One Year In The Third Sector

woman at desk working on laptop

What a year it has been. Despite the lockdowns and emotional challenges that Covid has brought, professionally it has been an amazing journey of discovery working in the third sector. 

Throughout my 20-plus-year technology career, I’ve worked in many sectors including telecoms, transport, retail and digital agencies but this is my first time in third sector - and I’m intending to stay as long as I can.  

The sector has so much to offer, not least the job satisfaction you get from knowing the work you do makes a difference to people’s lives. Naturally, it has its challenges too. 

Here are four observations from someone who was a third sector outsider last year but who wiggled their way in quickly.

People in the sector are nice

We rarely talk about how we treat each other in the world of work – we tend to just take what’s thrown at us and deal with it. In some sectors I’ve worked in being rude was considered good business practice.  

But in the third sector people are generally just pleasant. On Zoom calls, on the phone they’re nice, considerate and just lovely. You can tell they do it for the love and not the money. 

This is particularly noticeable when trying to sell to people in the third sector. Selling is always hard because we are bombarded day and night with organisations trying to get us to buy different products and services. But I can say till this day I’ve not experienced any rudeness in the third sector. Even when people think our service is not relevant, they come back with a nice email and respectfully ask to be removed from our list. 

Sector is way behind on technology

When it comes to the use of technology, the third sector is far behind. 

It hurts me to say soEvery day I meet incredible people who wear their hearts on their sleeves and who do so much good for their cause. But they are being severely held back by outdated systems and processes. If they adopted and embraced technology, they could save hours of unnecessary manual admin and invest more time in their front-line work. 

Within many charities, even some of the largest, I also continue to encounter hesitancy and suspicion of new technology and a reluctance to consider doing things differently. With so much exciting digital innovation now happening, the sector really needs to start removing these barriers.

Women rule in the charity sector  

I’ve encountered more female chief executives in the charity sector than any other sector I’ve worked in. This has been brilliant for me as a female tech founder. Any woman in tech will tell you that she gets patronised day in, day out from her clients to her colleagues to investors: it is sickening and tiring. But I have not faced that in the third sector at all. In fact, being a woman for the first-time ever has played to my advantage. It has helped to open, rather than close, many doors. 

The sector is not diverse enough 

As an Iraqi immigrant, I expected to see more people of colour in senior roles in the charity sector.  However, over the past year I’ve encountered surprisingly few black or Asian people. The sector needs more colour and diversity at a senior level, especially if it wants to attract the very best talent.   

All in all it has been an incredible year. The move to third sector was unplanned and driven by the need to help and support during this extraordinarily challenging period in our history.  I love the fact that what we’re doing has impact. At the end of every day, I have this amazing feeling that I’m helping someone who is helping others. Job satisfaction is 10/10.

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