Today’s guest is Polly Neate, Chief Exec of the homelessness and housing charity Shelter which exists to defend the right to a safe home. Before Shelter, Polly was chief executive of Women’s Aid, the national charity working to end violence against women and children, before which she had worked at Action for Children and been editor of Community Care magazine.
Starting out her professional career as a journalist, Polly has contributed to many national newspapers, magazines and books. Alongside regularly writing for the Guardian, Telegraph and Huffington Post, Polly is prolific on social media, winning “Best CEO on Social Media 2019” at the Social CEO Awards.
In this episode, we explore how Polly’s feminism intersects with anti-racism and the frustrations of white middle-class complacency in the charity sector – especially when catching yourself. Polly openly shares her personal regret that she has not been more proactive in tackling anti-racism since joining Shelter, and the privilege to be able to choose which days to think about racism.
We talk about how Shelter are engaging in learning and auditing themselves to embrace their role as an authentic social justice organisation, and explore how being a good communicator, sticking to purpose and selling your organisation are all key factors as a CEO. Polly believes that it’s not enough to use your power kindly, you have to give some away for true change to be made.
We hear how being CEO of a women’s charity can make it more difficult to open doors and be heard (not just seen as a ranty feminist!) while the vast majority of men don’t want to hear how male violence is killing women at a rate of 2 a week; and the cross-over with the tone-deafness on anti-racism issues.
We learn that despite what people think, Polly doesn’t actually spend all her time on social media, how Zoom meetings aren’t really her style and how she is all about disco!
Naturally optimistic, her hopes and aims for the future are to create change in the community and crucially, win the battle for more social housing. Polly is enthusiastic about all that young people have to offer and strongly believes that we should be helping to empower younger generations to take over the reins.
Date of Conversation – 4th September
The Key Takeaways From This Episode[02.14] Interview begins
[04.46] Reflections on personal responsibility for leading action on anti-racism this year
[08.27] The pull of intellectual conservatism in leading a large organisation & white middle-class complacency
[10.30] Staying engaged with anti-racism as a white leader and drawing on lessons from fighting other battles with privilege
[14.50] It’s not enough to use your power kindly, you have to give some away
[16.23] Leading as a feminist Chief Exec
[18.45] Arriving at an established household charity and leading change
[22.27] Bringing a campaigning voice to Shelter
[24.05] How being CEO of Women’s Aid was an extremely challenging & transformative experience
[26.30] Why Polly doesn’t lie awake at night with stress
[29.08] Ways of dealing with pressure as a CEO
[32.02] Strengths as a CEO, particularly the importance of communications
[36.15] Approaching communicating during a lockdown
[39.50] Prioritising Shelter being there to help those that most need them in the future
[42.48] Legitimising Shelter’s claim to be a social justice organisation
[43.17] Optimism in the Shelter team to successfully take the charity forward
[44.16] Why young people make Polly feel hopeful and the responsibility to empower the next generation
Resources From This Episode
- Shelter – shelter.org.uk
- Women’s Aid – womensaid.org.uk
- Action For Children – actionforchildren.org.uk
- Community Care Magazine – communitycare.co.uk
- Social CEOs Awards – socialceos.org
- Polly’s Huffington Post Articles
- Polly’s Telegraph Articles
- Polly’s Guardian Articles
- Me & White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
- Telegraph Article & Response – Housing industry defends record against claims homes are going unbuilt
- Changes by David Bowie “where’s your shame? You’ve left us up to our necks in it”