Oxfam's Dame Barbara Stocking: I didn't accept £100,000 salary for years

You Live And You Learn: Dame Barbara Stocking, former CEO of Oxfam, on why the world needs more women, 'excessive' pay, and why charities are a force for good.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

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The world would work better if more women were in leadership positions. Some 70% of the world's poorest people are women. It's a real problem and you need a woman's perspective to change things.

I grew up in a typical working class household. My father was a postman and my mother a housewife. When I was starting out, people seemed to get jobs more easily if they had good connections. I saw myself as an outsider, but it meant I had to try harder.

I was an only child. My parents had terrible difficulty having children - my mother had seven miscarriages. I grew up in Rugby and the difference in resources between my state school and the public school made me think about inequality. That's probably why I ended up working for Oxfam.

If I could have done anything differently, I would have stepped into certain emergency situations sooner. A few years ago, one of our aid workers was kidnapped in Chad while I was on holiday. He was released after 10 days and we had a management team dealing with it, but I should have come back. There are times when the chief executive just has to be there.

I earned £119,000 the year I left. I don't think that's excessive. Oxfam has a turnover of £400m a year and operates in 53 of the most difficult countries in the world. But I was conscious of it. I turned down a number of salary increases and didn't go above £100,000 for years.

I don't think there are alternatives to aid. Oxfam helps with business issues and getting good prices for farmers' produce. But if people aren't healthy or educated, you're not going to get their country out of poverty. You need to set up enterprises and help develop skills, but in the right way.

After 12 years at such a pace, it's pretty hard stepping back. But it really was time to leave. Shrugging off the work itself wasn't so bad, but it was sad leaving everyone. Oxfam is a fabulous organisation. I'll be working again by the autumn, I hope, ideally in international development, or I'd like to build a portfolio across a range of companies.

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