To mark International Women’s Day, we interviewed a truly inspiring female leader, Poppy Jaman, on her experience as a BAME female leader and on mental health in the workplace. Poppy Jaman OBE is CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My experience as a BAME woman who has experienced mental ill-health has made me extremely passionate about addressing inequality and injustice within society. I would describe myself as an activist who wants to have a positive impact on the world we live in, and for the last 20 years, I have trying to do this by driving change around mental health. Our health is the biggest asset we have, and there is no health without mental health. There is no doubt that a stigma still exists around mental health. Throughout my career I have been working hard to break down these barriers. Through my role at the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA), it’s great to be playing a pivotal role across the City in creating mentally healthy workplaces.
What highlights and challenges have you encountered during your career?
In 2016, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, where I was CEO, was named as one of the UK’s fastest growing women-led small businesses and in 2017, it was included on a list of Europe’s 1,000 fastest growing companies. As a not for profit organisation, focusing on helping individuals and businesses become mental health literate, this recognition was absolutely a high point in my career.
One of the biggest challenges I have faced has been around working in the mental health field without a clinical background. However, I fully believe I can bring a fresh perspective which is not biased towards any one profession and allows me to see the bigger picture. I use my experience to drive change by developing communities of people who are all striving to end the mental health stigma.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for women in the workplace?
It’s important for women to have positive role models across all levels of organisations. We need to give the next generation of women in the workplace people to look up to and inspire them to go beyond what they think they can do. It was never on my radar growing up that I could own my own home, let alone be a CEO of a company, so it’s important for women to know they can dream big and not limit themselves.
What advice can you offer women as they progress in their careers?
Coaching has been a huge part of my life and career, and I think it’s important for women to build this into their own personal development. There are some great training courses and leadership development programmes available and I believe these can be extremely valuable, particularly if you meet people from different industries, as this will often give you a great insight into how different businesses work.
Finally, and this again comes down to having confidence in ourselves, if you see a job description which you feel you can do 60 per cent of, you need to apply for it. The other 40 per cent will come from your growth and development in the role. And, even if you fail, you will learn from the experience!
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Michelle Obama is a fantastic inspiration – I’m reading her book at the moment and she comes across as charismatic, articulate and able to argue the position for women in a bold way. I also think Reni Eddo Lodge, the author of “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” is also a big inspiration to me. She is able to talk about something that is incredibly political in an accessible way and is paving the way for hugely beneficial changes in how our society operates.”
Do you feel woman suffer more than men in the work place in terms of mental health?
I don’t think we can separate mental health into a male or female issue. It can affect anyone, at any time. And, even if people don’t experience mental ill-health themselves, it’s likely they will have someone in their life, whether it’s a loved one, friend or colleague, who has been affected. The important question when it comes to mental health is around how we can create healthy workplaces for everyone.
What does a good workplace culture look like, in terms of gender equality?
In an ideal world, this would mean equality in terms of access to opportunities and job roles across all organisations. Getting to a point where boardrooms of businesses across the UK and jobs at every level are representative of men and women is where we need to be before we can say we have achieved gender equality in the workplace.
Do you think HR is responsible for turning a business’ work culture around? How does culture change best take place?
No, it’s the responsibility of board members and senior leaders to foster the culture of a workplace. HR can do a lot to influence the culture in its role as a support function, but to change the culture of an organisation, it’s the leaders who need to take charge and lead by example.
What do you want to accomplish this year?
CMHA is already established in London and Hong Kong, but this year we want to take it further. Mental health is a global issue and we’re looking to expand our framework across the UK and beyond. We’re also keen to expand CMHA to new sectors; traditionally our members have been in the financial and professional services sector, but we are now open to new sectors who want to work with us to create mentally healthy environments. With over six years’ experience in helping businesses build strong mental health strategies, we welcome a conversation with anyone looking to do the same.
Interested in diversity? We recommend the Diversity and inclusion Conference 2019.