Aleema Shivji's second blog in our Groundbreakers series Lead without Fear: Tackling Racism in our Organisations, written for International Women's Day 8th March 2022.
In July 2020, I chaired Groundbreakers' first “Lead without Fear: Tackling Racism in our Organisations” event for UK-based female charity chief executive members of the Groundbreakers network. At that event, we committed to a follow-up event in 18 months’ time, to hear from our members about tangible and meaningful action taken since then.
So, in January 2022, at our follow-up event, we were joined for some really honest conversations, by four amazing speakers:
as well as over 50 female charity CEOs.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, here are some of my take-aways from that event, drawn from these conversations.
From safe spaces to brave space.
Safe spaces are crucial for everyone to be honest and share what they need openly. Brave spaces go one set up further, to the actions needed to truly make change happen.
Which leads nicely onto…
Actions speak louder than words.
Rather than getting held back by the enormity of the work to do, or by things you can’t easily change (like the name of your organisation), members shared how they focused on practical action. From asking teams to identify one thing they could change in the immediate future, to co-creating action plans with the whole team, to changing HR processes and so much more.
This is a marathon not a sprint, each step we take moves us towards our ultimate destination.
Change is bottom up and top down. It’s not one or the other, it’s both.
Starting at the top, Groundbreakers' members shared some excellent tips on how they’re working with their Trustees to diversify their Boards: we heard about initiatives to bring in first-time Trustees, including apprenticeships, training programmes, student Trusteeships; complete overhauls of role descriptions; tools and platforms that remove bias from recruitment, diverse and representative interview panels (with lots of generous offers to sit on each other’s panels when someone is looking for a profile they don’t have in-house), and how committee membership can be an entry point that helps overcome imposter syndrome.
And on engaging with teams, while some organisations have the necessary skills and experience in-house, many have brought in support from the outside, in the form of partnerships or specialist consultancies. This support has enabled facilitated conversations and action planning that’s rooted in the experiences of team members and the communities we all serve.
There’s a tension between sharing power and placing the burden on someone else’s shoulders.
Sharing power and sharing the stage is essential, but it can’t be with an assumption that it is up to people with lived experience of the issues to solve everything - it’s a shared endeavour.
A participant spoke of the pressure and burden she felt being a Black CEO, and the importance of having a strong support system in place. One member shared that she had appointed change ambassadors, but as a white leader, ensured she was also leading some areas of work. Another ally spoke about work her organisation was doing to support specialist charities to access funding directly.
We went on to speak about the importance of taking care of the well-being of staff who may be re-traumatised by speaking about their experiences, or in carrying forward some of this work. Mental health support and clinical supervision are just two of many support mechanisms we can put in place for ourselves, and our team members.
At Groundbreakers, as a network, we were challenged on the lack of ethnic diversity in our membership – clearly visible on the zoom screen of our event. So we’ve set ourselves a challenge to invite new members to join the group. Groundbreakers is an incredible support system for female charity CEOs, and we are really keen that this support system extends across the whole sector.
Reflecting back on our first conversation in July 2020, I feel optimistic that things are moving in the right direction. It feels like we’re less held back by a total sense of overwhelm and are all taking steps to dismantle racism within and beyond our organisations.
This is not the end of the journey, it’s just a step along the way, and we need to continue to lead without fear.
8th March 2022
Blog written by Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Impact and Investment at Comic Relief, and Steering Committee Member of Groundbreakers, the UK network for women Chief Executives in the Voluntary Sector.
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