“Let’s be more open with our lived experience when we apply for a new post” says Ben Parsonage, Senior Consultant in our Local Government practice.
When applying for new positions, we tend to focus on our professional experience, skills, leadership traits, building partnerships, and the ability to be good corporate citizens. We know however that human beings are more than just their professional experiences. All of our experiences shape who we are, how we behave and our empathy with others. They have value too.
Whilst lived experience is valuable to almost any senior position, there is a real benefit when recruiting leaders involved in making significant decisions or delivering services that directly affect or impact others. Lived experience refers to the “first-hand knowledge and understanding gained through personal events or situations that confer a different perspective and insight”. This particularly benefits public sector organisations, especially those like local authorities that are service delivery oriented, where having both diversity of background and experience around the decision-making table can directly influence the outcomes and benefits of the communities they serve.
Leaders with lived experience can bring a better understanding of the needs and concerns of the community, as well as provide a fresh perspective on how to address and solve problems. This diversity of thought can result in innovative and effective solutions due to genuine empathy for how policies, services and interactions affect individuals. For example, if you grew up with parents whose first language isn’t English and had to help translate for them when speaking with council services, you will have had a different experience with, and therefore perspective of, those services and what worked for you personally. That is of enormous value when designing customer experience and customer service approaches for a borough with rich cultural diversity serving many communities. Personal experience of living in or knowing those that have lived in social housing, might help to better align priorities and decisions and challenge investment decisions that are made almost exclusively on largely financial assumptions. Your own lived experience may bring a unique insight into some of the barriers that prevent communities from accessing services.
Ryan Collymore is the Head of Housing and Property Services for the London Borough of Brent and grew up living in housing provided by Brent Council, so he has a unique perspective on this.
“Like many others, I didn’t have the best start to life which meant my adulthood was in Social Housing in Brent. I started my career in housing after not knowing what I wanted to do as a career. I saw people that looked like me working in housing jobs, which encouraged me to apply. Living on the then notorious Stonebridge Estate I knew that I would be at a disadvantage when applying for jobs so found myself removing Stonebridge from my address when filling out applications.
I found that in my early career I had a very clear understanding of what it was like to be a tenant and the stigma around social housing. I was immediately able to relate to the struggles of my tenants as I had gone through some of those same struggles myself. However, some tenants saw me working for the Council and made certain assumptions about me. I remember on one occasion one of my tenants said “you wouldn’t understand you probably live on a big house on a hill”. I said just because I work in an office, it doesn’t mean I have a big house, I actually live on a Council estate which surprised the tenant.
There are lots of great professionals working in social housing but I believe the lived experience gives you a unique advantage of being able to truly put yourself in another person’s shoes.”
The next time you are applying for a new position, and if you are comfortable doing so, open up on the experiences you have had that have helped shape who you are today and how they have helped shape your values and the different perspective you will bring to the role. This, along with your professional experience, will give an employer a more complete understanding of who you are and what’s important to you. Even better, it gives you a more nuanced assessment of whether the organisation is right for you.
Your own lived experience is unique to you and makes your candidacy a unique proposition to future employers.