In honour of #InternationalWomensDay, we’re celebrating Rays of Sunshine’s fearless leader and CEO, Jane Sharpe. We sat down with Jane to discuss everything from how her career started, to what her advice would be to the young women who aspire to work within the charity industry. Check it out below.
Q: Can you tell us about your career and how you got to where you are today?
A: My career started in advertising where I worked at Saatchi & Saatchi and then at a smaller advertising agency for eight years. In that time, I was part of a team that helped launch Virgin Atlantic Airways and worked on a variety of financial institutions. I loved the pressure and long hours of working in advertising, but once I had my children, I felt that I could use my skills to help in the charity sector and to make a difference in the community.
I’ve been involved with Rays of Sunshine since we started in 2003, and was initially a volunteer. I helped to set up the charity’s volunteer and hospital networks. When we started, there were only four of us and we organised everything from wishes to fundraising. I was thrilled to be asked to sit on the Executive board and after seven years of volunteering, I was asked by Stephen Allan our Chairman, to be the CEO. It was a daunting moment for me. However, knowing that I had the Chairman and the executive board supporting me, I couldn’t say no because I wanted to continue helping the children. I’d seen the difference our wishes made – when I’d look into the eyes of a child who had a wish granted, or even more so into the eyes of a parent, I wanted to continue making an impact on their lives.
I’m now in my eighth year of being CEO and I feel privileged to be in my position. Seeing the Charity progress as it has, which is the responsibility of everybody involved, has been so fulfilling and rewarding. We have a long way to go to reach our mission of fulfilling a wish for every seriously and terminally ill child in the country, but we remain determined to achieve this ambition.
Q: What motivates you to be successful?
A: If you have a look around my office to see all the beautiful photos of children having their wishes granted, I think it’s clear what motivates me and that’s the children and their families. Knowing that we are making such an impact on their lives is immensely rewarding and I’ve loved watching the charity strengthen and develop over the years. We’ve always been so much more than a wish granting charity and I’m delighted that the wish families trust us and turn to us for support. Equally, I’m proud of the fact that once a child has a wish with us, they become part of our Rays of Sunshine family.
We’ve got children that we see regularly like Charlie Crick who’s one of our incredible Wish Ambassadors. I’ve known Charlie for years, since the charity started and it’s just so satisfying to see the children flourish – this is a huge incentive to me and everyone at Rays. Likewise, the team here motivates me. I love working with like-minded individuals, being creative, and working under pressure, which is good because at Rays of Sunshine, we run a very lean team and we are frequently under pressure, but that’s when we thrive! You never know what’s going to be happening from one day to the next and that’s always very exhilarating for me. Over the last eight years, what we’ve achieved here– the Wish Team, the Communications Team, the Fundraising Team – they’ve all really progressed and it’s been so rewarding to ensure that they all reach their potential. We are always learning and developing, that’s the great thing about Rays, we continually push ourselves to achieve the maximum potential.
Q: What is your favourite thing about being a woman?
A: My favourite thing about being a woman is that women can handle anything that’s thrown at them! I look at some of our extraordinary wish mums and I think, ‘I don’t know how you’re doing that, I don’t know how you’re putting one foot in front of the other and carrying on,’ but they do and it’s inspiring and moving to see.
I think this has a lot to do with women being intrinsically strong by nature, because we’ve had to be.
Throughout history, women have fought courageously and tirelessly to assert themselves and we’ve seen that recently with the women who’ve led the #MeToo campaign.
Q: Who is your biggest female role model?
A: This question is difficult for me because I have a few role models, who all inspire me but in different ways:
1. My mum, because she encouraged me and my two sisters to believe that we can do anything we want. My mum has always said, ‘you can do it, you can do whatever you believe in’. With two of her daughters currently working as CEOs of charities and the other daughter a special-needs teacher, I think both of my parents have instilled something in us from a very young age that we feel the need to give back. My mum is my inspiration in every area of my life.
