We handed over our podcast reins to Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, and Tessy Ojo, CEO of The Diana Award, for a miniseries that will discuss what privilege and anti-racism mean for the charity sector and the role of charity leaders in facilitating a shift of power both in our sector and more widely.
In the first of three episodes, Tessy and Polly explain how the idea for the podcast miniseries came about, and talk to Michael Adamson, CEO of the British Red Cross about reactions to Black Lives Matter, how to trigger systemic changes and what leaders can do to let go of power.
Scroll down for the full transcript
There’s something about the chief executives’ success being in relation to the ambitions and goals and measures in excess of the vision, not just of the organisation’s own footprint. That takes you into a different space of shared leadership and generous leadership.Michael Adamson, CEO British Red Cross
Using the privilege that we have as chief execs, the voice that we have, the platform that we have as leaders of the sector, we need to make a commitment to fixing the ecosystem so that everyone can thrive.Tessy Ojo, CEO The Diana AWard
Tessy Ojo (00:01):
Hi, I’m Tessy Ojo, I’m the chief executive of The Diana Award.
Polly Neate (00:05):
Hello. I’m Polly Neate and I’m the chief executive of Shelter.
Tessy Ojo (00:09):
And together we are hosting a mini series on the word privilege.
Tessy Ojo (00:20):
Welcome, Michael, and it’s great to be with you again, Polly. My name is Tessy. I’m the chief executive of the Diana Award, a charity legacy to princess Diana and our work is really focused on driving change for young people. And so I’ll let you guys introduce yourselves as well. And then we will kind of give you the, just give a bit of intro to how we came about this podcast.
Polly Neate (00:44):
So I’m Polly Neate and I am the chief executive of Shelter. This is a sector podcast, people probably know about Shelter. So I won’t bother to introduce that. I’m going to let Mike introduce himself as our guest. Mike is our first guest and a very brave person he is too. Mike, would you like to introduce yourself?
Michael Adamson (01:04):
Yes. And it’s lovely to be here and to, and to be asked. So I’m Mike Adamson, I’m the chief executive of the British Red Cross. And our primary role is responding to emergencies and crises both here in the UK and around the world.
Tessy Ojo (01:16):
Firstly, I’m going to say thank you for being brave, for coming, we are not scary at all. Really, this is meant to be a conversation that we started about a few months ago. So just like everybody else, when as a nation, as the world, we witnessed the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests that spread globally as well as really highlighting the, the disparity in treatment of Black people across our country. And that led to a series of thoughts. You know, a few of us chief execs had got together the start of lockdown just to probably support each other. We created a tik tok account, which was ridiculous. Um, but that kind of created a moment for us, I suppose, from the start of lockdown to, to help us navigate this really difficult season and to keep, or to create some form of fun, even in the midst of everything else.
Speaker 1 (02:17):
And I suppose when the Black Lives Matter protests kicked off, we, we felt compelled to actually come together and chat about it and really look at… Firstly, you know, I think most of us are in this sector to tackle various forms of inequalities. And I think there was a moment where we began to realise that actually inequalities, even in the systems that we are operate, they are deep rooted in inequalities, in how our systems operate. And that really led us to think about what does, what does Black Lives Matter movement mean for us both as individuals and organisations? What does it mean? A word that we kept, that came back often was being anti racist. How can I actively, ourselves as individuals and organisationally be anti racist? What we began to explore as well, that was really thanks to Polly, a series of conversations about privilege and what, what is, what is privilege. And, and, and so we actually decided that, well, if we were still grappling with some of these big words and big notions, how do we actually explore with other sector leaders and how can we bring other people into the conversation? So that’s kind of what this is about. It’s not that we have any answers it’s really wanting to continue to explore the conversation. Am I right? Polly?
Polly Neate (03:43):
Yeah. Totally. I don’t have much to add to that. I guess what I’m interested in, I’m going to hand over to you in a minute, Mike, to talk about your reflections on Black Lives Matter as a starting point, but what certainly for me, it was down to Black colleagues in Shelter, that Shelter made a solidarity statement in response to Black Lives Matter. And I was absolutely ashamed that from the privileged position that I am in, I felt I had really dropped a ball, uh, at Shelter in terms of anti-racism, particularly because I had made quite an effort at Shelter to try to lead very consciously as a feminist. And I just had not done the same with, uh, trying to bring Shelter along to be an anti racist organisation, I just haven’t done that. And I think a lot of us CEOs felt the same way. So I guess that was my starting point. And, you know, the only way you could possibly have let that ball drop is because of white privilege. That is basically the answer to how that happens. To me, the concept of privilege was very sort of bound up with this conversation. So I don’t know what your reflections are, Mike on that.
