In all of my working life, I’ve worked in teams predominantly led by women. From teaching Karate to marketing for further education and in my roles the charity sector, I’ve hugely benefited from watching inspiring women lead, make decisions and advise me as I’ve developed in my career.
In 2020, I joined an all female Senior Management Team in the middle of unusual circumstances. It was late May when I returned to Student Hubs from another role in the charity sector, starting a new job as Sales Director in the middle of a global pandemic. I was fortunate that my time as Southampton Hub Manager for Student Hubs meant the environment I was stepping back into wasn’t necessarily new, but a lot had happened since I’d last worked for Student Hubs, and we were still in a national lockdown.
So, what have I learnt in my nine months as part of an all female Management Team, and how do I #ChooseToChallenge, the International Women’s Day theme for this year, in my role?
Support from women is unparalleled
I’ve never felt so supported at work as I do in this role. I’m extremely privileged to work so closely with my friend and boss, our CEO Sim Dhanjal. I’ve known Sim since I started my role as Southampton Hub Manager in 2017, and can’t even begin to quantify how much I’ve learnt from her during the past four years. Seeing her take up the leadership of Student Hubs has been a long time in the making, and I’m proud to be able to support her in setting the direction for the organisation, and excited that I continue to learn from her in this role. I also get to work alongside Southampton Hub Manager, Sophie Ford. Seeing Sophie’s journey from joining the organisation as her line manager in 2018 to her position on the Management Team now has been phenomenal, and has very little to do with my involvement! The energy, enthusiasm and passion she brings to the role is a key part of our Management Team, and her insight and thoughtfulness impresses me every single meeting. These women advocate for me, challenge me, and support me, and that has been so valuable to have in taking on this new position.
Self-belief goes a long way
The role of Sales Director was new for Student Hubs. Our former CEO Pippa Smith and former Development Director Fatima Iftikhar had done an amazing job in shaping the landscape for this role in its scope and what it would achieve, but stepping into the role, it became mine to shape. Often during the past nine months, that has meant lots of trial and error, doing things we’ve never done before, and trusting in the groundwork and research before putting things into practice. It can be easy to feel the weight of these decisions, and in doing a role that is predominantly externally facing when the majority of our staff work internally or with local teams.
But self-belief has been integral in times where I’ve felt vulnerable or unsure, and having a growth mindset. I believe strongly in failing positively, in sharing and learning from mistakes, and in the value we get from a failure over a win. It is a process, and it’s not always straightforward to deal with, but I’ve learnt so much about my work and myself over the past nine months, and I’m looking forward to that continuing moving ahead.
There’s a lot more work to do
The charity sector needs to change. There is an incredible amount of work to be done in making the charity sector more accessible, more diverse, more inclusive, and dismantling the structures that have kept oppressive and unacceptable behaviour the norm for far too long. I’m a white woman in a predominantly white sector, and now I have a leadership role. It is my responsibility to interrogate our practices, to listen to the voices of the sector calling out for change, and to recognise where my limitations are in providing the solutions. Investing in listening to those with lived experiences, providing equitable compensation for this work, and working collaboratively with them to shape new solutions is the only way we’re going to make sustainable change in the charity sector. It’s an area I need to wholeheartedly invest in as a leader.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s wonderful to showcase the incredible women who shape our worlds and make an impact on our lives. But there are so many women missing from these celebrations; women who because of poor treatment or inaccessibility or loss of motivation are not in the leadership roles that we would expect them to be in, or have left the sector entirely. We have lost their voices, and we need to promote them, pay them, raise them up and let them take centre stage.
As I #ChooseToChallenge, I’ll be thinking and taking on action on this, and building processes at Student Hubs which support this to happen. I’ll be looking to expand our reach, growing our network, our staff team, and our ability to tackle injustice at all levels of the organisation. I’ll be listening and learning and challenged, and I’m excited to see what’s next for Student Hubs.
If you would like to learn more about our Hub model, partnerships and training opportunities for your organisation, get in touch with me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Friday this week, we’ll be sharing another article on the #ChooseToChallenge theme, as our CEO Sim Dhanjal reflects on a year since she took measures to protect our staff from COVID-19. You can also sign up to our ticketed webinar in June on this topic delivered by Sim and titled ‘Developing Your Approach to Staff Culture’, at our Eventbrite page here.