2. For sheer bravery, Malala Yousafzai would have to be another. For what she went through as a young child, the assassination attempt, and then going on to be such an advocate for female rights, she’s a huge role model for so many women and so many young girls.
3. Speaking of young girls, I have to mention Amika George. She’s an 18-year-old who started a period-poverty campaign last year. Her petition, which asks that girls on free school meals be granted free sanitary products, has gathered 83,000 signatures and support from MPs and celebrities. It’s so energizing to see someone of that age being so proactive and being such a positive role model for young girls.
4. I read an article recently about a lady called Helena Morrissey at Legal & General who has inspired me. I think what’s so incredible about her is that she’s one of the only women to have ever been the CEO of an investment bank but also, she has nine children and anybody who can have nine children and be able to work in an environment that’s predominantly male, I think is astonishing! She’s also a great advocate for females and started the 30% Club, which aims to develop a diverse pool of talent for all organisations through the efforts of its Chair and CEO members who are committed to better gender balance at all levels. I’m someone who is a big believer in women getting into these roles and closing the gender pay gap. Considering there aren’t as many women on boards, anyone like Helena who can do her job, advocate for female rights, and have nine children, has my utmost respect.
5. This one might be a bit of a surprise, but my other role model would have to be Beyoncé. The reason, apart from the fact that I think she’s very driven and talented, is that she did a wish for us many years ago and when we spoke to her people, there was no hesitation, she immediately said ‘yes I will help with the wish!’ Not only did she do the wish, and was so generous with her time, but about four months after the wish, she remembered the wish child’s birthday and sent her a birthday card. She kept this wish child in her thoughts and in her prayers and to me that really made me feel that she was special. Despite having so many commitments, she still found the time to focus on a wish child and that’s why she’s definitely on my list of role models.
Q: What do you think the future looks like for women working within the non-profit industry?
A: It’s interesting because when you look at the figures, women are very visible and numerous within the workforce of the non-profit sector. However, when it comes to non-profit boards – the CEOs, chairmen and executives – they’re not, they’re scarce. I think the future for senior women within the charity industry needs to change. Whilst women might be numerous in the workplace, we need to be numerous on the boards too and it’s down to all of us in senior positions to ensure that happens.
One of my greatest hopes is that the team here at Rays of Sunshine, eventually progress into senior-leveled roles. Hopefully we can do our bit to ensure there are more senior females within the non-profit sector. I think given everything in the news and things that have happened recently within the sector, there are going to be a lot of changes within the industry and having females in these senior positions will be a very positive step.
A: Unquestionable, it’s being with the children – that’s the favourite element of my role. Knowing that I’m going on a wish or I’m going to a Hospital Activity Day, I absolutely love being in that environment. I also really enjoy presenting to our corporate partners. I thrive on getting anybody else as excited about Rays of Sunshine as I am, and I love getting people engaged with the charity. If I can ignite a spark in them, whether they go on to become a volunteer or fundraiser, that’s me doing my job.
Q: How would you encourage more young women to get involved in charity work and what would your advice be for them?
A: I would encourage young women to volunteer for a cause that they believe in. It has to be a cause that you believe in because if you don’t believe in the cause, it’s just not going to work for you. For anyone working within the charity industry, you need to be passionate and I think everybody here at Rays of Sunshine will tell you that they are.
Q: What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
A: I believe that today’s a day of celebration to rejoice what it means to be a woman. Even looking back at the story of Emily Pankhurst and how she helped to pave the way for so many women in this country, it’s a celebration of our success as women and that we’ve come so far. It’s one day of the year that recognises the value that women bring to communities and showcases the incredible struggles of women, like Emily who led the way for many others.
In conclusion, regardless of gender, nothing at Rays of Sunshine would have been achieved without everybody, and that’s really important. We have a connected and reliable board, a dynamic Chairman, and a dedicated team here that works extremely hard to put smiles on children’s faces every day. Whether we read it in a thank you letter, or hear it on a phone call, we know we’re making a difference, and that certainly puts a smile on my face and I hope it puts a smile on everyone else’s face too.