development director at ISCRE, said the research made for “uncomfortable reading”.

He said: “There is a growing awareness nationally of the importance of diversity amongst the directors of charities and in boardrooms, not just for the sake of fairness, but in terms of tangible benefits to our economic growth.

“Within our increasingly diverse county, ISCRE seeks to engage with organisations to help them develop a more diverse and representative body of trustees and board level members that properly reflects modern Suffolk.”

Mark Ereira-Guyer, director of Big Society Funding CIC, said: “The apparent lack of diversity in the commanding heights of Suffolk’s civil society is not a dry academic issue.

“It impacts very negatively on the health and wellbeing of how we work together as communities, on how we allocate public money, make decisions and how we see ourselves as having a shared and equal stake in the future of county.

“It is important we move forward to create more inclusive ‘Big Society’ communities in Suffolk, and across the east (of England).”

The research will be discussed at today’s ‘How to Succeed in Suffolk’ conference at Marriage Hall in Ipswich.

Speakers include Lisa Nandy MP, the Shadow Minister for Civil Society, Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, Deborah Cadman, chief executive of Suffolk County Council and other guests from business and political backgrounds.

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