Equity, Diversity and Inclusion – reflections on one year as signatory to the Diversity Forum manifesto

This blog is part of a series where we explore our work on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and is also being published to mark one year since we signed the Diversity Forum’s Manifesto.

I’m just over six months into my role at Access, and one of the things I’ve been looking at during this time is how to make progress on our commitments around Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). Most of my career has been in the international development sector, and when I joined I was interested to understand how the social investment sector was tackling EDI and where some of the challenges had been. It quickly became clear that the work and the leadership of the Diversity Forum are playing a key role in this sector, but that equally, and unsurprisingly, there is still lots of progress to be made. In this blog, I reflect, with the help of my colleagues at Access, on our time as a signatory to the Diversity Forum’s Manifesto.   


Access signed the Diversity Forum Manifesto in April 2022. EDI had been a focus of our work for a number of years, with our thinking mostly informed by the Equality Impact Investing project, however signing the Manifesto has helped to accelerate and structure our work in this area.   

We have three areas of focus – diversity of the leadership of the charities and social enterprises we are supporting, investing to achieve equality outcomes, and diversity and inclusion within social investment.  When we signed the Manifesto we developed an updated action plan, which we have recently refined, and added a traffic light system to measure our progress against each goal.  

A large focus over the last year has been our internal Access diversity audit, but there have also been other areas of progress. The Diversity Forum Manifesto has helped us put clear deadlines to our work and progress our EDI priorities at a faster pace, even if there still remains much work for us to do as an organisation.  


Our internal diversity audit was delivered by the consultancy Small Change, who were chosen for their experience delivering these kinds of projects, and their knowledge of how we work as an organisation. They delivered a challenging piece of work sensitively and helped us think through some of the challenges of measuring different elements of diversity, such as social class.  

Alongside our diversity audit another major piece of work has been the Black and Minoritised Communities strand of our Enterprise Development Programme, in which we’re working with the Ubele Initiative and Social Investment Business to support 49 organisations to identify, test, implement or scale trading models to deliver their missions and help them become more sustainable. 

We’re also working with Charity Bank as part of our Flexible Finance programme, which has given rise to their Lending Equal Access Programme, which is a flexible loan initiative with fewer security requirements. It aims to address the demand for flexible social funding, specifically among diverse-led enterprises.  


Access had been a long-term supporter of the Diversity Forum via our infrastructure programme, the Connect Fund, and so we were well aware of the development of the manifesto. The board discussed and committed to signing the Manifesto in early 2022 and also decided to create a working group to lead the implementation across Access. This was led by Seb Elsworth, our CEO, and included both staff and trustees.  

Transparency has been central to our work on the diversity audit, with a double feedback loop built into the project. Given the size of the team and the sensitivity of sharing personal and demographic data as part of the audit, we built in reviews with the team and the board both at the design phase and dissemination phase. We took extra care to ensure that all those who contributed their data also got to play a part in deciding how it would be publicly shared, and in what format.  


Although we have made progress in a number of our EDI commitments since signing the Manifesto, we fully recognise that this work is a journey and not a destination.  Our EDI work is an ongoing process that involves ongoing commitment, which is why we have developed a traffic light system to indicate how we are performing against each of our commitments. We are planning to review the traffic lights annually, with our board also holding us to account for these commitments. 

There is detailed information about how we’re performing against our EDI action plan in this blog post. 


Looking to the future, we’re keen for the Diversity Forum to keep leading the sector in embedding and coordinating this work. We know that striving for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is not a tick-box exercise and something that requires ongoing commitment, attention and resource.  A coordinated set of principles, expectations and goals for those of us in this sector make it a lot easier to hold ourselves and others accountable. We think the Manifesto is helping to provide this structure and guidance, and would encourage more organisations to engage with the Diversity Forum. 

Taking a moment to pause and reflect on our progress in implementing the Diversity Forum Manifesto has been very valuable to us. We hope to see the Diversity Forum go from strength to strength and continue to be both a place for learning and sharing about EDI, but also an accountability mechanism for the sector. We also recognise our own role in making this happen and will continue to play an active role in it.