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Charity leaders must continue to challenge hostility and prejudice

To be our best selves at work, we must all take a stand, says CFG's CEO Caron Bradshaw, following an inspiring conversation at this year's CFG Annual Conference: Survive to Thrive.

Chris Sherwood, CEO, RSPCA, Tessy Ojo CBE, CEO The Diana Award and Dr Clare Mills, CFG at the 2023 CFG Annual Conference.

To close a fantastic sell-out annual conference last week, we were joined by Chris Sherwood, CEO of the RSPCA and Tessy Ojo, the CEO of the Diana Award to discuss the impact of culture wars on charities. Sadly Claire-Marie Mason of the RNLI was stuck on a train and couldn’t join us.

Both Chris and Tessy moved the audience – some to tears – with passionate pleas to stand up and be counted. To not be silenced. To recognise that our work has always driven social justice and positive change, whether a woman’s right to vote or an animal’s right to have its welfare protected. It’s what charity is about.

The toxic pile-on that occurs, often on social media, frequently saying that a charity should stick to its knitting, serves to try and silence.

It must be challenged. The staff of those charities increasingly carry the weight of hostile and personal attacks. It is in these moments that we are called to stand up for what we believe in.

CFG has long aimed to be a values-led employer. Central to our strategy is being an exemplar of how a social organisation should be run. We don’t always get it right but I do believe our commitment to learn and to improve is undoubted.

I passionately believe that staff cannot give their best to work if they feel they have to hide who they are. It is my job as the CEO to safeguard, as far as is possible, the experiences of those people who come to work for CFG.

It is my job to listen to lived experiences and to challenge processes and approaches which, often despite good intent, risk delivering inequitable outcomes.

Recent work, undertaken as part of the Civil Society Group, explores being an anti-racist organisation. It has challenged me to think about elements of my approach.

For example, I am an advocate of being vulnerable. I am clear that vulnerability requires safety. But if I were a black woman, the stakes would be so much higher and the risk of that vulnerability being weaponised immense.

It’s challenging me to think about how my position is one of privilege. And more importantly, how can I make it more inclusive for others?

Similarly, I am coming to appreciate that how we operate, including how we recruit, has been formed through the lens of a white patriarchal society. And that means that how I judge what is ‘good’ or ‘potential’ is shaped by that lens – making it inherently less inclusive – even if it is not overtly prejudicial.

There is a saying that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. Applying that to processes, if our norm for judging a candidate’s ability to do our job is tree climbing, then we shouldn’t be surprised if the pool of people we attract and appoint doesn’t contain fish (or rabbits or elephants…!!)

However, I also acknowledge that the space for genuine curiosity and debate is being squeezed and feeling unsafe for some. Not everyone who comes to work for CFG holds the same beliefs or cultural norms – albeit the shared values should be substantial.

If our genuine curiosity and desire to understand another’s lived experience is shut down, our questions won’t go away but the opportunity to educate is lost. So we must allow healthy conversation and learning. And we must protect individuals from harm during that exploration.

Our global majority colleagues don’t have a duty to ensure we understand racism, our trans colleagues mustn’t be made to debate their right to exist, and so on. The term 'woke' has been used to sweep up and insult any behaviours that call out harmful words and actions. To paraphrase the great Kathy Burke – who I am in total agreement with on this – I’d rather be woke than [the alternative].

It was a wonderful session to close a wonderful day and it reinforced for me that: it is for that reason I’m engaged with the anti-racism work prompted by the Home Truths report and it is for that reason I am also signing the pledge #StandWithTrans.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a scholar, writer and artist, said ​“strong communities are born out of individuals being their best selves.”

It is the same for workplaces – the right to live, to work, to be respected and safeguarded as individuals should be non-negotiable in our workplaces. Itis at CFG, and we are the stronger for it.



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