Oxfam targets more diversity in leadership with new 'intersectional' strategy

An Oxfam shop sign in London. Photo by: Reuters

BRUSSELS — Oxfam’s new leader says it will strive for more racial and ethnic diversity in its senior ranks over the next decade as it renews its push to end poverty and injustice.

The charity’s Global Strategic Framework 2020-2030, released last week, sets out how it wants to make its work distinct, including by being “feminist in everything we do.”

Gabriela Bucher, who started as executive director on Nov. 16, told Devex by email that the framework is based on “an intersectional analysis of power within Oxfam and is rooted in the principle of solidarity.” Bucher, who joined Oxfam over the summer from Plan International, wrote that she foresees “culture shifts in how we relate to one another, and how and where we invest resources in our programs and who gets to decide.”

“We will ensure more representation from Black, Indigenous and People of Color in our most senior governance structures and in our affiliates and operational teams,” Bucher wrote. “We will track our own diversity statistics in order to map our change and progress, even to the language we use.”

The new framework applies across the Oxfam confederation, which includes 20 affiliates now making their own plans that align with the framework, as well as the Oxfam International Secretariat. It coincides with a restructuring at the charity, involving mass lay-offs and the closure of offices in 18 countries.

An internal document shared with staff in the secretariat as part of the restructure, and seen by Devex, refers to the creation of an internal Equality Commission chaired by Bucher. Asked who will sit on the internal body, what it will do, how it will work, and why it is necessary, Bucher replied only that she would use her role on the commission to “personally oversee that these diversity commitments are being honoured. We’ll build this deeply, step-by-step, with Oxfam's staff, partners and our allies.”

Gabriela Bucher, Oxfam’s new executive director.

Oxfam’s executive board agreed on a Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, which is not public, at a meeting in July this year. The board committed to collect data on the topic, and resolved to “significantly increase racial equity across the confederation’s governance and senior leadership levels as a priority,” according to the internal document.

“Affiliates and [the secretariat] will have to set goals of equity and diversity in their governance and leadership teams, with timelines and measures to ensure the changes,” the document, dated Nov. 3, states.

For now, an internal slide seen by Devex indicated that around 65% of staff at the secretariat hold identity papers from member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which represents industrialized nations.

“We will ensure more representation from Black, Indigenous and People of Color in our most senior governance structures and in our affiliates and operational teams.”

— Gabriela Bucher, executive director, Oxfam

Work is underway in the secretariat on a survey to voluntarily, confidentially, and anonymously collect additional diversity data from staff in the coming months to allow Oxfam to “plan, build momentum, and monitor progress,” the internal document explains.

When it comes to staff who need to apply for new roles as part of the restructure, diversity and inclusion concerns will also be taken into account. “This includes deliberately designing roles which can be performed flexibly, ensuring inclusive language in job descriptions and removing potential barriers, such as unnecessary formal qualifications as criteria for roles,” the document states.

Rebecca Shadwick, global inequality campaign coordinator at Oxfam International, told Devex that racial justice considerations must be part of Oxfam’s internal discussions, as well as its external analysis of social change.

Under the new framework the charity commits to “rebalance our knowledge resources across the global organization” as part of a commitment to “deliberately seek to overcome patriarchal, neo-colonial and elitist tendencies.”

“Feminism, decolonising [and] antiracism work all share a concern with power and how it is used (or misused),” Shadwick said. “So how well we are able to understand and tackle that, have those courageous conversations with each other, etc, will shape how well we deliver against our new strategy.”

About the author

  • Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.