It may sound unlikely, that a shared Chief Officers role would work in a small charity, but Gemma Gaskell and Rehana Begum, who jointly take up this role for Diversity Matters North West, have brought more to the role, than one person could.
In 2015, when Diversity Matters North West (DMNW), then Hyde Community Action, was facing uncertainty, as their previous Chief Officer announced his retirement, Gemma and Rehana, then employed in other roles within the charity, took an unusual suggestion to the Board of Trustees.
The pair felt that they could join forces and together fill the role of Chief Officer. There was a steep learning curve for both of them ahead, but they have never looked back. The staff team, the Trustees and the volunteers that help run the charity all benefit from this arrangement. And given the nature of a small charity, with different funding streams and staff working across different projects, this jigsaw-arrangement, with a shared Chief Officers role paired with project management responsibilities, has turned out to be a blessing.
DMNW’s Chair of Trustees, Caroline Gregory, explains: “Gemma and Rehana continue to be involved in the day to day work and projects that are run, so they are more hands-on than most Chief Officers. This balance provides a very solid foundation for our work, with both having an understanding of all aspects of the management requirements and being able to cover for each other if needed.” She continues: “Having two very capable women with complementary skills and knowledge acting as Chief Officer strengthens the management of the organisation.”
Two heads are better than one
It’s not just the Trustees at DMNW who feel the benefits of having their own Dynamic Duo at the helm. The staff and volunteers feel well supported by Gemma and Rehana too.
DMNW Volunteer Coordinator, Hasina Khanom, says: “Both of their expertise come together to give DMNW strength and I think we are in a strong position, with a bigger staff team, because of their efforts to get the funding for the charity. Her colleague, Community Development Service Manager, Ruhela Begum, agrees that their joint management style brings in business and works well for the whole team: “Gemma and Rehana set clear and measurable performance goals and get buy-in from employees. They pretty much think alike. It’s like one thinks and the other speaks!”
The Chief Officers themselves agree. Gemma Gaskell says: “We sometimes have different opinions and have to find a way to compromise, however, we have never needed a referee and always find a way through! Rehana and I have developed a relationship whereby we are able to express our views and move on really quickly. It is an honour and a privileged to share the job with someone who has Rehana’s skills and business mind. The fact that we are merged and our skills are complimentary is an asset.”
Rehana Begum adds: “The best thing about sharing the job role of Chief Officer is to have someone that has your back! To have a colleague who is on the same page when we are planning for the future of the charity, who understands the values and ethos and ultimately striving for the best for the charity and its workforce.”
The right fit, times two
For Gemma and Rehana, working at DMNW, has always felt right. Rehana explains: “The values and ethos of the charity is what attracted me to it, what makes it is the staff, its board of trustees and its amazing volunteers. Its dynamic approach to adapting to the changing landscape and its values of growing our own workforce is one of the reasons as to why it is still going today.” Gemma’s reasoning is similar: “The values of the organisation are a big factor in my job satisfaction. We have an amazing staff team and are very lucky in that our board of trustees are both supportive and involved.”
There is no question both Gemma and Rehana love working for DMNW, but there was never any guarantee, that they would gel in a shared Chief Officer’s role. Luckily, their qualities have turned out to be perfectly matched.
Rehana was the first of the two to join DMNW. Initially employed in 2009 as a part time Development Worker, she continued to grow and take on more responsibilities and projects for the charity. Ruhela Begum has known Rehana since the early days and says: “Rehana has always impressed me and her growth has been like a tree branching out in all directions in this organisation.”
Gemma compliments her colleague further: “Rehana has an impeccable attention to detail and never forgets anything! She is ridiculously organised and always remains calm. On top of this she is also extremely sharp with a mind for both business and numbers topped off with great empathy and an understanding of the community and those around her.”
Rehana’s skills benefit her colleagues directly too. Hasina Khanom explains: “Working with her I have learnt lots of skills, which I can utilise in my own way to work now.”
In 2012, Gemma was employed at DMNW as a Service Manager for the Youth Programme and took on a number of different roles in the charity, before joining forces with Rehana as the Chief Officer three years later.
Adding to Rehana’s sense of order and attention to detail, Gemma brings different experience and passion to the job role. Rehana explains: “Gemma’s breadth of experience and knowledge is an asset as she is quick to grasp quite complex situations! She is very people orientated and prepared to listen and reflect.”
Ruhela adds: “Gemma is a compassionate, clever and intelligent lady who comes across wise in personal and professional dealings.” She continues: “I feel I have learnt a lot of good skills from Gemma. She’s been a guide and mentor for me over the years – helped me with many things and these lessons have taught me to achieve goals both on a personal level and for the organisation.” Hasina agrees: “Gemma is very friendly, reasonable and approachable. She always helps me come up with pragmatic solutions to problems I face.”
Team work makes the dream work
In a multi-ethnic community, such as Hyde in Tameside, having a charity which has the experience and staff to understand and support more parts of the community at once, is important. The charity works with different groups and has the ability to understand and plan projects which support both smaller sections of the community and all of it as a whole.
It is not a prerequisite to doing their job, that Gemma and Rehana have roots in different parts of the community, but it adds to their strength in a shared Chief Officer’s role, that they do.
Hasina explains: “I think it is nice to have two females representing our company. One is British white and the other one is British Bangladeshi Muslim, which represents our company well.”
By showing a united front in a shared job role, leading a growing charity from strength to strength, Gemma and Rehana show the community and people in general, that there is great strength in working together across ethnicities and cultures. They are yin and yang – one without the other would not work as well in this role. Both agree they would not do this job if it wasn’t for the other one being there, supporting them and making it happen together.