cover art for Learning for life, freedom and friendship

We Are Vodafone

Learning for life, freedom and friendship

Ep. 2

For our second episode of this series, Cara is joined by Hema Kariyappa and Rekha Devadiga, two inspiring women who discover they have a lot to learn from one another. Meeting for the first time on the show, they discover they’ve both grown up in Mumbai, India, and have a lot in common.

Vodafone supports all employees to embrace the freedom that learning unlocks, both personally and professionally.

To read the transcript, please scroll below:



Rekha Devadiga, Cara McGoogan, Hema Kariyappa

Cara McGoogan: Welcome 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.


Cara McGoogan: I'm Cara McGoogan, a journalist and podcaster and in this second episode, we're gonna talk about the theme, learn, relearn, unlearn. My guests today, are Hema Karyiappa and Rekha Devadiga. They join me remotely to talk about challenges they faced and opportunities they found in their lives. To start off, I asked them to introduce themselves to each other.

Hema Kariyappa: Hi everyone, I'm Hema Kariyappa. I recently joined Vodafone about three months ago, as a solution architect. I live in the beautiful city of Bath, in the southwest of England. And I moved to UK in 2003, from Mumbai, India.


Rekha Devadiga: Great to e-meet you Hema, this is Rekha Devadiga and I'm based out of Pune, in India. I take care of the communications team in Vodafone Intelligent Solutions.


Cara McGoogan: It's great to have you both on the show today. We thought it was really interesting how you both grew up in Mumbai. And we're going to be talking about learn, relearn and unlearn. So it might be really interesting to start with how your backgrounds have shaped you as people. Hema, do you want to go first?


Hema Kariyappa: Yeah, sure. I will. I was actually born in South India, my parents migrated in the 70s, to Mumbai, from the south of India. And I think a lot of what I am today, I owe it a lot to my parents, largely to my dad. So my dad actually took night classes to learn English and to find a decent job. So that has always been running behind my mind to know that he always leads stress on education. And my Dad encouraged me to study. Although I wanted to grow up to be a neurosurgeon, computers had started becoming quite prevalent in the 90s. And so when I wanted to choose my vocation, instead of medicine, I actually picked Computer Engineering. I worked three years in India, and then I moved to Bath. So most of my working life has now been in UK.


Rekha Devadiga: I believe Hema, that we were destined to meet. And probably we might be soul sisters, and I'll tell you why, okay. Both my parents are from South India, too. And they migrated to Mumbai for a living. My father, he took night classes to learn English, he really wanted to become a journalist. However, because of financial conditions he could not and he started working in a hotel as a waiter. And he worked near the airport, his guests were primarily people who used to travel and he used to tell wonderful stories about their travels to me, whenever he used to come back from work. He is the one who encouraged me to study, to travel as much as I want. And oh my god, I just can't believe that, you know, we have so many things in common.


Hema Kariyappa: We have such similar backgrounds.


Rekha Devadiga: I think probably it's the podcast team or destiny and Vodafone that got us together.


Hema Kariyappa: Probably, yes.

Rekha Devadiga: Brilliant. Yeah, so my childhood was quite a difficult one. However, I suppose I was the most happiest at that point in time, because though we did not have the resources as much as we could. We had wonderful parents who supported us in everything that we did. I wanted to become a doctor, like you, you wanted to become a neurosurgeon as well. And I had really good marks. However, because of the financial constraints, I could not pursue studies. But what I learned throughout, in my journey is that and from my experiences of my father and mother as well, that education is the most important thing, when you study hard, when you learn new things. And there is no age to learn anything. I mean, just two months back, I started learning how to drive and even ride a bicycle, I did not do that in my childhood, or even for that matter to swim. There is no time limit to learn anything. And it's only when you learn, when you expand your knowledge. And when you share that knowledge with others. That's when you truly grow as a person.

Hema Kariyappa: I absolutely concur with that Rehka, education was a way for me to become financially independent, not because we ever lacked anything, but if we aspired for something, we always had to work hard towards it. My dad taught me that very early on by saying, oh, if you want a bicycle, then you need to do very well in your studies. And he pushed me to say, can you come first in your class, so that's how I got my first pair of rollerblades. The next year, I got my first bicycle and I treasured that bike. I would clean it every Sunday. It gave me that sense of freedom that I've earned something. I'm valuing it. I'm looking after it. But yes, the most important thing was to become financially independent, so that we could travel. I've always wanted to travel. So I think that's what our parents taught us, although we have limited means you shouldn't limit your dreams, you should be able to do whatever you like, and go ahead and achieve that. So yeah, that's how we all grow.