Michael Adamson (05:03):
Yeah. I mean, this has been, um, one of the most challenging parts of the whole, the whole response, because it’s all a bit of the whole period we’ve been in about trying to understand the impact of Covid and, but then think through quite complex things about identity and who we are as people, as individuals, and then who, who we want to be as an organisation. I think what I recognise is my ignorance really. Self-evidently, I’m massively privileged in so many ways and advantaged, so I don’t know if privilege and advantage are the same. I was able to go to university, I’m a white male. I came from a middle class background, it was always presumed I would go to university. I earn a very good salary. All of that. I am privileged in and have been throughout my life. And therefore I need to be very humble about that.
Michael Adamson (05:51):
But what I’ve realised also is that I just didn’t understand a lot of these issues. I wasn’t familiar with it and I hadn’t read very much about them, nor… In a way, as you said Polly, had I inquired from our people about their experiences of racism, if I look back over the years, I, yeah, I’ve always believed… who doesn’t believe in equal opportunities? You know, it’s a kind of, it’s like wrapping a warm cardign around you, unless you really really think it through. And then starting explore the language of diversity, you know. What does that actually mean? And how do we, how do we think about it? Then, what, and for me, four, five years ago was a real moment when I just recognised that as an organisation, we could not be who we needed to be, unless we were thoroughly inclusive and really embraced everything that that might mean.
Michael Adamson (06:43):
But I don’t think I understood what it might mean. Um, in fact, even though we did some of the stuff that organisations do around, you know, everything from targets, name-blind applications, unconscious bias training, all of these things that organisations do. The Covid crisis, talked about the disproportionate impact of Covid on BAME communities, without exploring at all the different experiences of what those experiences might be, other than through the statistics, but also what the different experiences of Black people from Asian people might be. Um, and after the death of George Floyd, then a number of staff, volunteers started to write to me about their own experiences, both Asians and Black. So then exploring Black Lives Matter. Well, what does, what does that really mean? And, you know, getting from, you know, yeah. And all of that debate we had about all lives matter, Black Lives Matter to… All trying to get understand that, you know, the, I had not used the language of anti-racism ever before.
Michael Adamson (07:44):
That was new, new to me. But we now have done a, you know, we’re done, we’re doing it, we’ve done a top team session on anti-racism, we’re doing a board session on anti racism. Allyship. Another language, words that we were not familiar with, but we have a fantastic BAME network. After the death of George Floyd we had… and exploring what we would, how were we responding as an organisation? Who did we want to be? What was our solidarity statement? Was it good enough? Was it quick enough? You know, we had 700 people on a zoom call talking about where we were as an organisation, but that would not have been possible with, without extraordinary leadership by young Black women in our organisation, making it okay to talk about it, to get the language wrong, to stumble around it and to create an environment in which there was the possibility of creating conversation about it. And we’ve got so much further to go, so it’s a long answer, but I think it’s been a personal… For me it’s been, it’s been a personal journey, of understanding my own privilege more, but then humbly trying to explore, what is this language? How do we, how do we use and understand the different experiences of different groups of people and tailor, work ou what we do that is common to all, and what we do that is really tailored. You know, we were not talking about centuries of structural racism before this.
Tessy Ojo (09:08):
There’s so much that you’ve, I would love to just chat, even on that question, there’s so much.I picked up some words about, things, about identity, you used the word ignorance around, around it. You use the word around not familiar with certain words and certain experiences. And in some ways, I suppose that really is part of the reasoning behind this, because it’s beginning to understand because of our privileges, you, it makes you unfamiliar with other people’s experience. And how do we lead with empathy? How do we lead? For example, if I was in a room that was, and I was the only Black person in a board meeting, not in my board, this won’t happen in my board, my board is quite diverse…How do people understand that the dynamics in that room is not really equal? And how do we use the privilege that you have? Maybe, and I know it’s happened when Polly, do you want to even share a little bit about this?
