'You never forget what it is like to be discriminated against'

28 January 2019
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
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Charlotte Fielder explains how she got involved with the #ChangeCollective and what the movement means to her.

The #ChangeCollective is very special to me. It’s a meeting of minds and collaboration between a group of people who all want to see lasting and measurable change. It means commitment, passion and empathy. It means not giving up.

I wanted to get involved because I grew up feeling different. From primary through to senior school I was always the only kid with a visible disability.

I have a missing hand, or to be accurate and descriptive I have a shortened forearm and a skinny stump where my hand should be. Back in the 1970s there was no internet or televised Paralympics so my only points of reference were rows of elderly men in wheelchairs with tartan blankets covering their missing legs. These men were soldiers from the two world wars waiting to see the prosthetist at the limb fitting centre at Roehampton. I didn’t meet someone else who looked like me until I was 19.

During my second year at senior school my parents moved house which meant a change of school. I started there at 13 in a school with over 1,000 kids, and didn’t know any of them. I was bullied terribly and subjected to verbal and sometimes physical torment. I can honestly say that my school years were the hardest years of my life and at 15 I attempted suicide to escape the daily tirades.

Everyone said it was a cry for help but if that’s true it was a cry that wasn’t heard.

Consequently I started work at 16 and working with adults was a joy as I escaped the tyranny of name calling and associated behaviours. Being picked upon for being different is exhausting.

My first years at work were superb but then some things started to change. There was an occasion when I wanted to apply for a role that would have put me in a small team in an external setting. Here I experienced subtle discrimination because the head of that department came to see me and told me that I was not to apply because they didn’t want anyone disabled in a public facing role. This was in 1983. You would not get away with such a thing these days, but I was only 20 and so I just sucked it up and got on with what I was doing (which was in a more public facing role than the one I applied for!) My boss couldn't see my skills he just saw my difference and I knew that the reason he didn't want me to apply was because he couldn't see past his bias.

'I found my voice'

There were other incidents along the way but I soon found my voice and started to challenge assumptions about what I could and couldn’t do. I ended up working for 33 years across different government departments. I worked hard and did well.

But you never forget what it’s like to be discriminated against and during my years in government departments I trained as a contact officer for staff who felt bullied, and joined the Home Office Disability Support group and became the Communication Champion during the Paralympics writing blogs to help staff deal confidently with disabled Paralympians visiting the UK.

In 2013 I joined our sector and recognised that two of my best skills of influencing and rapport building would be useful in building equality, diversity and inclusion into how I developed the volunteering programme at Battersea and I soon made changes that have broadened the diversity of the programme. For example we now anonymise all applications so that those shortlisting cannot make assumptions about gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, or religion. I am passionate that we take a ‘nobody gets left behind approach’ to recruiting volunteers into our animal facing and fundraising roles because I believe that the voluntary sector should reflect the communities it serves.

In 2017 I was approached by Elizabeth Balgobin who had been commissioned by the Institute of Fundraising to do some research into diversity in the fundraising profession. We had a very enlightening talk and as a result she said that she would recommend that I join the IoF expert panel on equality, diversity and inclusion.

For me the #ChangeCollective movement will have been a success when we no longer need a diversity task force and when we have the role models that my younger self would have been so happy to have seen.

In November we launched our Manifesto for Change which sets out how we plan to embark on the journey to achieve an equal, diverse and inclusive profession where everyone is the right fit. We are encouraging fundraisers to sign up to the #ChangeCollective movement so we can work together to make fundraising a career for everyone.

Charlotte Fielder
Charlotte Fielder
Head of Volunteering and Fostering at Battersea, and is a member of the IoF Expert Panel on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
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