In Conversation with Jackie Driver: Chair at SignHealth
6 November 2020 | By Edward Drew
Long-overdue discussions around diversity, accessibility and inclusion are now happening across the charity sector. Research has found that Trustee Boards are far less diverse in terms of race, age and gender than the UK general public.
In light of this, we spoke with Jackie Driver, the Chair at the Deaf Health Charity SignHealth. Since 2007, Jackie has worked at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, including as the Lead Director of LGBT issues and as a Principal Officer on disability and discrimination. Jackie, who is Deaf, also featured on the Disability Power 100 list and has been ranked as the 6th most influential disabled person in the UK.
What did you find to be the biggest difference between being a Chair and a Trustee?
Being a Chair of any organisation brings a great deal of responsibility. That can sometimes feel a bit scary because you know there are things you will not yet know - but that shouldn’t put anyone off. The first time I became a Chair of an organisation I had already been a Trustee for a few years, and I had observed the role of the Chair and how it all worked. What I learned in my first few months was that I brought something different to the role of Chair, so I stopped trying to ‘act as Chair’ from what I had observed, and I started just ‘being a Chair’.
I had a supportive and diverse board who helped me find my feet and a mentor from outside the organisation to help me deal with the niggling doubts and issues. It can be a tremendously rewarding role if you find the right organisation for you. Don’t be put off by the unknowns - you will learn and develop along the way, and your support and commitment to your organisation will help shape a little bit of the world that you’re passionate about.
Tell me about SignHealth's Trustee Shadow Scheme - what's it about and why are you doing it?
As an organisation committed to diverse leadership, last year we recognised the gaps in younger Deaf presence around our decision making and wanted to put this right. We also recognised the lack of opportunity many young Deaf people experience in decision making about their own lives. The reasons for having a shadow trustee board is two-fold, we hope to develop and grow some of our own future leaders, and at the same time, help young Deaf people develop the skills, confidence and experience to go out there and make the decisions in lots of other places.
SignHealth is a forward-looking organisation. We’re rooted in the here and now, but we’re committed to being prepared for the future needs of our communities. What better way to ensure we’re prepared than to engage the future Deaf leaders that will tell us about their aspirations, goals and dreams.
What can other charities learn from SignHealth about building a Board that's accessible and diverse?
We were delighted to be awarded the Charity Governance Award for the most diverse board last year. It’s well known that diversity pays - both for the people you serve and in the bank account, but too many charities can find the journey a little too challenging. After persevering through some head-scratching moments, we’re now much more representative of the communities we serve. Now that our decisions are based on lived experience, we’re are much more agile and responsive to new challenges like Covid-19 and Brexit.
Lessons learnt? Be bold, have faith in your convictions and don’t falter in the face of challenge - there will be plenty. Letting go of power, dismantling systemic discrimination and doing things differently can be uncomfortable, and the trick is to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Our diverse leadership has led the way for the whole organisation to do things differently - and it is bringing with it praise and success from many quarters. We’re excited for the future and will continue to drive diversity - of thought, of experience and of decision-making through everything we do. We are all better people for it.
What would you say to anyone, deaf or otherwise, who might be struggling right now to join a Board that is accessible and diverse?
You might see so many great opportunities to join boards that are sadly not open or accessible to you. Of course, that is their loss - but it is also your loss. It can be frustrating to have to be the person that once again points out the micro-aggression, the casual (or otherwise) racism, the lack of access, or exclusion culture that exists on Boards.
My advice to those struggling right now is to stand up and be counted. Wherever you currently have ‘voice’ and opportunity - don’t be a bystander - speak out where you see exclusionary behaviour, so you help develop the foundations for more inclusive cultures for all. That way we can all be allies for each other and create momentum for a larger mass of people ‘speaking out’ that can no longer be ignored.
Have your thoughts clear and articulate your position when you’re ready to do so. Don’t give up or feel your voice won’t be heard - follow up and let organisations know their adverts or cultures or behaviours are exclusionary.
Remind them that removing these barriers will bring greater wealth. Offer them the opportunity to talk to you about how to bring this to fruition - you may be pleasantly surprised with the response. Particularly from those organisations who are talking the talk but not yet walking the walk - they may just not be fully equipped with how to make that happen, and you might just be the person they are looking for...