Want a career that makes a difference?

Earlier this year we hosted an alumni panel event with Niranjali Amerasinghe, Jenny Cook and Nyika Suttie, whose jobs all focus on making a tangible difference.

Their role titles are:  

  • Niranjali Amerasinghe – Executive Director (Action Aid USA).
  • Jenny Cook – Technical Advisor for Strategic Partnerships and Gender Inclusion and Diversity (PIARC World Road Association).
  • Nyika Suttie – Student Culture and Inclusion Training Officer (University of Bath).
Photos of Niranjali, Jenny and Nyika.

What does making a difference really mean?

We asked those in attendance what making a difference meant to them. Lots of attendees talked about having a positive impact on others’ lives or creating lasting change. were passionate about specific sectors where difference is needed, others spoke about career satisfaction from knowing your role leads to positive outcomes for others.

The definition we used when putting this session together looked at the number of people whose lives you improve, and how much you improve them, over the long-term.

An orange, textured piece of card with a hole ripped out to reveal the phrase make a difference.

Your career can be a squiggly journey

You don’t need to go straight into a radical career when you graduate. Squiggly career journeys are a great way to gain experience, try new things and see where your career can take you. All our panellists had a squiggly career that helped them get to where they are today and help them make a difference.

Niranjali was planning to go into corporate law and international trade when she graduated, but a case study during her studies inspired her to move into environmental law before arriving at Action Aid USA. After a couple of years as a teacher, Jenny joined the Civil Service, moved across to a policy role before her secondment to the PIARC. And Nyika worked in different environmental roles before moving into education and arriving at the University of Bath.

Activism is for everyone, including introverts

One of the questions we received from the audience was about being an introvert and an activist. Niranjali’s team is full of introverts and as a leader, she works to make sure the organisation creates a great environment for them. Nyika also talked about her experience being an introvert and neurodivergent in the workplace. She’s worked with her manager to put adjustments in place to help her thrive in her role. These could include being able to take an afternoon break after a team lunch to give her time to decompress.

If you are concerned about whether you’ll fit into an organisation’s work culture, you can ask about it at interview. You can work out if the culture is for you and whether the employer is able to put the right adjustments for you to thrive.

Networking doesn’t have to be scary

Networking is a vital part of many careers that make a difference but can be a daunting prospect. Niranjali talked about her experiences networking at different times in her career. When approaching someone, focus on smaller asks first and don’t go straight into asking for a job. It’s a low-pressure approach that allows for a conversation to start and may lead into a longer-term connection. If you are worried about approaching someone, have a couple of questions or discussion topics prepared so you know what you’re going to say.

A group of colleagues networking.

Niranjali also talked about how her culture influenced her experience of networking when arriving in the UK and the US. She came from a culture where it wasn’t appropriate to approach a senior member of staff but realised it is acceptable and often encouraged elsewhere. She had to put her previous ideas about networking aside to become more comfortable networking with senior figures.

You can make a difference in any job

You don’t need to have a specific radical career to make a difference. There are lots of opportunities to make a difference in whatever job you are doing. Part of Jenny’s role involves delivering gender-based inclusivity training to encourage more women to work in the transport sector and improve their experiences. Nyika is involved in a neurodiversity network, supporting other neurodivergent colleagues to find community and thrive in work. And Niranjali is a supportive and empowering leader, creating a workplace culture that makes a real difference to her team.

Don’t forget to look after yourself

Working in a radical career can include hugely challenging moments and it’s vital that you take time for yourself and find ways to protect your mental health. Nyika recommended building a community that you can turn to if you need someone to talk to. This could be members of your team, a wider organisation network, friends or family.

Someone using their hands to make a heart shape, against a blurry background of the ocean and sky.

Jenny spoke about how important it was to protect your time, including having quiet times to focus on your schedule and prioritise key tasks. But it’s also important to communicate effectively with colleagues so you can all do your best job.

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