Polly Neate (10:11):
Yeah, I gave an example that I experienced as a woman when I was talking to Tessy. So in my very first week at Shelter, I went to a meeting of, uh, people from the housing sector. And apart from the facilitator who was brought in and paid, I was the only woman. And it was my first week in a new job. And within the first hour, two people made a point that I had made. Two men. There were all men apart from me. Made a point that I’d made and got loads of like, yeah, yeah, yeah, oh, you’re right about it, when I’d already made the point and it had been totally ignored. So all of those men would probably have said: Oh, but I, you know, it’s all the same to me, whether someone’s a woman or a man, everyone’s equal, everyone’s all the same. But actually that experience, I felt a) really found it very difficult to speak again in that meeting, after that. And I’m quite a confident person. And b) I really felt I’d failed in that meeting, in my first meeting, within the housing sector, in my new job. And I felt I’ve really failed to get anything across. And so my question is to those men, they would have said that the fact that I was the only woman was invisible to them, it didn’t matter, everyone was equal, but actually I didn’t want it to be invisible to them, I wanted to be visible and somebody to show allyship. And I guess that’s what Tessy is saying as well. If she’s the only Black person in that meeting, have it been colorblind, is ridiculous anyway, nobody is. And I just wanted about your reflections because you must have often in meetings where there’s one woman, one Black person, and how you navigate that. Not an unchallenging question, I’m aware.
Michael Adamson (12:03):
I’m glad you acknowledged that. So, I mean, I gave some thought to this before coming on the, yeah, that clearly the, a risk there’s a whole risk of privilege is about complacency and uhm, and the privilege and empathy, maybe uneasy bedfellows as well. And so I absolutely recognise what you’ve described. So I empathise, I can’t explain. So I agree. I’m not saying it’s the same at all, in some of the overseas work I’ve done, I’ve been the only white person in a room, it’s for two different reasons. One is the odd… Cause sometimes you’re aware of the… Aware of that, but also sometimes that still carries privilege because of all of the connotations, you know, the empire and so on. That’s um, you know, it’s also deeply uncomfortable and it’s not, I think what I would, what I would say is I don’t think that a white male has never experienced a feeling of being excluded or a feeling of microaggressions that take place in everyday life. But the point is that white males are not, that is not a systematic experience. People who are disabled. It may, I don’t know whether that’s about privilege or advantage. I mean, that’s kind of, um, that’s why I thought it was interesting about whether where intersectionality fits within this, all of this debate as well, has been really important for us to be thinking about in the Red Cross. But all I can, all I can say is that I suppose, in response to your specific point about being the only Black person in a meeting or a room or the only woman in a meeting room, I hope that I am empathetic. Well, that I appreciate that there is a situation and that I would build on those and every anybody’s point, which has merit, but we all, but part of this humility is about recognising your own blind spots. You have to recognise there are things that you are unaware of in your own approach and demeanor. And it’s a bit like when somebody says, you know, I’m not unconsciously biased. I think you kind of, I think you’ve kind of missed the point.
Polly Neate (14:12):
I’m not aware of my unconscious bias!
Michael Adamson (14:15):
Exactly. And we’re all trying to desperately close that window, that square of unconscious bias that we’re just not aware of. So, so I, so I try to, I try to chair meetings in inclusive, inclusive ways, but that doesn’t mean that people haven’t challenged me at different times after meetings, not necessarily when it was only a woman in the room or whatever, that I didn’t get the best out of it or whatever. Again, another long answer, I’m sorry Polly, but it’s, it’s all about culture. Cause it’s the stuff you do, isn’t that, around… There’s language you master, the stuff you do that… And I do, I think people play down, what’s the point of doing unconscious bias training and achieve anything or what’s the point of doing name blind application. Doesn’t achieve it. I don’t agree with that because you’re trying to create a system, a combination of changes within an organisation that make it more likely that the right thing will happen then did before. But ultimately the key is the ability to have a conversation about it and to raise experiences of being discriminated against or bias or being excluded. And create the conditions in which that conversation, those conversations can take place. And for me, that’s, that’s our journey and we’re nowhere near where we need to be on that to enable that to happen.
Polly Neate (15:29):
I do think there’s a role though for direct challenge as well. So in that example of the meeting that I was in, if one of those men had said: actually, Polly made that point before… in my experience, trying to get men to challenge sexism is really like banging your head against the wall. It’s really difficult. So I can only imagine that it’s that trying to get white people challenge racism feels exactly the same way. If, if a man had challenged in that meeting, then I would have, that would have helped me with the feelings of anger and, um, inadequacy as well that I was experiencing in that meeting. So I do think charity CEOs, huge privileges come with that job. And we ought to be really leading in openly challenging. I guess I would have thought I was creating conditions in which this might happen, but I wasn’t to be frank.