Cara McGoogan: I'm interested in some of the challenges that you face and how you've taken those learnings into your adulthood. You said Rehka that you're learning to ride a bike now? Is that something that kind of you've brought with you? And how has that been going?

Rekha Devadiga: So while I was a child, like I said, the resources were limited, and we did not have a bike, we did not even have our own home, or for that matter, clothes as well. So we used to borrow it from someone else. I mean, that was the situation we used to live in the Mumbai slums, we focused only on our education and the fact that we have to move from this place. Coming to Vodafone was a 360 degree change for me, before I was living in a slum. And now I'm living in a flat. Right now, because I have the time, because I have the money, the resources, I can follow my dreams, I can do what I did not do at that point in time in my life. And that's what I'm doing right now. So whether it is traveling or you know, going out with friends doing something or the other, which helps me to grow, I wanted to learn new things, I just don't want to stop. So whatever challenges I have faced in my life earlier, I am getting over them by learning new things, and enhancing myself and the people around.

Cara McGoogan: What’s it  been like to ride a bike in your adulthood?

Rekha Devadiga: Imagine, you know, you have a six year old riding next to you, and he's riding so well. And here you are not able to balance the bike. So it was a little bit embarrassing, but I would say it was exhilarating. It just felt so good to fly. Same experience was with the car as well, I had this fear that I might just crash into someone else or probably you know, get someone under my car. But after a month of practice, I can safely say that I can drive a car, probably I don't know how to park it, I will learn it.

Hema Kariyappa: I think you are very brave there Rica, because I do get scared about driving in Mumbai, although I've grown up there and I started my driving lessons there. So I think you are far braver than me. And comparing your bike experience learning alongside a child. I never actually learned a musical instrument. So when my daughter was learning piano here, I started attending her classes. And just by watching what the teacher taught her I used to learn alongside her. And I decided that I will take the music theory exams with her. So it was quite fun. When I walked in the exam hall, the ladies who marked on the roll call the like, right, so this is Renessa. And she was telling me Oh, so you're the mum, you can leave now she’ll be fine. I said no, I'm taking the exam along with her. So there was a bit of a shock. But here my daughter and me sitting behind each other in the exam hall taking exams, it was fun. Learning new things comes with its own, in India, we would call it Nasha, it's got its own, high.

Rekha Devadiga: I totally agree with you. My dad at least a month before he passed away. We were sitting together and learning grammar from the Wren & Martin grammar book. I remember the last thing that we read was about adverb clauses. He really wanted to learn about adverb clauses and I don't remember him being at home during the weekdays because he used to come late at night. But at least on Sundays, we used to sit together and have that conversation for half an hour or so where he used to tell me about his stories. And then I used to teach him a little bit about grammar.

Hema Kariyappa: That's beautiful. Can I ask when your dad passed away?

Rekha Devadiga: He passed away in 2008.

Hema Kariyappa: My dad actually passed away very recently on Jan 1st, and this was during lockdown. I was here and he was back in India. So it was a very difficult time because everything that that I went through was online. But since then, in the last three months since he passed away, I've been going back and thinking about how he's shaped my life. My dad had a green thumb, and no matter where he went, he would always grow flowers and fruits and vegetable plants. One of the things that I really feel bad about is that I didn't quite pick up his green thumb. When he came to visit us, I told him we've got this garden do whatever you like. So he grew beautiful flowers, he grew carrots, he grew courgettes. And when I asked him to teach me I didn't actually learn, but now that he's passed away, we've inherited some farmland and my brother and I, we have vowed that we will keep that legacy going just because I know how much he valued his farmland. He said that, you know, no matter what we do, we cannot be removed from our farms and the food that we eat and we need to learn to grow our own fruits and vegetables and even flowers for all the beauty that they provide. That is going to be something that I want to take up at some point, make him proud that, you know I can actually grow something and maintain it.

Rekha Devadiga: I'm so proud Have you and I'm so glad that you are doing this for him and for everyone else as well. Thank you.

Cara McGoogan: Hema, that's such a nice story about your dad. Another story that I thought it might be nice for you to share with Rekha, is about your swimming challenges because I know that Rekha has been learning to swim recently. And you've kind of had some similar experiences, challenging yourself swimming.


Hema Kariyappa: I’ll let Rekha go first, you go on Rekha.

