In our first episode of Meet the CEO, Yolk’s Nici Jones, Director of Public Sector, spoke with Debbie Beadle, CEO, Cardiff Women’s Aid.
Debbie discusses the work Cardiff Women’s Aid are focused on, how she got to her position, and offers advice for people who want to move into the charity and voluntary sector.
Listen to the interview here
Thanks for joining us, Debbie. Do you want to start by telling us about Cardiff Women's Aid and what the organisation works on?
Cardiff Women’s Aid was the first Women's Aid to provide refuge in Cardiff and Wales and we are a Women's Equality organisation. Currently we hold the contract for Cardiff where we respond to any violence against women, domestic abuse or sexual violence.
We provide a 24 hour helpline for them, as well as crisis workers who work with women individually and their children, as well as offering refuge and accommodation. If they need to exit where they're currently living, we provide them an emergency accommodation and then also then help them to move on into more permanent accommodation.
We also have a children's team who works with children that come from domestic abuse situations. But also, we work with children on parent violence as well and we have a fantastic product called Break For Change which we run in partnership with other organizations across Wales to try and decrease violence and increase that bond between parents to reduce the violence in the future.
How did you become Chief Executive of Cardiff Women's Aid?
I always say this, that I don't quite know how I got here to be honest. I'm sure lots of Chief Executives say that. I started very much on the ground. My background is in working with children and children's rights and I spent a lot of time working with victims of trafficking and exploitation.
And then because I've just spent my whole life in this sector, I obviously have a passion for it. So that passion turns into you then, making sure that you're doing the best job you can. Then you progress and you progress. Then suddenly I became CEO. But really for Cardiff Women's Aid, I moved to Wales and then a job opened, and I saw this opportunity. I'd moved out and worked for another organisation that wasn't working so well for me in the terms that I didn't believe in it so much, so it was great to come back to the women's and children's rights sector. I've been here for just over a year now, so it's been really great.
What's the biggest lesson you've learnt since you've become Chief Executive of Cardiff Women's Aid?
It's been a really difficult time as I became Chief Executive during COVID. It's been interesting for me to join when we were all working online. And I suppose the biggest lesson recently has been how important building relationships is in this sector to create that bond. Coming back to the office has been important for lots of people.
We have tried to keep hybrid working, but I think that's been the biggest lesson. And also, how it's so constant, there's always something to deal with, right? It's constantly having to deal with something and keep pushing forward. Ultimately everything's fine, and you have to just keep going. There's some really passionate, committed people out there which makes this sector such a wonderful sector to work in.
You've touched on it slightly in terms of your earlier career and that you’ve worked with victims of trafficking and exploitation. How did you first become involved in the charity sector?
I've always worked in the third sector, back to when I studied my degree, I studied community drama, theatre and television and then theatre and media for International Development. So straight from those I was doing projects in communities globally. And then I started up my own business, doing projects around the world like participatory arts and community projects.
And then I got a bit lonely. I was quite young and lots of the time people weren't taking me seriously because I was so young. So then, I joined ECPAT, which was the organisation I first worked at, where I worked for 14 years. I joined them as the Community Trainer and then I started the youth program.
And from there I worked my way up, from being a frontline youth worker, to trader, to the CEO. For me, I don't think I'd ever work out of this sector. I've had opportunities in this market where you get headhunted with these massive salaries. And whilst I’m often tempted, but I just wouldn’t as I think I’d have to be somewhere where I really feel like I’m making an impact including a social impact.
Yes, absolutely. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the sector currently?
I think for us, the rising cost of living against current salaries. One of the things that we really struggle with, and it's not just the organisation, it’s this sector, is retaining good staff, because we just can't pay them the salaries that they deserve. We really struggle with recruitment. There’s the rise in cost of living and also then what's happening is that squeezing also on the women and children that we support. The referrals are increasing but our staff are decreasing. So that's the challenge I think.
When everything gets squeezed, it's about keeping women's equality and violence against women on the map, because these things quite easily drop off when budgets start being squeezed. For us it's not just supporting them but making sure that we're the voice for them and that it's really kept firmly as a priority that needs to be dealt with which is what it is.
What are you most excited about for the future of the sector, and what's going on within Cardiff Women's Aid?
For me, I think it's an exciting time and for Cardiff Women’s Aid we've been through a lot of change and one of the things I've been really trying to prove is that you can be a feminist leader. You know, you can be kind and inclusive and you don't have to come in shouting at everybody.
And I really think that as we're evolving the culture, we had some great people working for us, but work isn't just about coming to earn money. People don't come to work just for their pay, so we're trying to create an environment which is fun and inclusive and people enjoy coming to work. They're inspired by being at work. And I would say generally, the last few years and violence against women has started to be noticed more. We're opening the eyes and the ears of people of influence and now we need to press forward with the messaging and make sure that that's sustainable.
You've talked a lot about passion and you've got to believe in it. So, what would be your top three tips for anybody wanting, or thinking, about joining the charity sector?
I would say that the charity sector, especially organizations like ours, are very values driven. At the moment, we're recruiting people based on values, even if they haven't had experience already. But if they can demonstrate the values, that's really important because that's what this sector is about.
Look for somewhere where you're not just get paid well. Recognize that, but look for somewhere where you're going to get that support. I think it's important in this sector that you join an organization that gives therapeutic support if you need it.
And the other thing that I'd advise people on as well is making sure that you look after yourself because I've seen so many people burnout. Really great people that do their best, but eventually they burnout because it's just so much and I think anywhere in the third sector when you're working with people, especially people that are disadvantaged, is that it gets to you after a while and it's a shame because then we lose people, right? We lose people to the sector, so I would say making sure that you’re good at having boundaries and looking after yourself, then you can have a longer career in the sector.
Yeah agreed. I know people in the sector as well that have thrown everything into it. And the reason they're in the sector is because they care. But then it's just with the boundaries and being able to walk away and have a life outside of it as well.
Now you’re Chief Executive of a well-known organization, what advice would you give your younger self just knowing what you know now?
I still feel like I suffer with imposter syndrome slightly, but I would say that you can really achieve anything. I come from a working class background and there's definitely doors that I thought were shut to me and I would just say never be afraid to follow different routes, that get you there.
Often society makes us think that there's one route. I've discovered later on that I'm dyslexic and so that academic route for me was really challenging. I've gained lots of skills by doing things, I rowed the Atlantic, and that's opened up my eyes to the fact there's always different routes to get somewhere. Don't let other people define who you are and how you should achieve something. You'll always find a way.
If you've got some focus and decide you want to be somewhere, then you can always find a way to get there. That doesn't necessarily have to be the pre-described route to get there. And that's definitely what I would tell my younger self and also what I'm trying to do with my daughter and with the younger junior staff here.
I have often had some of the young people we support come to me saying “I don't think this job has opened up”, and when I ask why they haven’t thought to apply, they say “Oh, I didn't think that that would be for me.” But if that’s what they want to do I encourage them to get themselves there and just go for it and not let things hold them back.
I love that. that's great advice. I think I could have learnt from some of that. I probably could say the same advice to myself going back years ago as well. That's great. Thanks, Debbie and Yolk really appreciate your time with this interview.