cover art for Active allyship and sharing life’s experiences

We Are Vodafone

Active allyship and sharing life’s experiences

Ep. 4

In the fourth episode of this series, Cara is joined by Katia Stathaki and George Stone, sharing how their early experiences of allyship shape the way they live today. They discuss what Pride Month means to them and the techniques we can all use to be a great ally.

At Vodafone, Pride Month is an opportunity to celebrate inclusion and equality. Vodafone is a strong advocate for allyship in the workplace, and is committed to helping current and future LGBTQ+ employees navigate the world of work and feel confident to be themselves.

To read the transcript, please scroll below:


Cara McGoogan 00:02

Welcome to We Are Vodafone, a new podcast series where we'll bring together people from very different parts of the organisation to hear their opinions, theories, fears, passions and successes. Over the course of this series, we'll explore the subjects that matter most to you, and how they impact on your life.

I’m Cara McGoogan, a journalist and podcaster and in this fourth episode, we're going to talk about LGBTQ+ experiences at work, allyship and how we can better understand one another's experiences.

Joining me for this discussion are George Stone and Katia Stathaki. To start off, I asked them to introduce themselves and their roles at Vodafone.


George Stone 00:47

So my name is George Stone. I've worked in Vodafone for just over four years now. I did some time in retail. I have just finished the Vodafone Business Graduate Scheme. And I’m now working in HR, supporting our procurement team in Luxembourg. So yeah, Pleasure to meet you.

Katia Stathaki 01:03

Hi, George. Hi, Cara. Hi, everyone. I'm Katya Stathaki. I'm Greek, currently employed in Vodafone Albania as a CEO, I've been with Vodafone for 19 years, I studied Electrical Engineering at the Polytechnic School of Athens and I have an MBA from the University of Reading. I love Vodafone, I love this brand. I also love all the activities that Vodafone does for equality in the workplace, and also for equality in the society. So I'm really happy to be here today to share our thoughts and discussion with you guys.

Cara McGoogan 01:37

This episode is about allyship. So I thought it'd be a good place to start by getting you both to discuss a little bit about what allyship means to you personally.

George, do you want to kick us off?

George Stone 00:47

Absolutely. So I think allyship to me is more something that you do, as opposed to like a topic or a theme. I’ve experienced, allyship in the workplace. And so I really wanted to share that with you and Katia today.

It was four years ago, I was sort of 19 in my second year, of my degree, at Bristol doing Politics and Sociology, I really needed a job because Bristol was super expensive. So I applied for a part-time retail sales advisor in Vodafone, and I started in June. And that July was Pride Month in Bristol. And so our store was sent something called “Pride In A Box”, which is essentially a load of Vodafone and Pride branded merchandise. So T-Shirts, lanyards, balloons, that sort of thing.

Because I was so new to the team, I missed out on the order, for the T-Shirt and so that Saturday shift, I was the only person in a red, kind of, Vodafone branded T-Shirt. And a customer came in and he pointed to me specifically and said I want to be served by him, which I remember thinking was odd because I was brand new to the team and I definitely was not the best person to serve him. He came in and sat down, after I'd finished with my previous customers. And he kind of pointed to my T-Shirt. And he said, “good for you for sticking up for what you know is right”. And I was kind of confused and I sort of gave him that face of saying, “what”? And then he kind of looked around and said, “you know all of this Pride stuff, it's really bad how they kind of shove it down our faces, so good for you for taking a stand”.

Katia Stathaki 03:27

How did it make you feel George? Like, were you annoyed or surprised or?..

George Stone 03:32

I think, I wouldn't necessarily say annoyed or even surprised. I just felt super small in that moment. I felt like the ground was about to swallow me up because it's very awkward when you're confronted with something that I guess does make you different and then you remember that not everybody likes that or supports you. And here was someone who was very open with his, kind of, views that actually were against me. And he just didn't know. But the allyship came in when my manager walked over to me and the customer and I thought he was going to intervene with the system because I was so new and I didn't know what I was doing. But he actually turned to the customer and said, “look in this store, that's not our opinion, none of us believe or support that. If you do, it's fine. But you need to apologise, or we'll have to ask you to leave”. In the end this guy got up, he was very irate, super angry, and he left the shop and I think everyone kind of just was a bit taken aback. But then they got on with their day as usual, because that was a weird blip in the day. But for me, that was a really defining point of where I thought, “wow there is something that makes me different, and I guess puts me at risk. But at least I'm in a company or I'm in a team where they'll stand up for me even if they don't know that I'm gay,” because at that point nobody actually knew. They just did it offof their own volition, because they thought that that was the right thing.


Katia Stathaki 05:03

And he did manage to make you part of his team, right?


George Stone 05:05

He did, yeah, and I spent two fabulous years in retail, it was awesome.


Katia Stathaki 05:11

Because this is also where the impact comes into the team, you know, once you support each other, then you create a team that support each other, and then you have better results. So there it goes, being human together with being effective, amazing story.


George Stone 05:26

What about you, Katia? What's your experience of allyship?


Katia Stathaki 05:30

My experience is a bit different. I mean, I have lots of stories about allyship in the workplace, with, you know, coworkers. But I want to share a story from when I was a kid, when I moved to Germany, seven years old, not speaking the language. You know, I went to school the first day, the second day, the third day; the kids can be hard, sometimes. They were bullying me around, you know, I still remember the picture of me, you know, sitting on a bench alone and trying not to cry because, you know, they can't catch you weak. It went on for a week, approximately a week, until this little girl Susanna, she came and just sat next to me without saying anything, without, you know, touching each other, nothing. She just sat next to me, showing, in real life, her support to me and what she felt was right, and what she felt the other kids were doing wrong. Because she was this influencer in the class, which I discovered later, of course, with time, more kids were coming in sitting next to us. So, you know, it took me like a few weeks to be part of the gang. And you know, to be accepted. And for me, it was the strongest personal expression of allyship that I've faced in my life. So it doesn't have to do with LGBT, but it had to do with me being in a foreign place and being somewhere where I didn't belong. Where I was the outcast, the strange person, the person not speaking the language, the different one, let’s say.