Tessy Ojo (16:28):
Sometimes that’s why conversations like this or dialogue like this is important to raise awareness. And I love, Mike I love the key words you’re using, you’re talking about acknowledge, the acknowledgment, recognising that this happens. And I think if anything, hopefully what the, the Black Lives Matter movement allowed us to do was to begin that process. But it’s only the beginning of realising, acknowledging it, and now beginning to create processes that fix. But I think the challenge with this, the other bit that we need to be a bit more proactive… I mean, I’ll give a quick example. A few weeks ago, my daughter, where we live, we don’t live in London. She went into London, she got on a train, put her mask on. And suddenly this guy from nowhere just began to attack her and saying things like, yes, it’s because of the BAME community that COVID has increased. She sat down and she was like, oh, she said for a minute, I didn’t really know what to do. And I didn’t really want to, to respond, but a lady came quickly and sat right next to her and said, I’m really trying to say to her, do you know what? It’s fine. Don’t worry. And was, you know, challenged this other guy. Cut the long story short. She went up to report to the train manager who didn’t really take action blah, blah. But the key thing, I suppose the one thing that over the whole experience was quite nasty for her. She felt this person who came to sit by her, there was some that allyship just meant that she felt seen. She felt visible. Of course this person was not the person being attacked. She had the privilege of at that moment not being BAME. And therefore her privilege was that I wasn’t being attacked, yet she put herself in the line of fire using her privilege as a white female to stand by another person who was under fire. And there’s just something about the recognition that we have privilege. How can we use our privilege to create some form of equity and equality across our country that allows people of colour to feel seen and to feel visible?
Michael Adamson (18:38):
That’s a really powerful example. I love that example of the, well, I hate the example that your, of your daughter’s story Tessy, but I loved the way that, that someone stepping in to do something. I mean, if you were advising and going back to Polly’s example in a meeting, are there any circumstances in which in doing that challenging, what’s been said that a woman might feel patronised by the fact that a man has done that?
Polly Neate (19:06):
Well, I, I can’t speak for other women, but certainly for me in that situation, I would have felt… it just would have made the whole situation a lot better for me if one of the other men have challenged it. And because also I’ve, I didn’t feel able to challenge it because if I had gone, you know, I just said that actually, it just would’ve come across… can you even imagine how it would have come across? And especially with all the baggage that I was bringing, everybody, you know, when I started at Shelter as a vocal feminist, there was a whole campaign about me. There was men’s rights, activists complained to the Charity Commission that I was going to stop Shelter, helping men because I was a feminist and I shouldn’t be in the job. People were trying to get me sacked and my tires were slashed. And that isn’t something that I don’t, I just don’t think any of that would have been the experience of the men in the room. It might’ve been, if there’d been a Black man in the room, I would think so. Long story short, no I would not have felt patronised by it. I would have felt is was active allyship.
Michael Adamson (20:17):
I mean, one of the things that I’ve found, one of the things I found really challenging in the course of the whole Black Lives Matter was the whole thing about, you know, what, what does proactivity look like? And indeed, when we did our anti-racism session with our executive team, we would, and then we’re trying to do a word, word identification with what, what kind of words really matter and thinking about anti-racism and proactivity or action orientation or whatever. Anyway, was one of the key, a key words I think that came through, along with inclusion, allyship as you’d expect, but that proactivity was important. And I think one of the things that I’ve found challenging in the Black Lives Matter piece was about what that proactivity looked like. And all the time I had, um, can’t remember the precise quote, but you know, that Martin Luther King quote, it’s not the KU Klux Klan that he worried about, it’s the white liberals who say they agree, but they don’t do anything. And, you know, am I, is my response slow, understated? Is it the white liberal kind of response? But then, but that’s why, you know, but trying to work through, that’s what I think it is about ident identity of people, about my identity of, of what I want to be. And as well as the identity of the organisation, you know, were we… And meantime, you know, from, from not just Black staff but major staff, really powerful stories that of racism that experienced in East London with, in the eighties around and, and the police doing nothing. And what have you. Right at the beginning, cause this was unfolding over days. And I know some of our team… processing well, what, what as a white person… And what does this mean for us?
