Meet our charity director
In celebration of International Women’s Day, Samantha Dixon, Director of Weston Park Cancer Charity talks to us about her career, what it means to have a good mentor & advice for women thinking about pursuing a career in the third sector.
Give us a brief description of your business and your role in it.
I’ve been in the voluntary sector for over twenty years now in a variety of fundraising, operational and leadership roles. For the last three years I’ve had the pleasure of leading Weston Park Cancer Charity as its Director. Our purpose as a charity is to help create a better life for those living with, and beyond, cancer in our region. For many people, the hardest thing about cancer is not the disease itself, but the enormous strain it places –on your emotions, relationships and finances; these are things the medical profession alone cannot treat. As a charity we support Weston Park’s current, past and future cancer patients through projects which provide emotional support to those in despair, friendship to those who are lonely or practical help to those in need. We fund local cancer research which provides access to breakthrough treatments, unavailable on the NHS.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I looked after Prince Charles for a morning on his first and only trip to Barnsley where he was spending some time with young people who wanted to set up their own business and many might see this as a highlight. However I’ve gained more satisfaction from securing a £5million personal donation from a major donor when I worked for a previous charity. This was a highlight, less in terms of personal success more in terms of the transformational change this created for so many young, vulnerable people. To think about the impact this is still having on young lives in our region, people I will never meet but may pass in the street without realising, inspires me every day.
Are there any women who have inspired you or acted as a mentor?
My old English teacher, Mrs Daniels. I went to what would have been termed in the day ‘ a bog standard comprehensive’ in The Midlands where aspiration levels were pretty low and the number of people who progressed on to university (we are talking about the late 1980s here) was low. Mrs Daniels joined our school as I was starting my A level English course and she was a welcome breath of fresh air: intellectually bright and questioning; challenging but supportive; passionate about her subject and keen to enthuse others. She was the first person to mention to me that I should consider, not only university , but one of the leading universities. As a result of her teaching and inspiration I became the first person to gain a university place in my family and I did this a year earlier than I should. I have no idea where Mrs Daniels is now and I doubt she’ll read this article so may never know the impact she had on me and probably many others.
Is there an increasing role for women in your line of work?
Most definitely. I would preface that by saying that there are roles for good people in our line of work regardless of their gender however the voluntary sector is no different to other sectors in suffering from an imbalance in gender split in leadership roles. According to a Guardian report, whilst more than two-thirds of the UK’s voluntary sector workforce are women, men still dominate leadership roles. In the UK’s top 50 fundraising charities by income, just 30% have female chief executives and only 36% of trustees are women. Healthy and successful trustee boards are those which are diverse and particularly endeavour to reflect the demographic they represent or support so people who can help to strengthen trustee boards, particularly by bringing a different, style, experience, perspective and skill-set are vital.
What advice would you give to women thinking of a similar career?
Have some self-belief! Too often I see really talented young females who don’t believe their potential. As Shami Chakrabarti (previously Director of Liberty) said ‘ Be confident, be bold, don’t undersell yourself and help each other’ . I would also say to anyone entering our profession or the workplace more generally, be true to your values. If something doesn’t feel ethically or morally right to you, don’t do it. In our sector personal investment is a key to success so if you aren’t supporting a cause for which you are passionate, you will struggle to reach your true potential.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Still working, still in an organisation for which I’m passionate, still helping to make the world a better place. That’s not meant to sound sanctimonious – I’m just an eternal optimistic who feels there is too much apathy and cynicism in the world.