Last month, representatives of nine Drive Forward business partners witnessed an insightful fishbowl exercise chaired by business psychologist Binna Kandola. Three care-experienced young people took centre stage and talked about their personal experiences and the impact their background in care had on their interactions in the world of work.
“I do feel like I have less ‘social currency’ to spend… Where I work people are mostly privately educated, have done a gap year, are sporty and lead healthy life styles. Those are things I had to learn. They’re not ingrained in me.”
“I may see things at work completely different due to my previous experiences. Small situations can turn into a big battle with yourself.”
“Do I “perform” in the workplace? A lot of my life at school was a performance… When I feel that I’m under threat I don’t know how to engage… so I might just run away.”
24 year old G. completed a degree in marketing and joined the Civil Service three years ago. Now working in a Senior Executive Officer position for the Government Communications Department she says, “I don’t feel that I’m pretending anymore. I faked it and now I feel I’m more in a place where I made it.”
N. recently started an internship in the Department for Work and Pensions.
“There is no such thing as normal. Looking for it you will alienate yourself. For 13 years I wanted to be normal and now at 24, normal doesn’t exist. This has lifted so much weight off my shoulders.”
Currently working for Drive Forward, Travon notes that it can be hard for people to integrate into a new environment. They may be easily alienated and feel like they don’t belong. Being aware of these feelings and knowing that they don’t reflect how other people truly see us, Travon makes the point that it is not only up to the employer and fellow colleagues to create a supportive environment, but that individuals themselves have the power to feel comfortable in new places.
The audience was then invited to comment on the stories they’ve heard and ask questions. The result was a highly constructive discussion based on mutual respect and understanding. The one big question in the room was: What can we do to make sure that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet? To make sure that everybody is feeling empowered?
We believe, that by actively listening to each other and being open-minded about the other party’s subjective experiences and feelings, anybody can take the first step to finding an answer to these questions.
What the audience took away:
How we take for granted and make assumptions without understanding the people who join our teams. Eye opening. Such talented, intelligent young people who have thrived in the face of challenge.
That onboarding a care leaver requires some pointed discussion around which conversations to have, when, and at whose instigation. And that we (collectively) have to be careful not to create a tiered system in the workplace where some employees are treated differently from others.