George Stone 07:09

I guess as well, you mentioned that it's not necessarily related to being part of the LGBT community, but still was the story of allyship. I think that's so powerful, because you experienced exclusion when you were really young and now as you're kind of in your career and you’re like a, a working professional, you're using that experience to ensure that inclusion is, is actually at the forefront of everything you do as a leader in the business. So it's really interesting to me how an experience like that, you've managed to take it and almost turn it on his head.


Katia Stathaki  07:43

Yeah. And you know, I think the most important thing is for all of us to realise that we have so many things in common, you know, and we tend to think of the other people being different. Yes, we're all different, thank God, we're all different. But we also have so many things in common where we can build on so that is probably the most important take out from me from this story.


Cara McGoogan 08:06

George, from what you were saying there, I'm really interested in this idea of what it means to come out in the workplace and the challenges that brings and ways that colleagues can help support you. I wondered if you o talk a little bit more about what that process is like in the workplace.


George Stone 08:24

I guess when I was in retail, it was more something that happened to me, you know, a situation happened. And I reacted to it. A lot of times when people come out in the workplace, it does kind of happen like that, someone has said something or heard something, and then you have to affirm or deny it. And that can be really tiring. It's kind of like you never know, when you're going to get, almost caught out, it really does feel like a sense of caught out. There's been situations where I've talked to colleagues, who I am extremely close with, and have a great working relationship with but also they're my friends. They've asked me before things about, “oh, you know, you've got a girlfriend”. And even though it's men with genuine curiosity, and there's no kind of malice behind it, things like that can be quite difficult sometimes, because it really throws me into the spotlight. And it reminds me instantly that I am different and there is something that I have to come out for, which can be kind of exhausting. I think I would love if we were in a place where we don't even need to state it. But these things do happen. Some of the things you can do as an ally really require very little kind of action. Just things like changing your words. So instead of asking me, “do you have a girlfriend?”. If someone said “do you have a partner?”, then I would be absolutely happy to kind of disclose it. It's just when you use kind of gendered words. It makes you think, oh God, right here we go. Tiny little things like that I think can really help in the workplace and beyond too.


Katia Stathaki 09:55

When I was thinking about this podcast, I thought about a workshop that Vodafone arranged a few years ago, I think it was two or three summers back with Google, in London about allyship. We were asked to make a simple, let's say, exercise in pairs, where we would have to talk about how we spend our weekend, but without mentioning the gender or giving any clue about the gender of our partner. It made you feel like really stressed not to say anything that would reveal the gender because it was in the beginning was like a game, you know. And then we all realise what this means, nobody should have to reveal anything to have a nice day in the workplace and the free day in the workplace. But it happens so that the way people think sometimes you need to help it a little bit. So when I came back from this workshop, I put together the entire Vodafone Business team in Greece. And we did this exercise, you know, in a big space in pairs. Once we did this exercise, many, many people understood and they came back to me and they said, “Wow, this is very revealing”, you know, because you never actually realise it, how difficult it is, and how much energy takes out of the people, who do not want to come out. If they don't want to reveal their sexuality, they have to go through all this strain and personal stress. It also affects the productivity and the effectiveness of the people in the workplace. It's one thing to say, we are open. And it's another thing to get in somebody else's shoes and really understand what they are going through in the workplace. So for me, that's a very important thing exercising and really understanding what people are going through in the workplace.


Cara McGoogan 11:48

Do you both have examples of times when you've taken those learnings about ways to be a good ally using gender neutral language, for example, and when you've used those learnings to help someone else? Katia, I think you talked about how you took this home to your son and how you then change the language you were using around your son.


Katia Stathaki 12:08

Yeah, I want to tell this story, because it's an experience that really shook me inside, you know, so. So I have an almost 10 year old son, his name is Leo. He's an amazing little guy, like every mother would say about their kid. And you know, what, one of those nights when you take them to sleep, you know, it was like six months back. It's the time when he opens up a little bit. So he's asking the difficult questions like, “why did grandpa die? Am I going to meet him again” and stuff like that. At some point, he asked me a question, “Mum, will you love me forever?”. I said, “Leo, what kind of a question is that? Of course, I will love you forever. I will jump into the fire for you”. He says, “But Mum, do you know that there are people who throw their kids out of the house because they are gay?”. To be honest, I wasn't expecting at 11 o'clock at night to have this discussion. So I asked Leo, I said, “Leo, do you even know what it means? Do you know what the word gay means?”. He said, “yeah, of course. It's when men love men and women love women, etc”. I said, okay, well, he knows, good. Then I said, “look, whatever happens to you and your life, whatever you do in your life, I will always love you”. Following that, one, I actually stopped, or I'm trying to stop myself, from asking the usual questions. You know, “do you have a girlfriend at school?” And stuff like that. You know, because I think it's important that we let kids see themselves and what they have inside and then love them for what they are. It's quite difficult if you're brought up in a conservative environment like I was brought up. It's not let's say the most straightforward thing, but it is something that you do when you love somebody, you accept them the way they are. I'm trying to be a better Mum, I think I've become a better Mum after this discussion. I'm not perfect, but I will try to, especially in this respect to be much more open than I was thinking anyway, in the past.


