How employing a diverse workforce can benefit charity service users

By Patrick Nash

Employing a diverse workforce can make a huge difference to the experience a charity delivers to its service users.

Most people decide to work in the charity sector to help people less fortunate than them. Personal experiences can inspire people to make a positive change to those living in difficult circumstances, and I am no exception. Spending a year in Central Africa in 1980, I lived in poverty stricken, hungry communities who were also battling the on-going threat of diseases such as malaria.

As a young man, seeing the plight of those communities and people had a profound influence on my life and career choices. Witnessing the sheer scale of the hunger experienced by people in those remote villages meant I built an understanding of their lives, and the very real daily struggles they faced. It left a lasting impact on me, and when I returned to the UK, I knew I wanted to do something that would have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.

So, when I established Connect Assist in 2005, I had one clear vision: to make a positive change by providing high-quality helpline services to those living in difficult circumstances, while creating meaningful employment opportunities in the South Wales valleys. These might seem like quite disparate goals, but for me they are inextricably linked.

The South Wales Valleys has a higher than average unemployment rates as a result of the decline of mining and heavy industry in the 1980s, meaning there are far too many highly-skilled people out of work. We decided to set up the business near Caerphilly to harness the talent of the skilled local workforce, and create high-quality jobs for those in desperate need of an opportunity.

Untitled3Where we were based was integral to what we wanted to achieve, and creating a diverse workforce has been an integral part of our ethos from the very beginning. As a company that works with the most vulnerable people in society, we wanted to create a team with different skills, backgrounds and reasons for wanting to make a difference. Why? We wanted our team to reflect the diversity of the callers our centre would receive every day. Put simply, a diverse workforce provides a better service because it can serve the needs, motivations and fears of a wider range of people from a position of understanding and empathy, not just training.

One of our contact centre advisers, Ann, suffers with Fibromyalgia Syndrome, chronic fatigue and arthritis that had prevented her from becoming employed. She was desperate for independence but struggled to find employment until we hired her last year. Ann is able to use her own difficult experiences to relate to the vulnerable people she speaks with every day, helping them overcome their own challenges.

There are many examples such as Ann’s that show how fostering a diverse, highly-motivated and engaged workforce creates long-term, tangible benefits for our service users.

We have also found that hiring people who have direct experience of what service users are experiencing makes a big difference to the quality of services. For instance, 50% of staff that manage the Royal British Legion helpline that we operate are ex-forces personnel and are able to provide appropriate information, advice and support to those at the other end of the telephone in a language they understand.

People who use services are experts in their own situation, and hiring people who have had similar experiences as service users is invaluable. Take the St Giles Trust for example. Its SOS project is run by ex-service users who are passionate about helping people to exit the cycle of re-offending.
A story that struck a chord with me was when a St Giles Trust caseworker went to hospital to see a service user recovering from a near fatal stabbing. As the worker had been in a similar position to the young man, he was able to unlock several underlying issues affecting the boy. Significantly, that caseworker was able to show the boy that he had been in a similar place and had overcome a difficult time. Equally, the boy found it easier to believe that message from somebody who was living proof that building a positive future is possible.
At Connect Assist, we now employ 100 people who thrive on making a difference, whether they have faced challenges in their own lives or like me, were inspired by living in communities facing huge challenges.

photo-300x225A commitment to diversity is at the heart of what we do, because we know our team’s passion and empathy largely comes from personal experience. This has given us a strong platform to help over 300,000 people each year, making a tangible difference to those most in need.

We were delighted to win the Welsh Contact Centre Awards ‘Most Diverse Workforce award’. To read more about it and our services, click here.

2 thoughts on “How employing a diverse workforce can benefit charity service users

  1. Pingback: Connect AssistHow to retain the human in your helpline | Connect Assist

  2. Pingback: Connect AssistHow can charities prepare themselves for 2016? | Connect Assist

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