Rekha Devadiga: Thank you Hema. Two years back, I went to the swimming pool. And I told him on the very first day, the swimming instructor, hey, you know what, I really want to cross the English Channel. And he looked at me and he said, okay, you come here for 10 days, and then I will decide whether you're ready to do that or not. I went there for about 20 days. And then I changed my role, something other came up, and I did not prioritize this. This year. I said, now I have to do it. I have no option. And this year, I'm going to swim. And I took a one month crash course with him for two hours every day. And finally, I think I can keep myself afloat without that rubber tube or tire. I believe I can swim now. Yes.

Hema Kariyappa: I do hope that you continue swimming because it is, I find it very relaxing actually. I do hope you actually cross the English Channel and if you do it, maybe we could try it together. So my story also actually starts back in Mumbai. When I started working. There was the YMCA club very close to my workplace, and I was earning, so we took lessons and I started learning to swim, I started learning to dive. When I came to UK. I wanted to continue that. So that was all good. However, then came triathlons. And with triathlons. You have to do open water swim. Everybody's like, you'll be fine. You'll be okay. You should be fine. Others were like, it's a completely different ballgame. You need to prepare, make sure you're not panicking. And on that morning, my very first triathlon, very first open water swim, we were swimming, we were going to be swimming in a lock. And a lock means something like a canal where they've blocked off. I purchased all the kit; wetsuit, everything. I get into the water and it was just so different. I was very cold. And I think I was panicking. I was hyperventilating, I was talking to other people, trying to calm myself down. And as soon as the whistle blew, everyone splashed about they went ahead, that made me hyperventilate a bit more, when you've got everyone splashing around you, you don't have the space to start swimming. And I just refused to put my head down, because the waters are dark. I put my head in, I couldn't see anything. I said, I'm not putting my head and I'm going to continue swimming, I started hyperventilating, I just couldn't complete the swim. I did try. But when I saw that the rest of them had already completed a lap. Whereas, we had to complete two laps, and I was maybe like just 10% on the lap. That's when I gave up. I had two people rescuing me trying to put me onto a motorboat. And then they put me back on to terra firma. And then one of the race ladies volunteer, she came in and she said, if this was your first open water swim, it is going to be tricky, you know, don't give up, take some lessons, and you should be able to come back. So that's exactly what I did. I took two lessons, private lessons, and then I signed up for another triathlon this time, it was a shorter distance. And then since then I've been doing open water swim. I think it was me wanting to do stuff, but then not preparing for it thinking yeah, I will wing it. And I'll see how it goes. It can't be that bad. That was a learning curve for me that even though I think I'm prepared, I may not be prepared enough.

Rekha Devadiga: You prove the proverb correct. Failure is the first stepping stone towards success.

Cara McGoogan: Lovely proverb. It might be nice for us to talk about how you've brought some of these outside experiences into the workplace, the sort of challenges you've overcome and that idea of bringing your whole self to work. Rekha, do you want to start?

Rekha Devadiga: Learning has always been an integral part of my life. And it will always be. And for me, it is really important that I keep learning new things. And this is what I do. I'm a morning person, I wake up every day at five in the morning, I ensure that I do some exercise, then I get into learning mode. So whether it is a LinkedIn course, a Udemy course or learning a new language, reading newspapers, this is generally my day-to-day work. Apart from that it is also very important that I share my knowledge with other people. In my school and college days when I did not have any money to pay for tuition. It is my school friends and my teachers who supported me, they gave me these extra classes. And that is exactly what I do, even now in case if there is any new team member who has joined the team, or someone who needs my support, I ensure that I give my time so that they do well as well. I totally believe that when we work together we work as a team. And the team success matters more than an individual success. Apart from that I observe people and I learn and I want to become a leader who is human, who is authentic, more than the skills that person might have, he needs to be a human. I have encountered some really amazing leaders in Vodafone, who have given out their human self and showed everyone how a leader should be. And that is how I want to be, I learned from them and I want to inculcate that in my life as well.

Hema Kariyappa: You couldn't have put it better Rekha, you're saying everything that I want to say. So nothing more to add, because I think the kind of industry we are in, you cannot do without constant learning, there's always something new that you have to pick up. As you said, working collaboratively, that is what helps, and I don't think I've reached this position without receiving help from a lot of other people. So giving back is also paramount for me, if I've learned something, I do feel excited that I've picked up something new and I want to kind of spread the joy of having learned something new. But I like your thoughts that you want to be a leader, but be a compassionate leader. Absolutely great.