George Stone 14:16

There's something that I'd quite like to jump in on. It was what you mentioned Katia about being the perfect Mum. And I think that well, first of all, Leo sounds awesome and I think that story was super touching, so thanks for sharing it. But in terms of being like the perfect Mum, I do think that there is this kind of notion around allyship and anything to do with being LGBT or race, ethnicity, gender; where people don't want to say the wrong thing and they're scared about saying the wrong thing. And it makes the topics even more taboo to talk about, not because they're taboo, but because you're worried about saying something taboo, which is just the biggest irony, but, I think a lot of times people worry about saying the wrong thing. Speaking from personal experience, I do not mind one bit, if someone has a question for me about anything related to my life, it doesn't just have to be the fact that I'm part of this specific community. But you know, I'm always up for conversation and I guess raising awareness and education and I think sometimes people worry that they will say the wrong thing. And I don't think that that is the worry, I don't think people get upset when people say the wrong thing. I think people get upset when someone says the wrong thing and then they're not open to learning why they might want to change that for somebody else. I guess that would be my biggest thing about allyship, it's, it's kind of okay to get it wrong. Just as long as you learn from it, and you're, you're open to the experience, almost of it, then that's the most that anyone could kind of ask of you. We’re super lucky in Vodafone that we have employees from all backgrounds, all different experiences and I was very lucky to work with someone in my former team who used they/them pronouns and before they came to our team meeting, a couple of people in my team referred to this person, well they misgendered them essentially, based off of their photo. And this person came to the team meeting, and it was all it was all great. But then after someone from my team said, “guys, just so you know, for next time, this particular colleague actually uses they/them pronouns”. And everyone in my team was like, “Oh, no, God, we feel really bad.” It wasn't a case of, “oh, why did no one tell us before,” nobody got angry or upset or ashamed. It was, okay, we didn't know that before, so we can kind of plead ignorance. But now that we do, we won't do that again. And it never happened again. And I just think tiny things like that, when people are receptive and open, just to changing one word, one word in one sentence can mean a lot to somebody else.


Cara McGoogan 16:50

And George, did you have some questions you wanted to ask of Katia about what it's like in other countries?


George Stone 16:56

Yeah, I would be really interested, Katia, to know what it's like kind of in kind of, Greece and Albania as well; to work at Vodafone, and be part of the LGBT+ community. And the reason that I ask that is because, I'm aware that my kind of position, as like a white gay man in the UK is very different to some of our other colleagues and I would really be interested to kind of know, the experience of other people in the community and not just in the UK.


Katia Stathaki 17:25

I can't say too many things about Albania because I landed in the role like four weeks ago. So I can say about Albania, that it's a very open community overall, they're open people, accepting people. So I would assume, but it remains to be proven, so I don't have any real experiences yet, and that they would be open also in this respect. Of course, in Vodafone, you know, in Albania, we are following the same, let's say, ways of educating people around respecting each other irrespective of colour, gender, sexual orientation, etc. So that is part of the whole Vodafone community.

If I could talk a little more about Greece, where I have much more knowledge about. In some respects, the Greek society is still quite conservative. Although, there is much more openness than there was some years ago. You touched earlier on a word that, for me is probably the biggest and the most important word in this process, which is education. And for me, it's about respecting the other human being, you know, all this allyship that we're talking about; you respect the human being, and you let them be and you let them live, in the way they want to live. It comes from sharing experiences. And being an LGBT sponsor in Greece, I have managed to have some sessions, the monthly meetings of the Vodafone Business team. So I always had one hour at the end, where I had people from the LGBT community coming in and talk to us. So the first time a lady came in, she was the one who was in charge of the helpline for LGBT people in Greece. There were a lot of people who didn't want to come to the session because it was again “yeah, another one of these sessions…” and this lady, she started talking about young people calling, being desperate not knowing what to do, not knowing how to face their parents, you know, humans stories, tough stories. They also talked about how parents were talking, who, yes, they love their kid, but they do not know how to handle themselves in this. They were seeking for advice not to do the wrong thing. And all this when it was shared, openly shared with the people in the team, many of them being parents. I could see it in their faces that it shook them. So it was much more, let's say effective than 50 lessons on how to do things right. So to share these stories, and to make people understand how we can all help, how can we all be there, so that everyone has a fair chance in this life, and everyone has a fair chance in the business, and everyone has a fair chance next to us. I think that is probably the most important and the most, the strongest weapon that we have in this process, if you allow me the word, weapon. So I believe I've left Vodafone Greece a bit more open. There were also some people who have come out during this process. And who also personally thanked me afterwards, you know, because they wouldn't talk to their Mum about it. So they went and talked to their Mum about something which is very important, for a relationship between a man and his mother, at least in Greece. Yeah, I think there's a lot of things to do. But sharing experiences is, I think, the most powerful.


George Stone 21:06

Absolutely, I think that that exercise shared about sharing the experience of that helpline. I think that's just kind of the epitome of when, when it brings it home a bit and like you said, we all just kind of realise that once we strip everything back, we are all essentially just the same.


Katia Stathaki 21:21

I always have this thought in my head, you know, I'm a huge supporter of the LGBT community, although personally, I'm not part of this community. However, I think there is a lot of power in supporting the LGBT community when you're not gay, when you're not trans. Because I think that the power of this is how we as people, support each other in this society and in the workplace. Let me give you a parallel just to understand this. So I'm a woman in the workplace. It's much more powerful to be supported by men in the workplace than by women in the workplace, you know, because if it's amongst women, it's like, “yeah, yeah, it's them again”, you know, and this has an inherent power. So this is why it's important for us, for all of us to actively support the LGBT community inside Vodafone. For me, it's a very important task for all of us.


