How I Did It: An Interview With Women’s Aid CEO Katie Ghose | sheerluxe.com
Working towards securing the rights of women every day as the CEO of domestic violence charity Women’s Aid, Katie has had a long and fruitful career, fighting social injustice and helping those in need. Here, we speak to her about her career, from her beginnings as a lawyer to what gets her out of bed in the morning.
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What did you want to be when you were young?

At different times I wanted to be a journalist or in television. As a teen and when I was at university, I did lots of student journalism and worked for the student newspaper, but I soon realised that it wasn’t for me.

What put you off?

To be a good journalist you’ve got to be able to be quite ruthless about chasing down stories and that’s just not me. What I love about what I do is working as a team and alongside people who have difficult circumstances. It’s about trying to make the world a better place.

Where did you go to university and what did you study?

I studied law at Oxford University.

Do you think degrees matter much to do the kind of job you do?

I definitely benefited from doing a law degree. Early in my career I was a barrister representing refugees and asylum seekers, and the legal knowledge I had from my law degree was essential. But I think that there’s all sorts of paths into the social justice system. A degree can help, but our society is changing and we’re hopefully becoming more open-minded about paths into careers.

Tell us about your first job?

After I did my law degree, I got a scholarship and went to America to study political science for a year, which was fantastic. Then I came back and got my first job working in parliament as a researcher, which involved helping constituents with their issues, speech writing and everything in between – it was an amazing first job to do and I learnt a lot.

Then I worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau and took what I’d learnt about how parliament works – which can be very obscure – and used it to help advise them on anything from debt advice to housing. Then I decided I wanted to give being a lawyer a shot and I’d regret it if I didn’t give it a go. I had developed a strong interest in immigration from my work in parliament, so I trained as a barrister and did that for four years total, representing refugees.

Sounds like you always wanted to help people.

Yes, that’s been my passion. I’ve always been angry about the injustices around me and that’s absolutely been the thread throughout my work.

What made you want to jump into charity work?

What I loved was taking the knowledge of how the corridors of power work, how parliament works, and using that to help a charity and the people they worked with to get the issues they were battling with addressed.

When did you feel like you’d found your calling in life?

As a child I was part of a local environment campaign with my mum so I think my passion for social justice causes is something I’ve always had for as long as I can remember. I gave it a shot being a lawyer and I carried on being involved in causes that were important to me –  I worked as a volunteer trustee on a couple of refugee and asylum seeker charities. But then I decided that I wanted to be working on campaigns at a charity full-time.

How did you make yourself stand out?

I’m definitely a hard worker. I’ve always been somebody who likes to prepare – I did that when I was a lawyer and I still do it today. I have to go to lots of meetings and media interviews and I prepare, prepare, prepare.

When was the first time in your career that you really felt like you’d made a difference?

When I was working at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, one of the first projects we worked on was to change a law that stopped the most disabled people form having their benefits shrunk. Working with disability rights campaigners, we made a small difference to that law to help guarantee some protection for severely disabled people.

Did you have a mentor?
I’m a big fan of mentors and I’ve had them at different points in my career. I’ve also been a mentor and I think it’s a fantastic role, you learn from each other and it’s a lovely mutual relationship.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I love my job at Women’s Aid. I spring out of bed in the morning. The women I work with motivate me, but what inspires me the most is the survivors of domestic abuse, who have been through horrifically controlling relationships and yet just want to give to others.

What’s the proudest moment in your career?

Last year, all of us at Women’s Aid came together to safeguard housing benefits for refuges, which are vital places of safety for women fleeing domestic abuse. I was so proud of that because refuges are essential for lives to be saved. The government listened and we changed their mind. We came together, all of us, with huge public support and made it happen.

How long do these campaigns take?

A good campaign takes months and years of thinking and planning. The wins that are worthwhile often don’t come overnight. You have to work hard at them.

Who inspires you and why?

All the survivors that I meet inspire me.  Claire Throssell is a campaigner whose two sons were killed by their dad and her former partner. She has inspired an incredible campaign called Child First, which is making a difference to women in the family justice system. It takes my breath away that women who have endured abusive relationships want to give to others, to stop others going through what they have been through.

Have you ever faced prejudice being a successful woman?

I’ve definitely come across unbelievable and outrageous attitudes towards me as a woman and a mother. When my child was young and I was out on a job, I would be asked, “Where’s your daughter? Who’s looking after her?” My partner was never asked that. I noticed that being pregnant and having a child, some people’s attitudes changed. People assumed I’d been on maternity leave for years, when I’d taken eight or nine months. So I’ve definitely come across some odd prejudices that are still out there about women as mothers, as well as women as women.

What’s the most stressful part of your job?

At Women’s Aid I’m acutely aware of the awful experiences that some women are living with, and I’m always thinking, “Are we doing our best by them?” And keeping all the balls in the air, because it’s a job where one minute you have to approve a media statement, and the next suddenly be on air and be very articulate. And then there’s just other work to be getting on with in the background. Really, it’s keeping everything moving.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Incredibly varied – no one day is the same. It’s everything from being on the road to visiting local services, to going to parliament to meet government ministers. Or speaking at conferences about domestic abuse, through to spending time with my wonderful team and chewing over how we’re going to work on more projects.

What’s your morning routine?

The first thing I do is check the news. My partner and I share childcare responsibilities, so we share the drop-offs and the pick-ups between us.

Are you an early riser or a night owl?

I’m more of a night owl. I’m teased by my family members because I was never a morning person until I got to Women’s Aid. And now I’m so motivated I’m in danger of becoming a morning person!

Would you like your children to get involved in charity work?

If that’s what they want to do. I really believe in following your passions – that’s something I really learnt from my career. Work on the things you really care about and great things will happen. 

How do you unwind from a day at work?

Definitely with my family – they’re my best unwinding mechanism. The gym, which I love, and beauty treatments.

What’s your biggest regret professionally?

It’s very hard for me to have any professional regrets because I met my partner at work. We were working at Age UK and every day I think about how amazing it is, so I can’t really have any about whether I took the right role or not, because I feel so happy that we connected. And I’ve been thrilled with the roles I’ve had ever since.

How many hours a day roughly do you work?

Probably around nine hours a day.

Do you think you have a good work/life balance?

Yes I do.

Besides your position now, what’s been your favourite job in your career?

What I’ve absolutely loved is the voluntary board roles. Since I was in my mid-twenties, I’ve served on a board. They’ve ranged from chairing small charities to serving as a trustee at Stonewall. You’re not there to do the daily work but to support and challenge the staff to help it be a well-run organisation. They opened my eyes to all sorts of organisations and it’s a different way to make a difference.

If you had one piece of advice for women wanting to follow in your footsteps, what would it be?

Follow your passion. Think about what you care about. What’s the injustice you see around you that you feel a connection with? Don’t be fussy about the first thing you get involved with, just get involved with the first thing.

If you could have any other job in the world, what would it be?

I would love to be a ballet dancer!

 
Find out more about Women’s Aid here

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