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International Women’s Day – An Interview with COO Sam Graham

Happy International Women’s Day! We interviewed our COO, Sam Graham, to ask her some questions about what it’s like to to run a charity in the criminal justice sector.

Why did you choose to work in the charity sector? Was it your first career choice?

I came into the charity sector almost by accident. I have always been interested in helping others and I enjoyed working in a people development organisation in the corporate sector. I became a Christian during that time and eventually wanted to work for a Christian organisation so that my faith and work lined up. I googled Christian jobs when I finally knew it was time to leave and I saw a role in the charity sector that matched my skills. I applied, got the job and have never looked back! I love working in the charity sector now and I’m not sure I could go back. If I did, it would have to be in a corporate role that created social change for hundreds and thousands of people.

My first career choice wasn’t really down to me though. I was fresh out of university and due to some changing home circumstances, my mum moved away and set me up in a flat for six months, rent-free! This was a real blessing but it also meant I had to find a job pretty quickly so that I could afford food, bills etc. I managed to secure retail work and then got accepted onto a trainee manager scheme after a few months. I knew that retail wouldn’t my long-term career destination but it gave me some great skills to kick my career off with.

Do you think it’s more difficult for women to become COOs or CEOs?

I think it is in some sectors. But a lot of strides forward have been made in recent years and woman are now better represented in top jobs. It’s hard for me to say though, as from my own experience I’ve mostly worked for female CEOs and had female bosses – in both the corporate and the charity sectors.

Should we encourage more women to work in the Criminal Justice Sector (CJS)?

Absolutely we should. It’s important for every sector to have the best talent, skills and abilities and lots of women offer these. The CJS needs passionate, committed people who are ready to be persistent and determined to create change so that we can see prisons transformed. It’s not going to happen overnight so women need to be in it for the long-haul.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges faced by women who are affected by the CJS?

That’s a big question and it depends on what you mean. Women who end up in the CJS are disproportionately impacted by short-term prison sentences. They are often the main care giver so a short-term prison sentence can be disastrous for their family and children. Most women in prison are there for non-violent offences, often linked to shoplifting and many of these are being coerced by abusive partners or they are trying to find food to feed their families. It really doesn’t make sense to imprison these women – if the underlying situation was addressed then the shoplifting (or other criminal activity) would end. There needs to be a good community solution that tackles the crime and ultimately helps these women get the support they need as then re-offending stops, victims reduce and families and society benefits. That definitely makes more sense than breaking down families, putting more children into care (which unfortunately is known to feed people going into the CJS in the future) and not dealing with the root cause so that crime and victims continue.

What advice would you give young women who aspire to one day run a charity?

Do it! Don’t hold back. Believe that you can. You need strength, determination and skill to run a charity so learn to develop those in your career and then step out and go for it. Most importantly, stay humble. The best charities (and organisations) are run by people who know that they need others around them and who respect and value those working for them and the people they seek to serve.

What three skills do you think are essential to being a great leader?

Humility, belief in what you’re trying to achieve and a good sense of humour. 

Give us your favourite empowering quote.

“Barn’s burnt down, now I can see the moon.” Mizuta Masahide. I love this because in what could be an awful situation (i.e. my barn has gone, my shelter has gone etc.) you can still choose to see a positive.

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Clean Sheet is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation; registered Charity 1154304
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