Cara McGoogan 22:28

We also had the chance to catch up with Mohammed Khan, George's boss, when he was working in the Bristol Vodafone store. He tells us a bit about what he was thinking that day.


Mohammed Khan 22:42

Initially, when the customer came in, he was just a normal help and advice query. it was a Pride month. During the Pride Month, the guys are allowed to wear the certain lanyard or the wristband and the store is decorated, the customer wasn’t in the favor of the culture of Pride, or Pride Month/ I could see the customer was getting really, really stressy. I felt like, “okay, I need to go in”. I did try to calm them down and assert that the customer didn't have that right to speak to George like that. And I was going to listen to customers problem. All I wanted to just to give some time to George, so he could actually break out from the conversation, get himself back. And then he still feel confident.


Cara McGoogan 23:23

As a manager, what have you learned about supporting diversity in your workplace? And do you have any other examples of how colleagues can be a good ally?


Mohammed Khan 23:33

For the team, going after having everyone included in the same journey, that means that we got a bigger team. Keep talking about the differences that means that we all got the same understanding and we do not say something by mistake, even in a jokey way that could possibly end up hurting someone emotionally. In Bristol experience store, we have people from different backgrounds. So I'm from Asian background, we have people from Eastern European background, maybe little bit of cultural difference here and there. But end of the day, what happens that everyone is bringing them on the table to share those experiences.


Cara McGoogan 24:09

So do you have three tips for supporting staff and equality?


Mohammed Khan 24:14

Keep talking to them as if you are talking to just someone like you talk every day. Know the background a little bit more, do own research before you talk to that person. Just Google it, it is a great help. We all got smartphones, and make sure that we do not say or act in any way that could potentially hurt that person emotionally, even if it is my minor bit because you never know.


Cara McGoogan 24:44

Going back to your story and at the beginning, George and given that we're doing this podcast in Pride Month, I wanted to ask you both what Pride means to you.


George Stone 24:55

The first time that I ever saw Pride actually happening was when I was 19. So back when I was in that store, I grew up in the countryside, so there was never really a Pride month, it just wouldn't have made sense in my village of 80 people. So I didn't really see it, I guess until I was 19 and experienced it. And then when I started to look into Pride and the roots of it, and where it came from, I almost felt kind of embarrassed because I was part of this community and I had no idea about some of the people who did, but also still do, go though, through tremendous ordeals just to be that and just to live. I really kind of had to take a moment of reflection and consider how lucky I was. And I hate using that word lucky. When someone who's gay comes out and it goes well, they go, “oh, yeah, I was so lucky”. It shouldn't be a case of luck, but still, but I remember thinking that I was lucky because even though I grew up in an environment where I didn't see anyone like me, I also wasn't exposed to any of the real bad stuff that does happen when you are part of what any community really, but specifically the LGBT+ community, I started learning about people like Marsha P Johnson and the Stonewall riots. And I just felt really sad that I was 19 and I had only just learned this now, I'd never learned that a school I never even heard of Pride month, I didn't really know what it was. But then when I kind of had that realisation, and I think I took it is the rest of my life, I will celebrate Pride, and I will enjoy it and have fun. But also, I will mark it as a very kind of dark and somber month, almost, of reflection, because there is a lot of stuff that has gone wrong, and that is still going wrong. And unfortunately, still will go wrong, like in the future. But yeah, I think that's what Pride month is, it is definitely a celebration. But it's also kind of a point of reflection.


Katia Stathaki 26:54

On my side, I tend to think of Pride as more than an event, more than a time bound activity within a year. Pride is a way of thinking, it's a way of acting. It's to be personally proud of who you are, of the things you have accomplished, to have the courage to follow your dreams to follow your, the vision, of who you want to be in your life. So for me, this is much more important for this community. Because as George said earlier, there's a lot of people who are still going through tremendous ordeals and it shouldn't be like that. But still, the month is just the expression of something you know, when we want to celebrate it. But for me that is, let's say the light on a continuous journey that not only the LGBT people need to do, but the entire society needs to do. It’s a wakeup call. It's a putting ourselves, all of us, to look into our face and to understand really, how can we help people around us do and be the ones they want to be? Courage. Follow your dreams. This is what Pride is in my eyes.


Cara McGoogan 28:09

George, is there anything you've learned from Katia today that you're going to take away with you?


George Stone 28:14

Yeah, absolutely. I think that those exercises that you mentioned, Katia were really fascinating because they're super simple activities. But they really kind of accomplished what you said earlier about putting yourself in other people's shoes. It kind of highlighted what I was mentioning earlier about when people ask me things like, “do you have a girlfriend?”, it can be uncomfortable. And sometimes I say that to other people. They say, “oh, why? Like you shouldn't be uncomfortable, you know, you shouldn't be ashamed,” or whatever. And it's like, I totally understand that. But that exercise that you mentioned Katia, it really makes you realise how big of a thing it can actually be and how much it can make you feel awkward, when you have to conceal something that you don't really want to but you feel like maybe you should you have to tiptoe around it. I think that more leaders within business should be replicating those sorts of activities amongst their teams. You know, regardless of whether anyone in that team does identify as being part of the LGBT community, it's still something really rich, to do, to learn from.


Katia Stathaki 29:20

For sure we need more of this. I agree with your George. I don't know if I can use the word learn today. But one thing that I admire today, you know, is your courage and your strength to be here. You haven't been with Vodafone for many years. So it seems that you're a person, who is actually ready to stand up for what they believe and help others on the way and to be open about it and you know, talk about it in order to help others. So for me, that's always to be admired, because believe it or not, there's not too many people who are at the forefront of change. So we need this change, and we need people like you in the company to take us even further. We need to enable more people, we need to help more people be themselves in the workplace, be themselves and belong. And then work and have fun without the fear of being criticised in anyway. Thank you for doing this role as a business leader. Thank you for being courageous enough to do this, and hopefully we'll have many more George's like you in the future. I will be happy to be there and support you in any way. Please do reach out whenever you need.


