Our answer-ers solve your social impact career dilemmas in our weekly feature
This is our weekly Q&A in which our team and network share their hard won wisdom to help guide you gently through your social impact career dilemmas. If you like the advice, use it, and if you don’t, just ignore it. After all, we don’t even follow our own advice a lot of the time.
Our answer-er this week is Lorraine Kay, our Mentoring and Employability Lead. Lorraine has coached and developed teams and leaders across media, the private sector and now supports leaders in the social impact sector. As someone with a lot of people of experience, we thought Lorraine could help us solve this one.
My team is trying to get more people living in poverty to engage with our charity’s campaigns about poverty. I’ve not been asked my opinion as I’m only the coordinator but I seem to be the only person in the team who actually comes from the kind of place they want to get involved. I’m really not sure the messages they’ve come up will work and the whole process has involved listening to a lot of random stereotypes like how no one will have a smartphone (me and all my friends had smartphones and lived on an estate).
Should I say anything about the stereotyping and why their ideas might not work?
Yes you should. But let’s get to that. First: it must be really difficult for you hearing statements that make you feel uncomfortable and feeling that you don’t have a voice or view. It sounds like you have exactly the experience needed in the team and that if you and your colleagues can find a way to bring your experience into the open you could really help make sure that you all put time and resources into something that will work.
So, what to do?
I am wondering if your colleagues have said anything to make clear your contributions are not welcome or if this is something you feel? While they may not have asked for your views and ideas, there could be many reasons for this, it may even be that your manager doesn’t want to put you on the spot. If something has been said it’s important to address that but let’s give the benefit of the doubt here and hope that were they to know you wanted to contribute, they would welcome that.
You might not want to share your story in a team meeting, especially if you are worried about the assumptions your colleagues might have. Is there someone friendly in your team or another work colleague you’d be comfortable talking about this with? Do you generally get on well enough with your line manager to share more about yourself?
Some things to consider with the person you speak to:
How much you want to share with team about your personal story?
Do you feel able to speak up and ask to talk yourself or do you want to ask another member of the team to initially speak on your behalf in the meeting?
What have you heard being discussed that you have a view on?
How are you going to share this view?
You might also decide that you don’t want to make it personal and rather than share your own experience and background that you simply want to try having a voice in future. So, if you hear another comment that doesn’t sound right, a simple, professionally assertive statement like: ‘I’m actually aware that most people we want to reach will have access to smartphones so I think we could be missing a really important delivery channel here if we write that off completely’ could be helpful, especially if you add your own spin to ensure you are comfortable with what you say.
However you decide to address this, try and frame your contribution so that you are not too critical of the team’s past discussions. It could distract people from the point you want to make. And, if you don’t get a positive response to your contribution, it’s not likely that the team is going to change in the face of criticism.
For the longer term task of changing some of the assumptions and stereotypes you’ve mentioned, this is best not done alone, you’ll exhaust yourself- so find some allies to work on this with. And also remember that if the line is crossed between less informed assumptions and outright prejudice then it’s not your job to take that on. Speak to someone because your organisation must address that.
Good luck- your team could hugely benefit from your experience and ideas and it would be great if you could share them to help your charity run an effective campaign, so I hope you find a way to speak up that works for you and that you are listened to.