When Alison spoke of her experience of child sexual abuse, the atmosphere in the room changed. Not only did people sit up and listen, but I think people felt more comfortable, knowing this was a safe space in which we could be honest and vulnerable. This is the kind of example a leader can set, the kind of environment they can create.
As a young woman of colour who’s just joined the charity sector as an intern, I can’t begin to explain what it meant to hear Alison Lowe, a CEO who is a black woman, speaking of her journey so honestly. My transition into the third sector straight out of university has been at times uncertain. So to see someone much further ahead in their journey, who I could actually relate to, was comforting to say the least.
In October I went to Hull for a Clore Social chapter meeting. Going in I didn’t really know what to expect, I knew I’d be meeting Clore Social fellows and alumni. I also knew there was going to be a guest speaker, but truthfully, I didn’t expect the talk to have much of an impact on me, or how I think of leadership.
So imagine my surprise when Alison started talking about being one of the few black people on her estate growing up, and the racism she faced. I suddenly felt strangely (but maybe not surprisingly) anxious. Anxious because I thought, will people take her less seriously now? Will this (largely white) audience think she’s playing the “race card”?
I could tell people appreciated how frankly she spoke of her experience. They asked a lot of insightful questions afterwards, mainly about how to encourage people of colour and other minority groups to apply for jobs at their charities. To be honest, this surprised me because it feels like race is still the elephant in a very white room.