Interview: Jackie Ballard, chief executive, RNID

Trading places: the RNID's new chief says leaders should move jobs in good time - and change causes.

Jackie Ballard. Photo: Newscast
Jackie Ballard. Photo: Newscast

When Jackie Ballard left the RSCPA after five years as chief executive to take over from John Low at the helm of the RNID, some in the sector thought it a curious career move.

But Ballard sees it as logical, and believes there is still too much suspicion in the sector of people who choose to move between causes.

"Too many people in the sector stay on for too long," she says. "It's always best to go when people are still asking why you left rather than why you didn't."

"I still get people coming up to me and saying 'I thought you really cared about animals'. But we all care about more than one cause. I also think leadership skills are transferable."

Financially, the RNID is smaller than the RSPCA - at £46m, its annual income is less than half that of the animal charity's £100m. At £14m, the RNID's voluntary income is also less than a quarter of the RSPCA's. But in many ways, Ballard says, heading the RNID is more of a challenge.

"You can't pretend it's hard to get people to part with money for animals," she says candidly. "You can exploit animals and tell their sob stories in a way you can't with humans.

"People are much less aware of hearing loss, despite the fact that it affects one in seven of us. It's the invisible disability and it's going to be a challenge to raise awareness about it."

Like her predecessor, Ballard is not deaf. She says that if there had been two candidates of equal calibre for the position, one who was deaf and one who wasn't, the deaf candidate should have got the job.

Ballard claims deaf and hard of hearing people are well represented in the organisation as a whole. But they make up 10 per cent of the RNID's staff, compared with 14 per cent in the general population, and only one senior manager out of 40 at the charity is deaf.

"A lot of work involves trying to persuade other employers to take on deaf and hard of hearing people, so we need to be an exemplary employer ourselves," she says. "It's not just about recommending procedures; it's about giving people the confidence to apply for more senior roles."

Ballard is not in favour of quotas because she thinks they would create the impression that deaf members of staff were employed only because of their disability. She is also determined to improve the RNID's record on all aspects of diversity.

"It's not just about employing deaf people," she says. "We don't have any blind people working for us, and only one person from an ethnic minority is on the executive board.

Ballard says she is "not so arrogant" as to try to change RNID's direction after only three months, but she has started a review that will go to the board in July. One of her ambitions is to make wearing a hearing aid as acceptable as wearing glasses. She jokes that it is time to start 'outing' people with hearing problems.

"On average, it takes people 15 years to seek help for hearing problems," she says. "We need a campaign to encourage deaf people to come out to normalise the problem."

Ballard envisages a high-profile campaign featuring deaf pin-ups, although so far the only famous people with hearing problems she can think of are former US President Bill Clinton, justice minister Jack Straw and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

They might all wear hearing aids, but Ballard concedes that at least two of them fall short on her second requirement. She says: "I have a vision of a big billboard with famous sexy men and women under the slogan 'What have these people got in common? They are all deaf'."

2007: Chief executive, RNID
2002: Chief executive, RSPCA
1997: Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton
1993: County councillor, Somerset
1987: District councillor, south Somerset
1982: Further education lecturer and adult basic education organiser,
Somerset County Council

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