For our second profile of the week, we sat down with Janet Schofield, CEO of Compass Advocacy Network [CAN] to learn what it’s like to be a female leader in the charity sector. #breakthebias #IWD22

CAN is a charity which works with young people and adults, mainly in the Causeway area, who are living with learning disabilities. CAN aims to “enhance lives and create change for people with learning disabilities” by challenging stereotypes & creating opportunities to share best practice, collaborations, and partnerships.

What prompted you to going into business?

Interestingly, although CAN is not my own business, I have started a number of businesses on behalf of CAN, to generate income to supplement grant funding, to enable them to move away from reliance on Statutory funding and provide REAL work experience and  jobs for our people with learning disabilities.  We provide a critical service for over 450 people in the Causeway Coast and Glens and Mid-Antrim area, and you’d be amazed how many things funders don’t like to pay for…like someone to manage the projects, make sure the bills get paid and the toilet roll!  There’s a perception that charities are flush with money and should do things on a voluntary basis, but there are no other businesses that are more closely audited and inspected.  By having our own income, we are more in control of our own destiny, able to plug holes in the funding and provide real, meaningful opportunities for our people.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Break the Bias’ – can you share any experiences you have had of gender bias or prejudice?

I often hit a double bias…one about the fact we aren’t a real ‘business’ because we have charitable status and then as a woman leading the businesses.  Fortunately the voluntary sector has a good proportion of women in senior leadership positions, but a significant part of my job is working with statutory agencies who tend to have a lot of men in those roles.  As a business woman in charge of 4 social enterprises it can feel intimidating walking into a room full of men and quite often when I’m with male colleagues, individuals assume they are the CEO. 

In your experience what are the main challenges faced by women in the business world?

Imposter Syndrome is alive and well.  In my experience women are generally more passionate, pragmatic, and able to juggle so much better than men.  We can be our own hardest critics and despite ourselves often fall into the trap of expecting more of the  women who work for us. We can also be very critical of other women when we need to be lifting them.  I’m glad to see greater awareness of the impact of menopause– I just hope it results in support. 

What advice would you give to other women who were considering starting up their own business?

Go for it. There’s so much support out there for entrepreneurs but I would encourage individuals to look at other models and consider setting up a CIC (Community Interest Company) or Social Enterprise and giving back to communities as the business grows.   

Janet has over 22 years’ experience working in the voluntary sector and has established and developed several social enterprises. She joined Compass in 2005 as strategic director before being appointed CEO in 2016. In June 2020, Janet appeared on a Leaders Council of Great Britain & Northern Ireland podcast, discussing the importance of leadership and the impact it has had on her career to date.

If you have an idea and need help to bring it to life, get in touch with us here at Enterprise Causeway