Michael Adamson (22:01):
Who are we? It’s very easy now to say that you would take the knee for example, because everybody, everybody is, but at the time, trying to understand what, you know, would, on day one after George Floyd’s or, you know, one day George Floyd’s death, would I take the knee? The Black Lives Matter is it’s two things, isn’t it, it’s a really powerful and critically important philosophy of way of thinking about that. After centuries of structural racism, Black Lives Matter is a really important message and anti-racism is. It’s also a political movement. Uh, with other ambitions, it would go beyond the scope of what the Red Cross is about, for example, and trying to work out where we sit within that, how we show, visibly show solidarity. Um, there were other organisations that with we worked very closely who made much more dramatic statements, for example of solidarity. Not all of them as quick, they were slower than we were. And there’s a school of thought within our organisation that we were too slow. We were a few days after the events or whatever, but should we have said more? And I, I found trying to work through some of those issues in my own head as a, as a person and as a leader and as an organisation really challenging in real time, over a course of a week kind of thing of trying to… Particularly 72 hours after where do we want, who are we in this space? Where do we want to be?
Polly Neate (23:24):
Um, I think it’s so telling though that right across the charity sector, and I’d include myself in this, people had to ask themselves, where do we sit on this? The entire sector had to, as far as I’m aware, pretty much had to ask themselves that question and was scrambling for answers. That in itself is really telling isn’t it?
Michael Adamson (23:46):
It wasn’t that anybody wasn’t outraged or shocked by what they had seen with the death of George Floyd and indeed the subsequent deaths. But in terms of working out the realisation, as you say that we had not thought this through, that we’d, I had not thought through in a mature way, the distinctions between Asian and Black experiences are a core aspect of this. Yeah. And yeah you’re absolutely right Polly. We had not thought, we had not thought it through. So we were having to work it out as the events unfolded.
Tessy Ojo (24:15):
I think one of the, one of the things I found very early on in the, in the first few days was the fact that as a sector, we talk about the inequalities that we want to fight. We focus a lot of our attention on the good and what we want to fix. We’ve never really looked at who’s doing the oppressing, like who really is the oppressor. And I think the death of George Floyd and that whole movement for the first time showed that mirror that actually look no further. Oppression takes place in our own organisations every day. It takes place in this, in our society. And I think that’s why for a very long time people, you know, I had a lot of arguments about, we don’t want to associate with the Black Lives Matter organisation. I don’t think anyone was asking that, I don’t even know what the organisation, I don’t even know the philosophies of, of that. I think…. And there was in some way it felt like there was a defence thing about, Oh, is this, is this the organisation? But no, it was about the people, the lives, the movement and not the, the organisation, the movement was about my life, my children’s life and people that look like me. And, and for the first time like, I think I wrote an article that, that talks about these are conversations that we have in our household. My son’s 20 when he, I don’t, I can’t remember how old he was when we began to have the talk, the conversation about stop and search, the likelihood that they are… Just showing up is crime enough. Sometimes they have to work extra hard to prove that they’re not the perpetrator of a crime simply because they’re Black. And I think for most people, that’s what we wanted everyone to hear.
Tessy Ojo (26:05):
It wasn’t about an organisation. It was just see me, understand. And I, and like I said, it’s the words that we’ve all used in this conversation about acknowledging that my trajectory is not the same as the average person, my counterpart, just simply because of my skin color. And I want you to know this, and in knowing this, what are you going to do about it? And I think that’s the whole point of anti racism. Now that you know, what are you going to do about it? Mike, I’m interested to know how… Have your thoughts on what do you think? What do you think the impact across the wider sector? You talked about sometimes when going abroad, you might be the only white person there, but just because of the privilege of being the colonial master. Across our sector, there’s always the power dynamics that plays out anyway. There’s the, there’s the donor. There’s, you’re the savior. We’ve heard a lot. How can we use our privilege better in the sector? There’s a lot that has been, a lot of organisations that are thinking more about shifting power. I would just love to hear your thoughts of the implication of privilege across our sector, among the different play groups or the power groups that, that plays out in the sector.
