Today is all about change. I am delighted to welcome the CEO of the Taylor Bennett Foundation, Sarah Stimson. I’ve got to know Sarah over the last four or five years and when I was President of the CIPR ensured the institute supported the foundation, through in kind donations.
In October 2017 I was appointed chair of the Foundation, a role I am honoured to hold.
Sarah is a wonderful woman, her dedication and drive to tackle diversity and her commitment to the foundation is inspiring; she is, as she writes here, relentless in her desire for improvement and change. 2018 is a big year for her and for the foundation and I am excited to be part of it.
What does change mean to me?
Lots of people are frightened of change. There’s a whole management discipline of ‘change management’ focused on easing transitions and managing expectations of change; it’s big business.
I am not one of those people. I absolutely embrace change and actively look for ways to change my life at both work and home. I have an entrepreneurial spirit so I’m excited by new things and new approaches to work and to life.
For me, change means opportunity. The chance to make a difference, to have an impact, and to try something new. It’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s a little bit daunting too.
How has ‘change’ been of importance in 2017?
I’ve been working for the Taylor Bennett Foundation for ten years. The first nine of those as Programme Director – I developed our traineeship programmes, built our supporter base and managed our corporate partnerships. At the end of 2016 I took on the CEO role and that has changed not only my title, but my responsibilities and the way I think about the organisation. Previously I spent a lot of time contemplating how to improve the training we offer, how to help the graduates on our programmes get jobs, and how to encourage individuals and companies to give us their time.
My brilliant successor in that role, Ada, has taken all that on (and more!) and my focus has now switched to how we make the organisation financially viable, how we encourage donations from both individuals and corporates, how we raise our profile, and how we grow strategically. We’ve launched new programmes, we’ve appointed new trustees, a Chair and a Vice-Chair, we’ve moved office (twice!) and we’ve celebrated our 10th anniversary.
The political and economic environment continues to change around us, both nationally and internationally. We are mindful as an organisation that that may impact us, but the growing desire in the PR community to address diversity issues means that 2017 has been a year that the industry has embraced a change in how it talks about diversity, approaches it, and addresses it – and I very much hope that continues.
Epiphany is all about looking forward. What are my hopes for 2018?
At work there is lots of change afoot as the Taylor Bennett Foundation launches its first programme in Scotland, a summer internship and training programme for BAME graduates and a series of PR lectures.
I hope by the end of 2018 we are operating much less as a hand-to-mouth enterprise, with financial stability and a more strategic vision for the future. That will be a big change from the last decade and will enable us to grow and, crucially, help more people.
On a personal level I have two goals for 2018. To graduate from the Masters in Charity Marketing and Fundraising I’m currently studying part time, and to take control of my weight! Both of those signify changes which take huge commitment and motivation, so are not small challenges.
Who are my wise men or women?
I’ve chosen three people who have influenced me heavily and have brought about change in different areas in my life.
– Heather McGregor – Change in my approach to work.
I first went to work for Taylor Bennett, the executive search firm, in 2002 and spent two years there. It was an absolute accident. I’d just returned from bumming around North America for a year after previously working in IT and was looking for any job with no particular career path in mind.
I left in 2004 and returned in 2007 at Heather’s request to help establish the work of the Foundation. It is the only organisation I’ve ever returned to, and Heather was very persuasive. Heather remains the Patron of the Foundation and one of our biggest supporters. She has also been a personal support to me – she gave me advice when I published my book, she cheered me taking on doing a Masters in my 40s, and she sends me interesting projects to work on.
I don’t always agree with her, which has given me a greater understanding of how it’s possible to be respected and disagreed with at the same time.
Heather is extraordinarily accomplished and well networked – she’s got a Phd, flies a plane, has written several books and newspaper columns, fronted a TV show and is now an academic as Dean of Edinburgh Business School at Herriot Watt University.
She has changed my view of leadership and of career management. I took on an executive career coach this year in order to reflect on my own leadership style, and to establish what my career goals are. That kind of self-management is typical of Heather’s approach and so while I don’t imagine I’ll ever have the impressive CV she does, her influence on my working life will continue.
– Paul – Change in my personal life.
I spent my 20s having lots of fun, thinking it was unlikely I would ever settle down, and children were definitely not on the cards. Three months after my 30th birthday I met my now husband, Paul. We got married two years later and now have a five year old son and two year old daughter.
That huge change in my personal circumstances has affected all aspects of my life. It’s given me an appreciation for working parents that I didn’t have before, it’s made me be grateful for any spare time to spend by myself, and it’s made me reflect on what my purpose is and how to set a good example to my children.
Paul’s unwavering support has meant I have been able to work (and more recently study) without it impacting too heavily on my home life. He is much more risk-averse than me, but has never doubted any decision I’ve made – including uprooting us from London to North Essex to live by the beach. He is my sounding board and, crucially, doesn’t always agree with me, which makes me examine my decisions much more carefully.
– Sister Rhoda – Change in my faith, and a lesson in compassion.
Between the ages of 7 and 18, I joined the Brownies and then the Girl Guides and through the leaders of those youth groups I discovered the Church of England. I chose to be christened and confirmed at the age of 12 and stood on a chair by the font so Father David could baptise me.
Christmas is one of those times when I reflect on that faith and a nun, Sister Rhoda, often springs to mind. I was sent off to see her at the hospital chapel in Ilford [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilford_Hospital_Chapel] by Father David to have weekly lessons in Christianity in preparation for my confirmation. She told me lots of amusing stories and didn’t do an awful lot of religious teaching but she enjoyed feeding me cake. I am pretty sure that I didn’t have a particularly good grasp of theology by the end of those lessons, but I really looked forward to my weekly trips to see the nuns.
At the time, my great-grandmother was living with my family. It was the end of her life and my mum was caring for her. She lay in our living room in a bed, having a daily dose of brandy, eating parma violets and listening to her wireless. She was not religious, but Sister Rhoda visited her anyway. She was kind, funny, gentle and gave great comfort to my great-grandmother.
At the time I didn’t realise it, but she made a lasting impression on me. Her compassion and kindness have stayed with me and thirty years on her example is still something I reflect on.
Which leads me neatly to the question of who or what is my guiding star?
My faith has lapsed somewhat since then and I struggle to reconcile some of the teachings of the Christian church, but I still believe in the basic principles of being kind, doing good, looking after those who are less fortunate, having compassion, and being forgiving. I try to let those guide me.