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NEWS > Alumnae Profiles > Becky Hewitt Awarded OBE for Charity Work

Becky Hewitt Awarded OBE for Charity Work

Becky Hewitt (LEH 1987-1994) studied English at Oxford University. She is the former CEO at Changing Faces, UK, and was awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2021 in June.

I always feel that the idea of a ‘career path’ gives a misleading sense of a planned route: a map, decent equipment to tackle what you might encounter on your travels and a destination in mind. My journey to becoming a charity CEO has involved none of these things. The road has been full of pot holes, detours and discovering what I am passionate about as I go along.  

I left both school and university with no clear sense of what I wanted to do. It was Dot Com boom time, so I ended up working for a great technology PR company – although the Dot Com bubble quickly burst and I realised I had no interest in IT. But I did realise how much I enjoyed telling stories – a passion that has stayed with me throughout my career.  

I moved to consultancies with more of a focus on campaigning, where I had two experiences that inspired me to follow a career with a social purpose.  The first was the huge privilege of working with the family of Victoria Climbie – who was tragically abused and murdered when she was eight years old – who were seeking to build a school in the Ivory Coast in her memory. Their dignity and determination for change was my first experience of championing the voices of people whose experiences might otherwise be overlooked.

The second was supporting a tiny, but extraordinary, NGO called Waging Peace. Their humanitarian workers went into Sudanese refugee camps to gather evidence of what had really happened in Darfur since the conflict.  In the camps, they asked children to draw pictures about their experiences of conflict, and they returned with devastating images of the atrocities. Those drawings were later used – through Waging Peace’s campaign work – as evidence in the international court. Again, I saw the power of the voices of vulnerable and silenced people.

At this point I had my two daughters and encountered all the struggles and dilemmas of a working parent who wants to balance a career they love with spending time with their family. I was freelancing at Girlguiding when an opportunity came up to apply for an amazing Director role with responsibility for the girls’ rights and advocacy brief: an issue I have felt passionate about since running a feminist magazine at University. But it was the worse time for my young family: it just felt impossible.

Then the weekend before the application window closed, I was running some workshops with Girlguiding’s young campaigners. We were discussing the ‘glass ceiling’ when one of them said: ‘the thing is, there are just no visible role models balancing motherhood and a career. It feels like it can’t be done.’ So that was that. I had to apply and I was lucky enough to get the job.

In that role, we empowered the extraordinary girls and young women in the organisation to speak out and campaign successfully against ‘Page 3’ of the Sun, for compulsory sex education and to prevent sexual harassment in schools. And with a huge amount of support – and some pretty hairy moments! – I managed to juggle my first really senior role with my kids’ pre-school years. 

I have frequently had to remind myself that it’s OK to be a parent and a director and chief executive – and to create the time to spend with my family. I am also doing my best to advocate working flexibly whenever I can. I believe very strongly that people should be able to hold senior roles and be available for their lives outside work. 

I am now fortunate to be CEO of Changing Faces – a charity for the millions of people in the UK with a visible difference: a mark, scar or condition that affects their appearance. People with visible differences face exclusion and discrimination in all areas of their lives. From being stared at when they go out in public, to hostile behaviour, bullying at school, harassment and hate crime from strangers. They also experience invisibility or stereotyping in the media and widespread barriers to employment. Our charity provides practical, emotional and social support for children and adults, and campaigns against discrimination and prejudice.  

It is a wonderful role – but a challenging one too. But when it’s tough I take my courage from the amazing people with visible differences I have met since I started. One of our young champions, Nikki Lilly, who has a genetic condition called AVM, recently said to politicians: "I have to be brave every day. But I am asking you to be even braver and do what needs to be done to make change." So when I need to get over my inner critic, or if the task feels too tricky: I keep her in my mind… As ever, it is people’s voices and stories that inspire me the most.

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