Michael Adamson (27:17):
Well, a huge moment for us in the Red Cross was the, um, response to the Grenfell tower fire because we are, we’re an emergency response organisation. And that was, you know, one of the biggest emergencies as a country we’ve faced in recent times. You know, we responded in our, you know, fairly, you know, in our fairly standard way, which is we’re written into the local resilience plan. We worked very closely with the authorities, and we’re very proud of what we did. But I’m not proud of where we started on that because we did, not that we shouldn’t have done what we did at the beginning was of that, what we were not plugged into at all, was the local community. We may be the emergency response organisation, but actually lots of local organisations from the mosques, the churches, the local youth groups were opening their doors in the early hours of that Wednesday morning. Um, you know, when the fire went down. So we had a huge amount of learning about how do we connect with the community and, um, the organisations that are within it an already active. Um, and we also had a huge realization about, you know, we were deploying, uh, even though parts of our volunteer workforce are quite diverse, the people who respond, you know, who support refugees and asylum seekers so on, actually we were fundamentally in terms of our emergency response volunteers, primarily white being deployed into a community with a really diverse population. And it just didn’t feel right. And then we started to try and do something about it. And since then, what we’ve been trying to do is take the learning from, from that around how do we connect with a whole range of different types of organisations, not just do our thing, cause we happen to be written into the local resilience plan, but actually who do we need to connect with and how do we make it more likely that we are connected?
Michael Adamson (29:05):
How do we make ourselves as an organisation, more visibly diverse? And then what we’ve done was creating an emergency partnership, which is a mix of national and local organisations, or with access to local organisations, to try to create the kind of conversations before an emergency and during an emergency. And then after that mean that the power dynamics, we don’t remove them at all, but that they are mitigated that they are creating conditions in which we have more information from small local organisations of whatever kind, about what’s happening on the ground. Those are small local organisations that we’re talking to, that we also recognise that some of them are not diverse. So there may be a large charity, small charity dynamic. There’s certainly a lack of trust. That is a real problem for us as a sector. I think it’s just not helpful, really not healthy. We’ve got to do something about it. So we’re trying to work at that, but doesn’t mean that, local is not always, it’s not always best. It’s not always diverse. It’s not always inclusive. It’s not always connected to the community. And we’ve got to lean into creating the conditions where we understand health inequalities much better. We understand who does truly speak for parts of the community that are marginalized and build the connections in the ecosystem to enable that to happen. And that those voices are listened to. And then the insights that they have is acted upon. And I think the tools just really matter. So, you know, the Red Cross we were very proud of a lot of what we’ve done, but we’ve already acknowledged some of the areas where we bring learning. We’ve not rolled out things like equality impact assessments fast enough, um, as part of a basic way of doing things that then start to build in this awareness, into, again, the systems and organisation, we need to do the same within this emergency partnership work. So you have access to umbrella bodies like Muslim Charities Forum, but it’s not, it’s not enough to equalize the voice. There are power dynamics everywhere, just have to keep working at them
Polly Neate (31:12):
The whole big charity, small charity, national charity, local charity dynamic. Is about privilege. Is absolutely relevant to the conversation that we’re having now. I also think it’s important to recognise… So one of the most challenging conversations that I’ve ever had about privilege was a conversation when I was at Women’s Aid and there was a conversation with a organisation by and for women of colour, very, very challenging of the dynamic between Women’s Aid, a white organisation. I think even for us acknowledging that what we’re running is a white organisation. If we’re not making that commitment to anti-racism to even that, kind of like, I didn’t want to think of us as a white organisation. That’s really challenging, I think for white CEOs, um, we just need to kind of sit with that and hear it. How we actually show that more than generous leadership, because it isn’t enough. And I remember saying this a lot as a feminist about men as well. It isn’t enough to use your power kindly. You’ve got to give some of it away. It’s a very deeply challenging conversation for us as white leaders and for our organisations.
Tessy Ojo (32:32):
I want to maybe help us close on one question and this is completely random, but it’s just off what you just said, Polly. You talked about giving some away. Can I ask us what does that practically mean?
Polly Neate (32:44):
Yeah, so I think for me as a person, it definitely means that I have to share the power that comes and privilege that comes with my position with others, both in, within and outside my organisation. This is a very small example, but a really obvious one is not to speak on an all white panel or if you’re a man not to speak on an all male panel or to seed your place in that even. So nevermind you’re still going to be there, but you want a Black person also to be there, but seed your place to a Black person, particularly for large powerful organisations of which I would count Shelter as one, we have to be able to share power. And that includes money in order to have smaller and particularly organisations led by people of colour to have those organisations in the room, in the decision making space. The really challenging bit is when, you know, an actually a lot of the sector is in difficulty at the moment. If you’re, if, if the sector, if your organisation is struggling is really, really, really hard to give power away. And I think if you, as an individual feel that you’re struggling, it’s really hard to give power away and we have to rise above that.
