Planning for the New World: A Q&A with Mark Atkinson
Blogs 10th March 2020 4 minutes read
I’m not a particularly effective or even enthusiastic writer. I’m assuming a lot of people most likely feel the same – that feeling of embarrassment when putting pen to paper (or fingertip to keyboard). Or perhaps it’s imposter syndrome. Time to buckle up, I think.
So, what am I doing?
As hinted by the title, I’ve recently started a new job as a Consultant at Executive Search firm Green Park. For some context, I’ve spent the past two-or-so years in charity recruitment, most recently with a somewhat convoluted job title of 'Consultant – Policy, External Affairs, Advocacy and Campaigns.' In short, recruiting ‘influencers and changemakers’ in civil society. I even moved to London for the job. It’s been a ride!
After a couple of fun years, I now find myself at Green Park as part of its small but growing and dynamic Charities and Social Enterprise Team as a Consultant. In headhunting lingo, that means both client and candidate-facing responsibilities. In this capacity, I’ll be leading Green Park’s work on what I’ll shorten as “external affairs”, encompassing: policy; advocacy; communications; marketing; campaigns; research; and programme areas.
I’ll be focusing purely on Executive-level positions rather than spreading my work across all seniorities, building on Green Park’s extensive track record of senior appointments in the third sector.
Headhunting in a purpose-driven sector
I firmly believe that the charity headhunting industry can and should act as a critical friend to civil society: not only filling gaps in workforces, not only finding progression opportunities for that next step in a career, but challenging regressive power dynamics, breaking the wheel of institutionalised behaviours. After all, surely we want the same thing – to make the world a better place.
As a blanket generalisation, the recruitment industry (and yes – there’s a distinction between recruitment and executive search) often prizes placements and commission over social purpose – understandable, but perhaps not totally aligned with my personal values. In comparison, championing diversity and inclusion, Green Park is changing the face of leadership by helping organisations think differently about talent in the UK’s top boardrooms. Our aim is to help organisations to attract, identify, develop and retain trusted, inclusive, authentic and, most of all, highly effective leaders from different backgrounds to leverage the power of collective difference.
What’s the point?
Over the past few years, I’ve attempted to balance recruitment with a wider sense of purpose without sounding pretentious – I’m unsure whether that latter aspect has been successful, though... Growing up, I was an active volunteer in my local community, mainly helping the elderly, and ended up with a Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award towards the end of my teenage years. My family are strong believers in ‘community spirit’, so that ethos of social purpose, that a community is more than the sum of its parts, is ingrained. Fast forward a few years and I found myself with a degree and some travel / working abroad under my belt, but no real sense of direction. If there’s one thing that cycling through post-university temp jobs gives you, it’s perspective.
So, where do I go from here. Working in the charity sector, campaigning on issues that were important to me, was always a dream career. However, I wasn’t sure how I could get that invaluable foot in the door, as well as the vacancies I was looking at being predominantly based in London (I’m originally from the North Warwickshire countryside - think more sheep than people ). Who knew that the third sector was London-centric? Simultaneously, I started to look at recruitment because of the clichés trotted out about autonomy, fast-paced work environment; but wasn’t keen on what I perceived to be an inherent nature of cut-throat, profit-driven capitalism on steroids. So, why not combine the two? Recruitment with a conscience, if you like.
In such a hyper-emotional cultural and societal environment, storytelling is increasingly key to third sector organisations’ success and impact, along with a much-needed reconciliation of policy development and communication. Recognition of the importance of diversity, equality and inclusion is much belated, let alone actually implementing the changes that need to happen. Organisational culture is under increased public and internal scrutiny following more than a few incidents at household brands. It’s my belief that the external affairs market, in its complex entirety, is one of the most fluid and dynamic places to be, especially in this social and political climate, with the potential for creating real, structural change at our fingertips.
For myself, I’ll admit that there’s a lot to learn, but those are always the best jobs, aren’t they: those that don’t remain in their packaging, those that don’t stagnate, and those that regularly both challenge and allow you to challenge.
I’ll also learn to write more concisely and with fewer clichés…
From now on, contact me at Harry Marven and Charities and Social Enterprise for all things external affairs / engagement / policy / campaigns. Feel free to give me a shout, even if it's just for a quick chat.