I headed up a strategic and creative agency for the charity sector for many years. Over that time, I’ve worked across a huge range of causes and charities, from health care to saving nature, from medical research to faith. I’ve interviewed hundreds of key stakeholders at charities and many more of their supporters.
Our clients (and some of the prospective ones) sometimes asked to see our policies on the environment, on health and safety and, in one notable patch, our way of complying with modern slavery rules.
Suffice to say we were all clear on the modern slavery front… but no-one asked me about the make-up of our strategy, creative and account management teams. As it happens, we were around one third BAME, which shouldn’t be surprising given we were a London-based agency. But, if you use agencies, how many of them - be they creative or media - can say the same? How many of you can say the same? Particularly if you’re based in big towns and cities with ready-made access to a wide pool of people.
People are drawn to versions of themselves. There’s a safety in it. A comfort. And if you’re told that you’re not quite the right fit for the role/charity/agency, if you are from a BAME background looking out at who already works there and who got the job ahead of you, you wonder if that’s code for something that you can’t change about yourself.
In the past, when I’ve written on this subject, colleagues would cast an eye over my words and tell me I didn’t need to put my story front and centre, because my argument shouldn’t need it.
They are absolutely right.
But if I don’t, will you remember what I say?
So, I’m here to tell you that ‘not being the right fit’ is the strength that’s staring you in the face. More of the same and more of who and what you know is surely not what fundraising needs right now.
In some recent insight gathering staff interviews, I heard a brown-skinned Muslim woman say she’s been in the same role for 10 years and watched all her white colleagues get promoted before her.
You will feel something as you read that sentence.
I will feel something as a brown-skinned woman.
This is 2020. She works for a huge charity. She’d been told versions of ‘you’re not the right fit’ for 10 years. And she stayed, believing that things wouldn’t be much better at any other charity.
A friend of mine told me about sitting on an interview panel recently. He wasn’t the key decision maker. But those who were, were adept at finding ways to say they thought one of the candidates wasn’t right for the job because she might be ‘difficult to manage’. Perhaps a ‘tad confrontational’. Perhaps ‘not quite the right fit’.
Or perhaps it’s just a lazy, disgraceful racist trope about black women.
This sort of thing doesn’t get fixed by putting a token ‘diverse’ candidate on the list of people who get interviewed. It begins with charity leaders, fundraising leaders being braver. Having the courage to admit something isn’t right and not rushing to hire a sole EDI person to have the impossible task of solving this.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not meant to be. But it’s the right thing to do to question ourselves and each other and the recruitment processes that are in place that mean things haven’t changed much. And even if it wasn’t the right thing to do, the business case for more diverse teams – be they fundraising or not – has been proven many times over.
It is possible to do things differently.
I’ve been working with a big nature charity recently. On paper, perhaps I’m not the right fit. I grew up a mile away from Heathrow Airport and nature didn’t feature in a big way in my childhood.
But I have a different perspective and a different approach. I have interviewed key stakeholders and engineered conversations about good fairies and bad fairies that, believe it or not, have unlocked interesting answers that haven’t been heard before. Invariably, senior directors be they in charge of clinical teams, conservation teams or chaplains will say that they found our conversations interesting and thought-provoking. And to be honest, I do too. Their lives and experience are so far removed from mine.
I don’t think the same as everyone else because I don’t usually come from the same background as you. That’s the strength.
That’s what the disabled person you’re interviewing brings.
That’s what the darker-skinned person who knows what it feels like to be judged on the colour of their skin brings.
That’s what the gay person who has been on a journey with their family and friends brings.
We are all the right fit. If only you could see it.