George Stone 30:39

I'm so grateful that you came today and shared your experiences. The biggest thing that really touched me was the story you mentioned with your son. I think that's perfect, and I know you want to be a perfect Mum, but I think you've achieved it, so…

Katia Stathaki 30:52

You're going to make me cry now.


Cara McGoogan 31:00

I hope, like me, you've been inspired by the ideas, techniques and experiences Katia, George and Mohammed have discussed in this episode.

This has been We Are Vodafone a podcast series brought to you by Vodafone for Vodafone people.

If you want to find out more, head to the resources in the show notes below and please consider completing a short survey for Vodafone's Count Me In campaign to create a complete picture of diversity within Vodafone

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    In the latest episode of We Are Vodafone, Cara is joined by Mel Mooney and Caroline Southall.They both share their experiences of neurodivergence and the workplace. Mel, as a graduate with autism and dyspraxia, entering the workplace for the first time and Caroline as the mother of a son diagnosed with ADHD and dyspraxia. They chat about what can be done to make workplaces more welcoming of the natural differences people bring to a team, as well as the impact the pandemic could have on how people with neurodivergent conditions experience the workplace.To read the full transcript or to find out more head to:
  • 3. Male mental health: from hidden homelessness to hope

    For our third episode of this series, Cara is joined by James , who spent many of his teenage years being hidden homeless. Speaking directly with Cara, he uncovers some of the lessons he’s learnt, the resilience he’s built, how he manages his mental health day-to-day and finding hope after trauma.To read the transcript, please scroll below:______________________________________________________________________________________________________________Cara McGoogan 00:03Welcome to we are Vodafone a new podcast series where we'll bring together people from very different parts of the organization, to hear their opinions, theories, fears, passions and successes. Over the course of this series, we'll explore the subjects that matter most to you, and how they impact on your life. I'm Cara McGoogan, a journalist and podcaster. And in this third episode, we're going to talk about male mental health, resilience and finding hope after trauma. In this episode, I'm meeting James, who spent a lot of his teenage years as hidden homeless. He's shown a huge amount of courage in talking publicly for the first time, he's told me how he got through that time and found a happier life, as well as how he's continuing to care for his mental health. To begin, I asked him how he decided to get involved with the series. James 00:54I think it’s because I saw an advert that said, “have you got an interesting story to tell?”, I thought, I'll get in touch. The story I originally came up with wasn't the one that I'm gonna go with today. It was more comedy value. Whereas what I’m going to talk about today is a bit more hard hitting. Hopefully, people can learn from what I'm going to talk about today. Hopefully, someone will benefit. Cara McGoogan 01:14Did you want to start by taking us back to the beginning of your story? James 01:17I was 14 years old. And my family fell on hard times. First of all, they lost the business. And then they decided to not carry on the marriage. So what we did as family, we all pretty much split up. My Mum left the house and my Sister stayed at boarding school and then moved somewhere else with her boyfriend. And I stayed with my Dad. The first year or so it was good, he got another job. We had a bit of a laugh a good time. Then all of a sudden, we just kept missing each other. So I was still at school through the day. And he worked in a pub. So he worked at nights a lot of the time, sometimes in the morning getting ready for the day. So we lived a lot of it by notes. I could just leave a note saying we need some food, leave us some money, or he'd do a food shop or I need money for the bus to get me to school and stuff like that. And everything was going okay and fine. Cara McGoogan 02:10How long would it go that you wouldn't see him? James 02:12Probably at this stage four to five days, it was probably the longest. It just came quite normal. Sometimes if he had a day off same Monday, Tuesday, I'd see him after school or something. But that gradually got longer and longer. It probably went up to months by the end of it. At 15, I sort of saw a decline in my Dad when I did see him that he wasn't himself. He didn't talk to me and pretty much hid. He stopped coming home. I'm not really sure where he was. There's no evidence that anybody was in the house, other than myself, and these notes started to get ignored. After a while, there was no money for food. I relied on my paper round money. I was earning £8 a week, sometimes 10 or 11 with tips. And this wasn't years and years and years ago when £8 was a lot of money. It was a struggle. It was a small amount of money to get me through a week. What I ended up doing was walking to school, saving the money from the bus. And it was five miles there, five miles back. So it was a long, long journey. But it was pivotal I kept that money that I didn't spend it on sitting on a bus, that was emergency for food. Cara McGoogan 03:21How did you make sure that that money lasted you for the week? Would you buy specific things in order to save it? James 03:27Yeah, I often lived on Pot Noodles, they were quite cheap at the time, bread and cheese slices, Tabasco sauce to get me through my weeks. When it started to get a little bit harder. So there was times that I would come back, we were on an electric meter and a gas meter if we ran out, it was an empty house. It was a cold, empty house; it was dark and there was no electric and on them occasions I'd use some of the money to get fish and chips from the chip shop. And what I would do with that is, I'd hold it on my jumper whilst it was really warm to keep me warm, until the chips went really cold until they were pretty, pretty inedible. But I still ate them, that was more of an instinct if I needed something warm next to me, to keep me warm through the night. Cara McGoogan 04:12And at that point, you're still in your house? But without your Dad there? James 04:16I was still in the house, without my Dad and I was still at school. I was getting up early doing a paper round, going to school and coming back. And then it did get a bit too hard to go home. It was the fear of not knowing, whether I was going to have electric, heating, food, hot water, and anything in the house whether it was just going to be an empty shell. I started staying at friends’ houses, I didn't tell any of them anything I was going through. I felt ashamed, embarrassed. At 15 as well you’re quite conscious of what people think of you, you do get a bit nervous and stuff like that. So I didn't, I didn't say anything and I just stayed at houses because I lived in a place called