What was your motivation for wanting to pursue a socially minded career?
I guess it was a number of things really. I come from a socially minded family and there was always a lot of, not necessarily deliberate, but political discussion happening in my house. Being from a Nigerian background, for my family it’s pretty much tradition to talk about politics and the issues affecting their community so I was always interested in finding a way to address those issues – things like poverty, corruption and racism.
Being born and raised in London I also had the experience of being black British, and that comes with its own identity and idiosyncrasies, but also certain issues that you would face as a young person. So I wanted to be in a sector or space where I felt I was addressing issues that affected people because I was so aware of the issues affecting my own community.
My motivations for getting into the charity sector were two-fold, so on one hand I felt like if you were challenging one problem, you were chipping away at them all because they are all systemically related. On the other hand, I always wanted to have an understanding of what it takes to create change, what steps need to be taken to actually make a positive change in society.
Did you face any issues with your family, perhaps feeling the charity sector wasn’t a viable or prestigious career option?
I did to a certain extent. I’m the youngest out of 4, and by the time my parents got to me they had had enough of badgering their kids to do certain careers! They wanted my sisters to be lawyers or doctors, so the pressure was definitely on them. These are very much steady and classic professions, and my dad even up until last year would ask when I am going to get a proper job! That’s in spite of the fact that my family are quite socially conscious. My dad’s idea of doing the type of thing I wanted to do was to work for the civil service or become a politician.
Do people really understand what you do in your role, what your job title is, and does it make a difference to how your family or friends think about you working in the sector?
So I used to go to a lot of networking events, and quite a few of those were black and minority ethnic (BME) specific and I remember being at an event whilst I worked at Catch 22 as a Programme Support Coordinator and finding it really difficult to explain to people what I did. But now I’m working at Charityworks as the Recruitment & Campaigns Manager people understand the role because it’s a really clear and a necessary function for an organisation to have regardless of the sector.
Every charity needs to have certain things to successfully challenge the problem that they want to address. They’ll need a volunteer manager, somebody in recruitment, a marketing team, people in finance, an HR department and systems and data analysts. These roles exist in organisations across all sectors, and it’s just that we’re in the non-profit sector, so the overall focus isn’t necessarily on the bottom line, but you’re ultimately doing a professional role like you would in the private sector.
In fact, sometimes it can be more of a challenge in the third sector because in general there are very limited resources and you have to think carefully about how you’re going to manage them effectively. These roles are really challenging.
How does it feel to be an ethnic minority in the non-profit sector? Do you even notice what that feels like? Does it have any influence on the way you work?
I would say that it has an influence on the things I choose to do. I’ve come from a background of wanting to engage because I want to help my community. Actually being a minority hasn’t necessarily affected me, but it is definitely something I have noticed in the sector. Particularly in managerial roles, you don’t see a huge influx of people from ethnic minorities.
What I would say is that, with a lot of organisations, even though they might not always get it right, they’re really open towards being as diverse as possible and as a sector I feel it’s quite welcoming of people from different backgrounds. Although structurally it might not reflect that in terms of senior leaders. Drives to engage more people from BME backgrounds in to the sector can be helpful, but we need more people to shape that in a way that’s user led as opposed to someone sitting in an ivory tower, not really understanding the problem and trying to solve it from outside. That’s how barriers are overcome.
You have to remember too, that a lot of the problems the charity sector exists to solve often disproportionately affect people from ethnic minorities!
So if I was someone from a BME background and considering my options, thinking about the third sector, what would your advice be to me?
Apply for Charityworks! It delivers exactly what I didn’t have, a clear pathway in to the sector. I had ideas, and a passion but I didn’t have a pathway to get to where it is I wanted to go. Identifying mentors and people who have done similar things to you and building relationships with those people helps a lot and Charityworks provides an opportunity to do that. Be really clear about what you want to achieve, and when you get in to the sector, and start on the Charityworks graduate scheme – be diligent! Find people who have been on your path before, and once you’re in, work really hard on being an astute professional because that’s what will allow you to climb the ladder. Your passion is really important, but being an astute professional is valuable everywhere.