Rekha Devadiga: One more thing to add here is that you should also not shy away from asking help from someone. When I joined the organization. I did not even know how to open an Outlook and I joined the internal IT team, can you imagine? And it is the floor support person who actually helped me how to open an Outlook, how to send out a calendar invite. I completely believe that if you are a part of a particular team, you should know in and out of what the team does. And that is how, without even having a technology background, I ensured I did my ITIL certification, learned what the investigations team does, or the business continuity support team does. Because it's very important for me to know what my team is doing or what my organization is doing. So that I can communicate better to others.

Hema Kariyappa: What I have found is that asking for help, doesn't make you a lesser person that makes you humble. And humility is a very important quality, to continue to learn, learn to ask for help, because that should keep you humble, always and grounded. And I think that is one of the key traits that a leader needs to have.

Cara McGoogan: What are some of the challenges each of you have faced in the workplace, and how have you sort of dealt with those and move forward? For example, as a parent.

Hema Kariyappa: I think one of the difficult things that I faced was, when I was pregnant with my first child, I had early on indicated to my team and to the company that if I can, I would like to work till the last day, if possible. There are physical limitations to what a fully pregnant woman can do. And also with the attention span when you are, when there is a nesting period. But if you have a team who haven't worked with a pregnant woman first before, they are also not sure of how to handle that, although I was still delivering what I needed to it took me longer to deliver and it came up as a negative feedback. For me, what was important at that stage was to sensitize the team members about the situation that a person can or team member can be in and the physical challenges that I was facing in trying to do my work. That is something that I had to put it out to the team members, to the HR to say, although I have agreed to work, it doesn't mean I can work in my full capacity. So then they had to actually go back and review their own processes, the kind of work that was given to me. When I came back after my maternity leave, it was my decision to go back part time, I found that that became slightly career limiting. So I had to then actually go back and have another chat to say, there are these limitations that I'm finding at work. And can we have some new processes in place? I see that positive change in most organizations now. But back then no, I had to fight a few battles.

Rekha Devadiga: Hema, I know I can't relate to that because you know, I have not been a mother yet. One of the best things about working for Vodafone and this has been my first corporate job as well, is that you get a lot of opportunities to grow. And that is primarily when you ask for it. And that has been the highlight of my career as well. I joined as an Executive Assistant managing the calendars of a senior SLT member and I moved through an internal job posting to the Marketing Team, then the Strategy Team and then again back to Communications. When I look at challenges, yes, there were challenges. The very first challenge was when I joined the IT team and I did not know what to do and I still ask my boss, why did he keep me in that role after the goof up that I did. He had to go to Dusseldorf once and he was supposed to go from Pune to Bangalore and then from Bangalore to Dusseldorf the same night. I ensured that his Bangalore to Dusseldorf ticket has been booked, but not Pune to Bangalore and I messed up completely. So, he just went to the travel desk himself and he got that ticket arranged. He did not say a word to me, and the next time we spoke, that was after two weeks when he came back from his visit, and asked him, you did not even say one word to me. And he said, Rekha, it was your first time. I'm sure if you had known, you wouldn't have done this. Which was right. So I got this person who ensured that, you know, I learned from my mistakes, and he wasn't harsh on me. Another challenge came up when our team became global. I reached out to one of my mentors, a Romanian lady and I asked her, what should I do now, it's, I don't know how to handle Egyptians or people in Europe. It's not that I can't communicate with them. But it's important for me to ensure that everyone is on the same page. And she suggested me a book, which is called The Culture Map. And she said, read this book, you will be able to understand how to talk to people, how to deal with them, and more than anything else, remember that they are humans. Just tell them this is what you are going through, this is what you're facing, I'm sure they will understand. And of course, they understood, the most important challenge for me has been the last one year where I had four different managers, one has been an Egyptian one, a British, a Hungarian, and now an Indian. Having those authentic conversations has helped me to get a broader perspective about life, about people, about work, and how each one of us can collaboratively work and get the best for the organization as well as for ourselves. So yes, there have been challenges, but there have been people too.

Hema Kariyappa: Having just listened to you Rekha, the fact that you know, Vodafone has such a great culture, I feel that now that I've joined Vodafone and seen your inspiring story, I feel that I want to start really unleashing my potential here in Vodafone, there are quite a few things that I want to try out. And your story only inspires me to try various things, speak to the right people and as you rightly said, make it happen for myself, it's not good to just land on my plate on my lap.

Rekha Devadiga: You just have to ask for it and people will be there to support you.