Tessy Ojo (34:11):
Amazing. Thank you, Mike? For any thoughts?
Michael Adamson (34:14):
I love the way that Polly’s combined the kind of personal and the organisational and systemic, cause I think it must be something about that, the role modeling and, um, the way in which the conversations are conducted and then you can highlight it some great examples, really made me think about, um, my own, what I want to explore my own blind spots about. Am I not doing things I should be doing around proactivity, meetings, that kind of thing. And I completely agree on the panel, you know, the issues of panels, they should be visibly, visibly diverse. And again, we should be systematizing that if we’re not already, we are in the Red Cross through and through our organisations around interview panels and what have you, and really just making those things absolutely clear. Polly and I both written separately and without actually chatting about also what, how do you go about achieving outcomes that are way beyond the capacity of your individual organisation to achieve? In a system where you’re only responsible for part of it? That I think is key to who we are because our vision statements of most of our organisations way transcend they’re way beyond the actually the rather small budgets in relation to the scale of need of even the largest organisations like the Red Cross, we can’t achieve the outcomes on our own. So there has to be a humility and openness to challenge at an individual level and an organisational level that we have to be prepared to help as Polly touched on, on mobilise funding for others. I think one of the biggest challenges is about how we measure success in terms of the outcomes related to the vision, which is that every, you know, for us, everyone gets the help they need in a crisis in a human-centred way. These, these ambitions are way beyond our capacity to deliver ourselves, but our boards tend to measure success according to the outcomes we as individual organisations achieve.
Michael Adamson (36:02):
And particularly, as Polly said, when organisations are under financial pressure, they just have to stay alive, deliver on their own terms. There’s something about the chief executives’ success being in relation to the ambitions and goals and measures in excess of the vision, not just of the organisation’s own footprint. That takes you into a different space of shared leadership and generous leadership. Yes, but also understanding the ecosystem of which you’re part that by definition, for me means understanding the inequalities within it, how many of the ways in which we measure our successes as organisations are actually related to those outcomes. So if we were doing that… And how many of our boards are really understanding of the implications of that. And let’s face it. The chief executives have got quite big egos sometimes, and we want to raise flags, wave flags. I’m proud of what we do. And I’m proud of what I hope I’m trying to enable, but you’ve got to put that to one side and focus on well, is it changing anything seriously in terms of those outcomes? Because if you’re going into that space, you have to start sharing in a different way. I have to presume good intentions of the people that you’re working with. You have to operate with humility, you have to create the conditions for trust and make it more likely, you know, tomorrow, then the day after then, the week after then, the year after that, that privilege will be eroded. And the system will work in ways that give people at the bottom a chance to have agency in their lives. And it’s about doing a whole series of things
Polly Neate (37:34):
Because we are about changing things, aren’t we? We are not about just sitting around, feeling comfortable.
Tessy Ojo (37:38):
I’m so grateful for leaders like yourselves. What I hear you saying, and what I hear us talking about is, it’s not just changing the system as individuals, is looking beyond our organisation to change the ecosystem. That way, using the privilege that we have as chief execs, the voice that we have, the platform that we have as chief execs, as leaders of the sector, we need to make a commitment to fixing the ecosystem so that everyone can thrive. And look beyond just our organisational vision. And maybe there’s an accountability piece where our trust, our board of trustees should actually hold us to account as chief executives around what is our commitment to the ecosystem that’s way beyond just our mission statements.
Polly Neate (38:33):
I love that. Thank you! Yeah.
Tessy Ojo (38:33):
That’s great. Thank you much. I feel like it’s been an incredible conversation.
Polly Neate (38:37):
Thank you Mike, for joining us. Really appreciate it.
Michael Adamson (38:43):
It really made me think as well. Yeah. Which is all, but this is part of this. Yeah. Having the conversations that move, move your own thinking on and therefore the proactivity as well. So I’m really, really glad that we’ve had that conversation. I really, really enjoyed it and I found it stretching and stimulating. Thank you.
Polly and Tessy (39:00):