Del and Ainslie

Breath Out – Volume 2

Del and Ainslie

1 – Tell us a little about who you are, who you work for and what you do?

I’m Ainslie Wilson-Shearer the Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing manager for Mills & Reeve. We’re a law firm with seven offices around the UK and my role is to manage our diversity, inclusion and wellbeing strategy across the whole of the firm. I’m based in Leeds but work across all the offices.

2 – How long have you been in your industry?

I’ve been in the legal sector for about 18 months but been in diversity, inclusion and wellbeing for about five years now however my whole career has had a social value under pinning it, having started in fundraising and then in project management roles with clients in the charity sector and NHS.

3 – What makes the business you represent unique in relation to mental health?

I think how seriously they take it. At first I was nervous about moving into the legal sector as I’d heard from others that good work life balance was hard to find and that employers expected long hours . Mills & Reeve is not like that at all. It is values-led, and really committed to ensuring its people enjoy good wellbeing as much as possible. We have a great work life balance and our people are really well engaged. Expectations are very high, as you would expect from a well-respected and professional firm, but it does balance that with actual care for its people. Knowing that someone’s well and they’re healthy in all aspects of their life, they are more likely to be productive and to stay with the firm and build their career here. Ultimately, we want people to feel like they can thrive in this environment.

4 – Tell us something most people won’t know about you.

I’m a bit of an open book, there’s not a lot people don’t know about me. Maybe one of the things people that surprises people is that I grew up in Australia but – after more than 22 years of living in the UK – I would never consider moving back. Most British people can’t understand why I would trade the sun, sea and surf for the UK, but I love it here. My whole adult life has been lived here, I have a young family, and I love the vibrancy and variation the UK has to offer. I’ve lived in six different places around the UK, from the South East up to Scotland, and a few places in between, and they have all been so different to each other. Plus, when the soles of your  shoes have melted to the pavement while you’ve been waiting for a bus, the glamour of living in a hot country wears off pretty quickly!

5 – As part of the #BreatheOut initiative, which highlights the positive impact of talking to someone, especially if you are struggling and also being active. How important are these two factors of combatting mental Ill-health to you?

I’ll be honest I’m a really indoorsy person, I like being inside and love my house. We all learnt however, throughout lockdown that doing nothing but be inside, is really bad for us. There’s something about being in nature, not just a quick walk around the block, but something about being in woodlands and being surrounded by something green, maybe hearing water or nature, that is very calming. I’m very lucky to have woodland like this on my doorstep. Mills & Reeve has a hybrid working policy, so I spend about half my time working from home. For me, getting a walk in at lunchtime or just after work is a minute away from the chaos that can be balancing a busy job and a young child. For me, it’s essential.

6 – Have you ever personally struggled with your own mental health. If so how did you or do you deal with it?

I’ve always been lucky enough to not struggle with any mental health conditions necessarily but everybody has really great times in their life and everyone goes through struggles and I’ve certainly had my fair share. The most recent of those happened during lockdown, when I had a miscarriage and that was a much wanted baby, to go along with the little girl I’ve already got. Unfortunately, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriages so it’s not an uncommon thing to happen, although that stat might a surprise to some. I knew a lot of the statistics already, doing the job that I do but going through one personally is completely different. What I found helped me most was talking about it, sharing my experience and hearing about others’ as everyone’s is different when it comes to miscarriage. What helped me most was having a really close knit set of friends, who have sadly also experienced miscarriage and other very difficult fertility challenges. The support they gave me and my partner was really important. One of the other things that really helped was that my partner and I decided to raise money for Leeds General Infirmary, in part because of the incredible care they gave to us. The midwives were amazing and we wanted to raise money for LGI so during baby loss awareness week, that’s what we did. I remember putting things on social media, including LinkedIn, and the amount of people from my personal and professional network who wrote back saying, ‘me too’ made me feel like part of a really terrible but enormously supportive club. People came together from all different ages and genders and it made me feel much less alone so talking and sharing certainly helped me.

7 – In business there is a stigma attached to people will mental health issues. Why do you think that is?

Historically, I think it’s been a lack of understanding and compassion that has excluded people with mental health challenges from the workplace. I remember my very early career in the early noughties, hearing things like, ‘they’re off sick again and we’re now going to have to pick up the slack!’ They’re probably off sick all the time because they’re not getting all the support and adjustments they need in the workplace to thrive. I do think things are changing. Seeing some really robust work place adjustments and policies is heartening. Mental health conditions should not a barrier to the workplace. I think it’s really important for employers to be proactive and let people know that they are going to put things in place to ensure they’re getting the support they need. Saying ‘we’ve recruited you, you work here, we want you to thrive’ is crucial, as is understanding that different people will get to a good place in different ways. I think it’s about working with individuals and understanding what their needs are. We’re seeing the stigmas reduce but there’s still lots of work to do. I think we do this in part by increasing visibility and representation and seeing leaders really step up as their role is so crucial: increasing their understanding, compassion and approach to inclusion. At Mills & Reeve, we genuinely want people to be their authentic selves at work because if people are having to channel energy into hiding parts of themselves then they have less energy to channel into doing a great job for our clients.

8 – What tips or guidance could you offer other people who are maybe struggling with their own mental health

Find a community, share your own challenges and stories. The more you talk about it, the less overwhelming it will feel and the more people will then put their hands up and say me ‘me too’. And if anyone’s struggling to support a team member just be kind, even if they’ve shared their full story, you can never fully understand what it is to be them. Finally, don’t bottle it up and hide it away! I don’t think this helps, even if you think that by ignoring it, it will go away.

Date Completed – 24/01/2023

Participants – Ainslie Wilson-Shearer and Delroy McGee

Location –  Mean Wood Park, Leeds

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