Crewe and the schools in Nantwich a lot of my friends live like Nantwich area or further from Crewe than I would have liked for my paper round because it was desperate that I got to that paper round in the morning, to get me that money to last me the week. So luckily I had a girlfriend who lived in Crewe and she was happy to help me out. I did tell her a lot about what was going on, as I say she was a similar age, she had her own issues going on, she lived with her Nan and stuff. So it wasn't something that she could turn around and help me out with or even her Nan could help me out with, she would get my paper round for me, if I wasn't able to make it home, if I was staying at friends houses, she would get my paper round for me and help me out in that sense.I depended on that so much that I didn't have to worry about getting home and making sure that I had some sort of income. I don't really think friends got suspicious. I think for the first few stages, I was quite clever. I stayed a couple of nights, didn't overstay my welcome, then I'd stay a couple of nights somewhere else with a friend that didn't really know the other friend that I stayed at, and then I’d stay at another friends for a couple of nights and they wouldn't know. It was such a lifesaver at these houses and as much as the parents and that, and my friends at the time didn't probably know they were helping me out. It was so nice to have a cooked meal, a shower, one of the biggest paranoias at the time, which is still with me now, I still get really paranoid about, is smelling, I had this fear of being the smelly kid. But I was so grateful of staying at people's houses when I did, to get the showers and the food. As time went on, I probably stayed at friend’s houses and that more than I should I have done to keep it a secret. People started asking me questions such as, “you haven’t been home in about two weeks, where are you folks to find out where you are?”. And people started to turn it around and find it, find it very strange that no one has actually come to find me. I think some parents must have found it weird that I asked them to wash my school uniform sometimes. They did it, but never really asked the question, “why are we doing this? Why aren’t you going home?”. Cara McGoogan 06:50Did any teachers ever ask you any questions? James 06:53No. I'm so happy of how far things have come and how different things are nowadays to when I was at school, that I just kept getting in trouble. If I wore a shirt that wasn't the right colour, so if I didn’t have a clean, pale blue shirt, I’d sometimes get a shirt from a charity shop or I’d borrow one out of my Dad's wardrobe and it'd be like a darker blue. And I just get detentions or sent home, no one really asked the question of “why, why are you wearing this?” And I was hungry all the time. I was so hungry constantly. And I made friends with a lad who he didn't really need to go to school, his parents didn't push him. And he was truant a lot. But school didn't do anything about it. They just let it be. And he didn't need to go. I used to get these free dinners because he got free dinners and I used to sign his name and pretend that I was him. And I had spoken to him about what I was doing. So I was getting him his free dinners when he came in. But one day he was there and I wasn't in that day. And he went and got his school dinner, and they wouldn't let him have it. And for that I got suspended and detentions, no one actually asked me, “why would you do that? Why would you be stealing someone's dinner? Why have you needed this free dinner?”. No one delved into investigate why or even visit my house, I got a letter to take home. Just take this to your parents, because we're not happy with you here and no one investigated it. Whereas nowadays, you wouldn't get away with that, I think somebody would, would be there. Cara McGoogan 08:15It's really bad, looking back, isn't it that you didn't have that support and that people didn't notice. But academically? You kind of really pushed on, didn't you? James 08:24I did. Yeah. I was quite adamant that that's how I was going to get out of the situation. That the only way forward for me was education, to get a job. After this, I really did realise that, I can't live like this forever. At one point, we lost the house, I went back home and the landlord had come and kicked us out. So at this point, when I wasn't staying at friends’ houses, it was the streets. So I'd stay in alleyways and behind a billboard sign. But what I’d do in, in my spare time, so at weekends and stuff was probably a dream for a lot of kids. For me it was, I've got nowhere to go for two days, I don't know what I'm going to do. So I would potentially just sit in a library. The library had free water, shelter, and you can read books all day, but I’d use that time to study, to pass my GCSEs which I did. I managed to get into college. In college there was probably more freedom. It got to a point where my living situation, overruled any type of learning as much as I knew that I needed A Levels and I wanted to learn and to get a career. I got kicked out in the end of college. I just put it on the back burner, I couldn't even think of right that's where I need to be. It wasn't until probably the end of term of that first year when my friends all passed the first year of college that I decided to start fresh, at a different college and I was determined, I spoke to a tutor about what was going on in my home life. They helped me, they supported me. They didn't mind if those days I missed lessons and they never made me feel bad for missing lessons they just said, “we understand and we’ll help you out”. They even managed to sort out a shelter for me. So I stayed in a shelter through my college. And that was horrible, absolutely horrible. As bad as that sounds is the first person I've opened up to, and the first person that helped me it's not gone the way I would have liked or have needed it to go. I do feel bad now I said it was horrible. But it really, really was it was, there was no category, they put you with people that just been released from prison, or people that have been recovered from drug addiction, or just might have a rehabilitation centre. And this would be a halfway house for them. I did not feel comfortable at all. And there was, things were banging and screaming through the night, it was scarier than actually sleeping rough in alleyways, where it's quite, quite peaceful and quiet in comparison to this shelter. So I left there, and I went back to sleeping rough. Cara McGoogan 11:01And then there was someone else that helped you, that kind of really changed your life. James 11:05So this was, this was the changing point for everything really. I bumped into a friend's Mum, while I was in town sleeping rough and just having small talk. She basically asked me where I'm living and what I'm up to now and stuff. And I went, well I go college, down there, and I live here where we’re stood. I expected it to laugh and just go yeah, yeah, great, move on. But no, she, she took that serious, which is brilliant. Because