Peter Cardy: On sexism, ageism and impropriety

The sector veteran offers answers to your workplace dilemmas

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. I have been deputy chief executive of an international organisation for almost a decade. In that time, we have recruited four chiefs. In between, I have acted up for long periods, while trustees and headhunters have evidently looked for the perfect (older) man. One was very good, but it was clearly just a stop-gap for him. The others were more or less incompetent, some doing great damage. I'm evidently good enough to be acting chief for longer periods than most of the appointees have stayed, but in spite of that the trustees have turned me down three times. What is going wrong?

A. Probably only two things: sexism and ageism. Time to get out, even for a temporary sideways or downwards move, before your reputation gets as badly bruised as your self-esteem. Think about a discrimination claim.

Q. I work as the head of community and charity relations for a big retail group. We get good publicity for fundraising for big-name appeals: it does a lot for our image as a caring firm. We have even won awards.

But I'm struggling with my conscience. While we raise big money and do help good causes, the company itself contributes almost nothing: some staff time, use of company premises and communications, special product lines – but these are paid for or increase profits. Even the cost of events is met by fundraising. The directors and shareholders get the credit but contribute zilch from their pay or profits; it all comes from staff and customers. I'm so angry that I'm thinking of talking (confidentially) to an investigative journalist who writes for Private Eye.

A. Are you naive? There is no such thing as a confidential briefing to journalists. When your cover is blown, your feet won't touch the floor and a tsunami of corporate wrath will engulf you. Don't expect the staff or customers to thank you either. If you feel so outraged, you had better resign and tell your story afterwards. But just pause for a moment: is it better that a lot of money is raised for worthwhile causes, and the company gets kudos it doesn't deserve, than that the funds are not raised?

Q. As chairman of a successful charity I have been working quietly for some time with the chairman of another that shares the same charitable aims and a similar programme to ours. The trustees have met in private and we are in no doubt that the benefits of joining together would be considerable: we could offer more help to more people, we would have a bigger footprint and could make economies – back-office and senior staff. I'm not sure where to go from here, because the two chief executives can't stand each other or have a civil conversation, far less negotiate a mutual arrangement.

A. This is the reverse of the usual stumbling block, when the trustees can't see eye to eye. You seem sure of the benefits of merger, but be warned that these are rarely realised to anything like the expected extent in charities. But why have you and the trustees been planning this in private without engaging your senior staff, who will have to deliver the changes and risk their jobs? Time to rewind the tape. This time make sure you and your fellow chairman take both charities with you.

Q. I'm a middle manager in a charity whose respected chief executive was "let go" many months ago without a succession plan. After spending a lot of money on advertising and headhunters, the trustees have decided to appoint one of their number, at a grandiose salary. They say the process was impartial and above board, but only a few of the trustees were involved. Can this be right?

A. At best it's clumsy and ham-fisted. Trustees need to avoid not only impropriety, but also the appearance of impropriety. This smells bad, and looks wrong.

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas. Contact him at

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