Hema Kariyappa: Oh, that's great to hear.

Cara McGoogan: That's a really nice jumping off point for our next question, which is, where do you think you're going from here? What are your future plans, and that can be in work or out of work, don't feel like it has to be career goals necessarily.

Hema Kariyappa: I do come from a technology background. And now that I've understood technology, I want to start using that technology to help people I have a lot of ideas about how I want to use the technology. One of the good things is that Vodafone encourages women leaders, so that's where I see myself, as a women leader, pushing products that I want to create that will help the community or help, you know the wider world. I do want to add here and Rekha, this might be useful to you as well. There is a lady called Rubi Kaur who started Women and Technology Group in Vodafone and that is what I'm part of. We are trying to create a group where women support each other, mentor each other and help each other realize those dreams. So I think that is the baby step that I'm taking, getting involved. And the whole idea is to see if I can mentor someone but also get mentored and help me take the next steps towards a leadership role.

Rekha Devadiga: Really glad to hear that. Hema. And just to let you know, you might have also seen this on Vodafone Workplace group, we have recently launched something called as a Launchpad campaign and any ideas that you have, you can just post it there, and our leaders will look into it. And they will ensure that you know those ideas get implemented. So what are my future plans, one of the things which I regret personally is that I had been so focused on my work in the last eight years that I did not meet my friends as much as I should have or interacted with them. I have not been a part of their lives; their marriages or the birth of their children, or even for that matter, birthdays, anniversaries or deaths in their families. These are the people who have supported me a lot in my early days when I was doing my master's or when I was looking for work. So one of the things which I would really really want to do is go back to them, connect with them more often. One of the other things which I had planned last year, which of course due to COVID I could not do it, was a backpack trip to UK and also to the European countries. I was planning to take about three months off and maybe work from the Vodafone offices in those countries. That was actually my plan. I had actually, I had taken a world map, I had mapped all the locations where Vodafone offices are present so that I go there. I do maybe four hours of work from the office, explore the country be there for two, three days. I really had some big plans last year. So maybe once all this is over, I would like to do that. I would like to focus myself more on CSR, on employee experience. I like to provide a 360 degree change to a person's life and that that I have seen as possible in these two career options as well. And the best part about my current role is that I'm already a part of the HR team. And this is where I would like to go nex,t in corporate social responsibility, and employee experience. And I'm sure things will be good, in fact, great, in the future.

Cara McGoogan: That trip sounds amazing. I hope you get to do it when COVID is all over.

Hema Kariyappa: I know, I'll be rooting for you Rekha, you can come and stay with me in the UK.

Rekha Devadiga: Great, I already have one accommodation, thank you, Hema.


Hema Kariyappa: Yes, there you go.

Cara McGoogan: This has been such a lovely conversation. And I feel like you guys have got on so well, it's been great. Maybe it would be nice to kind of finish by saying one thing that you've each learned from each other, that might be really hard. I feel like we've all learnt a lot from each other here.

Hema Kariyappa: We have almost similar background Rekha. But I feel you have channelled so much energy into everything you want to do. And you're constantly looking to better yourself. I see you as my role model. I learn from everyone. And now I have someone else. I will be thinking about you most of the time. And I'm thinking if Rekha was in this role, how would she have actually approached this particular issue or approach this particular problem? So I can already see you as a mentor for me.

Rekha Devadiga: Thank you so much Hema. And Cara, I'm just thinking, out of the probably what, 100,000 people in Vodafone, we were destined to connect. Oh my god, there are so so so many similarities, whether it is about our parents, about the state that they were born, whether the city that we were brought up together, the organization that we are working for, so so many similarities and similarities in our ways of thinking as well. While you look up to me as an inspiration, I look up to you as well. Probably every single time, I would think about doing something, I will definitely reach out to you or I'll think about you, that this is what Hema has done and this is how I would like to do it as well. So, we echo each other.

Hema Kariyappa: Thank you.


Cara McGoogan: Thank you both so much. It's been so good to chat. Do you think you guys will stay in contact after this?

Hema Kariyappa: Absolutely. As I've mentioned, you know, I already see Rekha as my role model and as a mentor in Vodafone, so even if she doesn't like it, I'm going to be pinging her.

Rekha Devadiga: I have already checked her on Vodafone Workplace and LinkedIn. And at the same time I have found her email ID on sky, so I will be contacting you.


Hema Kariyappa: Wow. So you're one step ahead of me. I have friends in Pune as well Rekha, so next time when I come down to Bombay, I will catch up with you too.

