Interview: Alix Lewer, Founder & CEO of The Include Project, Former Speech Therapist in the NHS
Inclusive communication made possible with a choir and the challenges of being a female CEO in a sector still largely dominated by men
When her dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour and gradually lost the ability to speak, Alix Lewer decided to train as a speech and language therapist to help people with communication difficulties. After a 13-year stint in the NHS, Alix decided to follow her heart’s dream and founded the charity Include.org. She talks about her experience of being a female CEO, and the challenges she faces.
"Unlike the NHS, the structures and processes aren't there; you have to create them, while delivering the product, managing your staff and getting the funds in. And that's massive."
Include centres on inclusive Communication; alongside more traditional training, Include runs two choirs composed of people with and without communication difficulties. The choirs meet regularly and perform at NHS conferences to raise awareness and deliver training workshops on inclusive communication, which Alix feels is vital to good healthcare.
The year after Alix’s dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour, her grandfather suffered a stroke which affected his ability to process language. She remembers: “Towards the end, my dad struggled to express himself. And my grandpa could speak but couldn't understand.” This experience led her to specialise in cognitive communication impairment, and the charity work she does now focuses on people with learning disabilities, autism and dementia.
Being unable to communicate with other people is like being imprisoned within yourself. Alix’s dream is to hold open a door for those who suffer with communication difficulties and help establish the freedoms we all enjoy.
"When you’re looking for corporate support, the money is still largely held by men."
Alix talks about her experience of being a female CEO. Initially, deciding to leave her role in the NHS and set up a charity afforded Alix a greater freedom than she had ever before experienced: “I discovered I could follow whatever path I liked. And then I discovered that this is, in fact, much harder because you can get carried away and take on far too many things.”
She describes the sheer amount of work involved in being the CEO of an organisation: “It does take over your entire life; you cannot set up a charity, or business, without committing every fibre of your being to it, because otherwise it won’t succeed. Unlike the NHS, the structures and processes aren't there; you have to create them, while delivering the product, managing your staff and getting the funds in. And that's massive.”
"The competition is so intense that you have to constantly sell yourself and your charity, which doesn't sit well with many women. It certainly doesn't sit well with me."
Undeniably the biggest challenge she faces in running Include is fundraising. In her eyes, being female makes it more difficult, as she has to manoeuvre in a still very male-dominated domain. Although lots of small charity CEOs are women, Alix acknowledges that big charity organisations are mainly run by men: “When you’re looking for corporate support, the money is still largely held by men.”
Having spent most of her career in the NHS prior to founding Include, Alix admits that having virtually no experience of working in the corporate world has made it difficult to communicate with major stakeholders, which understandably she finds frustrating.
She admits that women in general, or maybe she in particular, find it difficult to ask for money. To raise funds and build partnerships, “the competition is so intense that you have to constantly sell yourself and your charity, which doesn't sit well with many women. It certainly doesn't sit well with me. But you have to devote time and energy to marketing what you do if you want to succeed, even when all you want to do is get on and run it.”
Alix is adamant, however, that the blossoming Include will continue to grow into a thriving organisation, improving much-needed communication support for all.
You can help her achieve this this week: until noon on 6th December, all donations to Include will be doubled!
If you would like to find out more about Include.org’s training or how you can help, please drop Alix a line on: email@example.com.