Guest blog by: Simon Blake OBE, Chief Executive, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England
Simon will be running a session in the Strategy and Leadership stream at this year’s memcom conference on ‘Inclusion, Diversity and Mental Health’. Under the theme ‘Seeing Beyond Your 20/20 Vision’ the event will stimulate a lively debate as well as providing real thought leadership and outstanding networking opportunities to hundreds of delegates in the membership sector.
Find out more about the My Whole Self campaign and how you can get involved at mhfaengland.org/my-whole-self
When I was much younger, I worried about discussing my sexuality at work, even though I had come out to many of my friends. I didn’t want to talk about the outside work bit of my life – my relationships or which bars or clubs I had been to at the weekend – for fear of my gayness being discovered. I worried what people would think if they knew and with hindsight my brain was obviously in self-protection mode.
25 plus years on it is obvious that I was never going to be able to do my best work or be truly happy at work unless people knew me. Coming out meant I was no longer distracted with concerns about how I expressed my ideas, or whether I would be ‘caught’.
Of course over time I have become more confident and empowered to be all of me but I would be lying if I pretended there was a magical time when everything was fine. On my first day at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England I did a short speech about why I was so proud to be joining as CEO. In that speech I spoke of my husband and I had to take a deep breath as I said it. And that is me: very out, a privileged white man, reasonably confident, with 15 years of CEO experience behind me and also deputy Chair of Stonewall, one of the biggest LGBT+ organisations in the world.
I am fortunate. I have worked in social justice environments with people committed to equality for most of my life. Sadly, the evidence tells us this is not the experience of everyone and many LGBT+ employees will carry the burden of feeling they must suppress their true self. And the same is true for many people who experience systemic inequality or other forms of prejudice, and feel they cannot fully own their space, express their full identity and feel truly valued as a whole person.
This is where My Whole Self comes in.
My Whole Self has been in the planning for several months. The focus of the campaign is about ensuring we are free to bring our whole self to work, and not having to protect any part of our identity, wherever we are working.
For many of us over the next few weeks or months, our workplace and our home will be the same physical space. As the coronavirus outbreak continues, more and more organisations will be asking staff to work remotely and so we will need to work harder at making those all-important authentic human connections. The first phase of the My Whole Self campaign will focus on keeping people connected through online activities and sharing guidance to support employees experiencing anxiety, disconnectedness or social isolation as a result of the pandemic.
To kick things off, we celebrated My Whole Self Day on 18 March by encouraging people to build deeper connections with colleagues online. To mark the day, we asked as many people as possible to create a ‘My Whole Selfie’ and share their authentic self online using the hashtag #MyWholeSelf. We’ll also be sharing our own materials and resources from other fantastic organisations on how to connect with each other, support each other, and manage our own wellbeing during this difficult period.
In the coming weeks and possibly months, we will need to be innovative, flexible, think differently, and be clear and transparent in our leadership. We will need to find common ground, connect with each other’s understanding of the world, and be empathetic for people in different situations to our own. This starts with being able to feel honest, authentic, and true to ourselves.
I am Chief Executive of MHFA England. I am a civil partner and husband, Cornish, proudly internationalist, a horse rider and a dog lover. And I am lucky enough to bring all of this to work. It is 2020. It is time for every single one of us – whoever we are and wherever we work – to have that same level of privilege and pleasure that I experience being able to take my whole self to work.
Join the campaign for workplace culture change today at mhfaengland.org/my-whole-self.