My take on equality, diversity and inclusion

Our co-founder and director, Raya Wexler, who came to live in the UK from Iran in 1974, speaks out about her personal experiences of equality, diversity and inclusion.

At the grand age of 60, Iranian emigrant, after 22 years of running CharityJob and having worked in the charity and not-for-profit sector for more than 15 years before that, I think it’s high time I put aside my shyness and spoke about my opinion and experience.

Life as a young person

Life is vastly different now to when I was in secondary school in the UK in the seventies and then working at the age of 21. Nobody dared to speak about bad behaviour. Well, if you did you got nowhere and were seen as a trouble-maker at work. As a young person, I learnt to dodge racist comments at school (although not always, and was often called derogatory names of other nations) and, of course, often had harassment and innuendo at work by older, more senior men who so often got away with it.

I am in no doubt that I was overlooked for promotion a good few times and didn’t get interviews in my early career. I got rejected because of, perhaps, my language barrier, my intense shyness and general lack of confidence that was attached to my language barrier, being a female in a male-dominated work environment and my (Iranian) race, more than my colour.

Nothing makes you feel more out of place than seeing ‘Place Of Birth’ marked in your British passport, as Iran is seen as a hostile country around the world. You don’t have to have dark skin to experience racism. I’ve lived in the UK since 1974 and can’t say that I feel like a native, nor do I feel Iranian. I belong to a no man’s land, if there is such a thing, and have happily accepted this land as my permanent home—both the UK and no man’s land that is!

I do feel immensely lucky to be in the UK, a country that has given me a good education, a happy family life and many great opportunities to grow as a person, not to mention a successful business. I often think, if my parents hadn’t made the decision to emigrate, what would life have been like! I am thankful for all my experiences, good and bad, as without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

Raya Wexler at work in the 1990s.Raya at work in the 1990s

Moving towards a fairer society?

We all know that life is so much better now, but are we moving as fast as we can towards a fairer society? We need to accept change and not be afraid of it. Covid-19 has equipped us well to be more accepting of change overnight, literally. Our sector could be the pioneers of this long overdue change. I believe we can and should be revolutionary and be leaders in our society. All it takes is a collective firm commitment.

Are you, as people in charge of running your organisation, committed to end unfairness and any form of discrimination in your work environment? What exactly is stopping you from this commitment? I believe we can do so much better than we have. I don’t believe it’s a journey any more. The seventies, eighties, nineties and noughties were the journey—now we need to push hard to reach the destination.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion starts from the top

I recently attended a webinar on diversity by a large, well-known charity and it left me so disappointed and exasperated. Not only was the talk not about diversity, but the people on the panel, including a couple of  their trustees, were as diverse as a bag of peas! Equality, Diversity and Inclusion must start from the top, including trustees as well as senior and mid-management teams. Only then can you inspire amazing people to join you to fight your cause.  I see so many charities, large and small, with very un-diverse boards, which is truly disheartening. Trustees have a very tough job—but is it right to think that men of a certain age group are the only ones capable of making tough decisions? Given the charity sector employs more women than men, why is it that so few make it to the top, let alone to the board? Ask yourself ‘does our board represent our workforce or even our end users’? If not, change this inequality.

We need to embrace people from all walks of life: different experiences, age groups, genders, physical abilities and, yes of course, colour. From my personal experience, diversity is not just about one thing, but a whole range of attributes, some of which are almost never mentioned. The truth is that everyone has, at some point in their life, experienced prejudice. For example, if you are on the heavier side of weight or if you’re a man who’s not of average height, would you not have a story to tell? To me, diversity is about acceptance of everyone’s attributes and characteristics, looking under the hood for the intricate workings of someone. We made the journey way back and now we need to reach the arrival point.

We are so privileged that the UK is a melting pot of so many cultures, which gives a richness to our society. It makes this country so great and we should treat it as a treasure to be devoured.

Raya WexlerRaya today

Don’t have preconceived ideas

Personal experience has taught me to accept people for what they bring to the table and not to have preconceived ideas as, almost certainly, you will be disappointed. My own staff come from a variety of cultures and speak many different languages, some are tall and some are not, some are young and some are not, some come from different experiences and walks of life. Some never fitted into the box in our heads during interviews. We are truly blessed to have great people, all of whom have played a major hand in making our business so successful. Our senior account manager was a corporate wife for many years and now she looks after our top 130 clients, all of whom love her. We have a great person, 71 years young, who we all rely on in finance. I truly believe that if you can do the job and do it well, then you’re a good fit for us.

Time to change

So my advice is to make a firm commitment to change and see now as the time for that change. Look beyond the physical attributes of someone, or the shortcomings on their CV, and meditate on what they can bring to your team and organisation. And please don’t go by “we have always done it this way” either. It’s time to change and feel positive about the change. I long to see a more balanced board of trustees in charities of all sizes and to see more women in senior roles. Young people are a huge asset to organisations and a number of forward-thinking charities have them as trustees.

It’s high time we took this seriously. So let’s march towards better, fairer, non-discriminatory practises in our recruitment and be a shining example of what charities do so well. It takes guts to speak up about this to your senior managers and it takes effort to bring about this change. I think the sector needs it and we all need to push hard to arrive at the destination point. I know together we can do this.

Tags: charity recruitment, charity sector, diversity, diversity in recruitment, equality diversity and inclusion, inclusive recruitment

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About the author

Raya Wexler

Raya is a former communications manager who set up CharityJob with Steve in February 2000. She loves cooking and eating and any excuse to celebrate with friends, family and colleagues. She is looking forward to being given a new title of Grandma in the next few years.