Rekha Devadiga: Thank you and you're very welcome at my place. I hope to see you super soon.

Hema Kariyappa: Yes, hopefully soon.

Cara McGoogan: I hope you've been as inspired as I have by Hema and Rekha’s ideas and stories, the ways they've learned, challenge themselves and kept things exciting in and out of work. 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.

More episodes

View all episodes

  • 2. The Future of IoT

    From saving rhinos to monitoring water acidity in Ibiza, Erik Brenneis and Phil Skipper discuss the Future of IoT. Listen in here.For more information head to our website: Or, you can find the transcript for this episode here:
  • 1. The Future of Connectivity

    From Nokia 3310’s to the death of email and space technology, we caught up with our innovation team to discuss the past, present and future technologies that have and will change the way we live. Listen in here.For more information head to our website:, you can find the transcript for this episode here:
  • 3. Growth: Ambition, determination and learning

    In this latest episode of We Are Vodafone - a podcast sharing the experiences of Vodafone people, we’re joined by Réka Csilla Pusztai-István and Moira Cheng who share how the choices they’ve made in their lives, helped them to evolve and grow their careers to where they are today. Réka and Moira discuss their approaches to decision-making and the importance of learning new skills to grow their careers. The routes they took weren’t always obvious however taking risks and having the confidence to take on new challenges brought new opportunities their way.You can find the full episode transcript here:
  • 2. Coping with grief, loss, and new beginnings - one step at a time

    Welcome to the second series of We Are Vodafone - a podcast sharing the experiences of Vodafone people. To kick off this second series our new host Tim talks to Plamena about a subject that’s often, so difficult to broach, perhaps because it strikes at our deepest fears - bereavement and grief.In this inspiring and moving episode, Plamena shares her journey from losing her husband, who was also a Vodafone employee, to how with the support from her family, colleagues, and Vodafone, she dealt with her bereavement and grief. And then why she chose to do a volcanic trek in Iceland in memory of her husband.
  • 1. #VisibleTechWomen - creating an inclusive society

    Welcome to the second series of We Are Vodafone - a podcast sharing the experiences of Vodafone people. To kick off this series our new host Tim Samuels is joined by Rubi Kaur and Karen Smit, two women who have risen to senior positions within the tech space at Vodafone. Rubi and Karen share how their life experiences have shaped their passion for technology. They also chat about the impact that technology can have on fairness and inclusivity, and the crucial role that technology can play in creating a world without barriers – allowing people to stay in touch and have equal access to opportunities.To find out more and to see the transcript head to the Vodafone website:
  • 6. Long COVID, the menopause and wellness at work

    In the final episode of series one, Cara chats to Jason Grouse and Maria Whiteley. Both have been through life-changing experiences with their health in the past few years. Experiences which, on paper, would seem very different - but when they come together, there are more similarities than you might expect. They chat about how the changes they've experienced have made them feel, and the impact this has had on their personal and professional lives. They also discuss how important support from their colleagues, friends and families has been, and share their top tips for helping others going through similar situations.
  • 5. Neurodiversity and the power of differences at work

    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:
  • 4. Active allyship and sharing life’s experiences

    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 00:02Welcome 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 00:47So 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 01:03Hi, 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 01:37This 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 00:47Absolutely. 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 03:27How did it make you feel George? Like, were you annoyed or surprised or?..George Stone 03:32I 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 05:03And he did manage to make you part of his team, right? George Stone 05:05He did, yeah, and I spent two fabulous years in retail, it was awesome. Katia Stathaki 05:11Because 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 05:26What about you, Katia? What's your experience of allyship? Katia Stathaki 05:30My 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 07:09I 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  07:43Yeah. 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 08:06George, 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 08:24I 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 09:55When 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 11:48Do 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 12:08Yeah, 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 14:16There'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 16:50And George, did you have some questions you wanted to ask of Katia about what it's like in other countries? George Stone 16:56Yeah, 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 17:25I 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 21:06Absolutely, 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 21:21I 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 22:28We 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 22:42Initially, 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 23:23As 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 23:33For 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 24:09So do you have three tips for supporting staff and equality? Mohammed Khan 24:14Keep 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 24:44Going 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 24:55The 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 26:54On 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 28:09George, is there anything you've learned from Katia today that you're going to take away with you? George Stone 28:14Yeah, 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 29:20For 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 30:39I'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 30:52You're going to make me cry now. Cara McGoogan 31:00I 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
  • 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.