as much as I said in a jokey way. It was serious. And she helped me out. She put me in this spare room and helped me out with everything. So I got through college, I had showers again, I had meals, a roof. By this point, I had found my Dad, and we were building my relationship again and she would drive me to meet him, drop me off. She even helped me with an application for housing. I’d managed to get a job. I saw light at the end of the tunnel. And I managed to get the flat through the council, this council flat. I had my own flat. I had a job. And I was doing really well at A Levels. I was making it to college and things were looking up, things were going well. Cara McGoogan 12:12And just while we’re in this part of your story, to jump ahead slightly. You’ve now got a relationship with that friend. James 12:20I have, yeah, so the friend's Mum, who helped me out, I've now married her daughter. She's my wife and mother of my child. We've been friends since we were 11. So I have spoke to her a lot about what was going on at that time through school. And she does seemed shocked sometimes, she wouldn't have never noticed, all my friends never noticed through school. You hid it really well. And it's a bit of a shock to hear about it now. Yeah, I ended up marrying my saviours daughter. So at this point, as I mentioned things are going well. I’ve got my flat, I've got my job and I'm doing well at A Levels. It wasn't until I spoke to my tutor, the one that was helping me out and university became an option. She spoke to me about what doors that would open, the courses that were available. And by this point I was, I was probably tired a little bit, a bit like I just want to get up, go to work and come home. But I decided you know what, it's a good idea. I think not just thinking of the next few months years this is, is for my future for my career for work for when I'm older, and I've got a family to look after. I decided that university was the way to go. So we decided on a course, Business and IT, or Business Information and IT, because that was the future. We enrolled me at Liverpool. Cara McGoogan 13:35We've talked about some of the survival techniques already. But are there any other things that you feel like you've learned from going through this quite difficult childhood and teenage years, that you've brought into you adult life with you? James 13:46Yeah, there's lots of things I've learned, things that I'm still learning now. Number one is talking about hard issues and things that upset you and showing your emotions. Up until now, I've not really spoken about my childhood, because I was so ashamed even until recent years, and embarrassed by it, I didn't talk at all. I buried it deep. So it's bringing out all the emotions again and going through it again. But as much as that hurts for the day, the day after I feel so much better, so fresher. Through my earlier career the streses I used to get with, with work and getting jobs done and it was nice to think, it's not that bad. Sometimes when I'm upset, angry or stressed. You just think you know what I've been through worse. This is nothing. I'm probably never gonna remember this in a few months, and then you sort of feel, feel better. I also like goal setting, I think throughout the whole process, I’d have my little goals to get me through the day of like, “how am I gonna get to school today and how am I going to hide the fact that I'm homeless?”. Then it became like a weekly mission of like, what can I put together, by the end of this week, get all my courseworks in but also make sure I’ve eaten enough, food, made sure that I still got some money left that I'd saved. It wasn't until it dawned on me, I think it was when all my friends passed the first year of college and they were all excited about getting, they’d just done their AS Levels, they're gonna do A Levels and go to uni, and have this future plan, that I thought, I need a goal. I could spiral down a darker path if I just keep planning my days, my weeks, I need a future goal. So that's still something I do now, as cheesy as that sounds, it's something I've taken with me of I now need to see where I'm going to be in the next five years, how can I get to that? And then smaller goals, to get me to that five year goals, probably change it here and there depending on situations, but as long as I know what it is I want. I seem to be able to get on fine. Cara McGoogan 15:41That's very admirable. How do you support your own mental health, you know, not putting too much pressure on yourself, and also making sure that you do stay well? James 15:50Once it all had finished, and I finished uni and got a graduate job, I felt that everything was okay, I'd got through the hard part. And it's not the case, it's something that I still struggle with. It was worse, in my mid 20s, I would have terrible nightmares. I didn't sleep for years, even afterwards that I just was normal to have 3,4 hours sleep a night. It was something that crept up on me that I didn't see coming. And I did have two breakdowns, probably in my life from my past, because I didn't deal with it didn't talk about it. What I do is now talk, talk about it, I talk with my wife, I talk about it with my friends, my family. My family, not so much because it gets a little bit difficult, because they start to feel guilty and stuff at that point. Cara McGoogan 16:35But, you did reconnect with both your Mum and your Dad? James 16:38I speak to my Mum quite regularly. But my Dad became my best friend. The things my Dad was going through, the older I got, the more life I lived. And I forgave him, I thought, you know what, you had a difficult time, you had a breakdown, if anything, I wish I'd spoke to him back then. But 14, 15 year old boys not gonna bring that with his Dad. But it's something I'm gonna, probably take on my adventure as a Dad with my Son. I think I'm going to make sure he feels comfortable talking about his emotions and might even let him know, days where I'm upset or angry. And recently, my Grandma passed away and I cried and I cried in front of him. And he was so comforting and so nice and cuddled up to me to make sure I was better. In the past, I'd have been ashamed like that, I would have only cried when I was on my own or away from people before you know, but I thought I'm upset now, I'm just gonna let it go. Cara McGoogan 17:29That's great that you've got to that point now. So in the workplace, how have you taken your experience and, you know, learnt from it, what has it taught you about your work and your job? James 17:41I’ve probably struggled on a, or felt that I’ve struggled on a personal level for it going up the ladder of companies. Even in a social context. I don't, in a group of people, I don't ever feel comfortable. And I have this sort of inner monologue that's constantly telling me that I'm not the same as everyone else. I'm just different. I do blame my past. And it was only recently I've learned the term, imposter syndrome. And I've looked into this, as some of the things I've learned about imposter syndrome, does relate to how I feel. I do sometimes, I don't feel that I'm good enough that the work I do is probably not the standard. Sometimes I feel like I'm a needy member of staff. And sometimes like, please tell me, it's good enough. Keep me up to date that you're happy with my work and my output. Cara McGoogan 18:26But reading up on it, have you learned any strategies or things that you can help in kind of addressing imposter syndrome? James 18:35Yeah, a lot of it is about learning how to deal with the mistakes you've made, so not dwelling too much on the fact you've made a mistake, that everyone makes mistakes, and you don't make the mistake just because you don't feel as good as everyone else. Everyone makes mistakes, but how to deal with it afterwards because they say that that's a lot of it. Cara McGoogan 18:52To be fair,  I think, actually, it's quite good if you can speak to your manager and say, “are you happy with the work I'm doing?” Because that reassurance I'm sure actually helps both of you in your working relationship? James 19:03But then I do think, maybe this imposter syndrome kicks in straight afterwards. So I recently booked in a one to one, I just needed some reassurance and guidance, I'm going down the right route. As we finished the call, I was like, “why did I do that? Why was I so needy? Why did that even cross my mind that I wasn't doing a good enough job? Surely someone will tell me if I wasn't doing a good enough job”, you know, that sort of attitude? Cara McGoogan 19:26That's difficult, isn't it? Because you go to work still as yourself and with all your past and your history behind you. But you know, it's not necessarily something that you tell your colleagues and they don't know that all the things that are playing in your head because of all the experiences that you've gone through in your past. James 19:42So hopefully they will listen to this now. Cara McGoogan 19:43And that leads us nicely to one of my last questions, which is, what it's meant for you to share your story for the first time? James 19:50This month has been, been hard, but my wife has been brilliant through it. She's been understanding, she's givem me space when I needed to, she has been there when I needed to talk and even got to a point where she was like, “right we're talking because you're being an idiot”. It’s probably gonna affect me for, for the rest of today. And then I'll feel new again, I'll feel refreshed and what my plan is now is to get help, professional help dealing with it. Because everything I'm doing at the moment I'm, I’m either looking on the internet or just talking. I don't know if there's ever a cure for mental health, or, you just have to exercise it and learn as you go and try and recognise the signs of when you feeling low and down or, or if there's actually a time where it'll just disappear. And I'll actually be, be clear of it. But I have struggled to get help externally through, through the NHS in the past, with a few declines, because I'm not at the state that they require me, or I've not hit the score that's required. The Samaritans have been great, I’ve phoned them a fair few times. I did see the stigma of Samaritans as suicidal. And I've never been at that, I've never been to a point, where I don't want to want to live. So I've never thought of phoning them. But there was one day that I decided that just gonna see what it's like, I'm just going to going to do, I'm sad, I haven't slept for weeks, therefore, you know, I'm just gonna give them a call. And it was brilliant. But yeah, it's probably ideal or a time now to look at how Vodafone deal with it and what they offer? Cara McGoogan 21:15Yeah, that's good, now that is making you think of other services that you can seek out. And talking about this has made you think about how you might be able to help other people that are in similar situations or have been through similar experiences. James 21:28Yeah, it is something that's always, always sort of been on my mind of, of how can I help someone that's in that situation now? I think first of all, talking about it, is number one. So I've done that bit. I've considered speaking to the school I went to and just seeing if they want me to do a talk or phoning the shelter that I went to see if they have any sort of volunteer work. I do sort of feel like I've got to the point where I want to give something back now to some of the services that helped me out. But also, I've got that advice there. I can let people know this is a way out, offer guidance. Cara McGoogan 22:03Well it's great, you've got to that point where you're thinking about that. In terms of your family who've really been there for you and sort of changed things a lot. Is there a kind of anything that you want to say about your Son and your Wife and kind of how you take this experience to be with them? James 22:19I always had this fear of showing emotions, my Dad was solid, he never cracked. And as much as that's admirable thing to do, that he can put on a brave face, and nobody wants someone that's just going to always be emotional, and always go on about their issues. I'm just gonna make sure my Son knows it's okay. That if he’s sad, is upset, and then he, he can always come to me. The other thing I really want him to do is make decisions based on wanting to make the decision, not survival or necessity and I want you to be comfortable. wanting to know that when he finishes school, if he's had a bad day that you can come over, there's definitely gonna be heat in hot water. If he wants a bath, there's gonna be food. And he sounds strange to say, I want him to have a normal, normal life. Cara McGoogan 23:04And right at beginning we talked about how you want to share your story because, you know, it shows that things can get better. So I thought it might be nice to finish with the question of what are your hopes for the future? James 23:17My future plan is, to be successful in my job to have a career that's dependable, a strong company. So therefore I can provide for my family and be able to achieve all the things I've just mentioned. I want to make sure there's a safe environment for my Son and my Wife that we live, happy, happy in, we're able to do the normal things everyone does. I sort of want to make people realise and listen to this that as hard as things are as difficult as some things can be, that as much as it’s dark and troublesome at times now, that it's not always going to be like that, there's going to be a way out of it, I’m sure there’s a way of getting through this to a to a happy ending. Cara McGoogan 23:56I think it's very inspiring. And thank you for sharing your story. I know it has been difficult talking about it, but we really appreciate it. James 24:04Well thank you for, for listening and having me on. Cara McGoogan 24:07I hope you've been as moved and inspired as I have by James his story, the ways he's found to recover from a traumatic past and how he cares for his mental health. This has been We Are Vodafone, a podcast series brought to you by Vodafone for Vodaphone people. If you want to find out more, head to the resources in the show notes below.