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Discussing Anxiety with Conversations: Connecting Diverse Voices

Blog post by: Asif Siddiquee and Justine Harding, Thursday 9 May 2019.

A GCS Grade 6 and an HEO discuss their experiences communicating on anxiety and confidence issues as part of Conversations: Connecting Diverse Voices.

Photo of Asif Siddiquee

Asif Siddiquee, Head of Strategic Communications, Judicial Office

I signed up for the Conversations: Connecting Diverse Voices (CCDV) programme as I thought it would be a valuable opportunity for me to understand about areas of diversity which I haven’t come across before, and to try and help others through my own experience.

I was paired with Justine, who works in DfT as a planner, and from the onset it was clear that we were very different people; however, by talking about our experiences we have found more similarities than differences which has helped us connect in several ways.

In particular, Justine and I have talked about dealing with anxiety and confidence issues. In the past I have dealt with anxiety; particularly when asked to attend meetings or present to senior members where I knew I would be the only BAME person in the room. This anxiety would be further compounded when I knew I had to deliver difficult messages and I would face challenges. As a confident person people assume that I don’t suffer bouts of anxiety or self-doubt and it’s important that as senior leaders we recognise this is normal and support people where needed. Over time I have developed tactics to help resolve my own anxiety which I have shared with Justine.

The other area of focus has been around empowerment and how we can develop this within ourselves. The communications community is specialised, unique and small; and unfortunately, this very environment can sometimes lead to bullying, harassment, and nepotism. These are all things I have experienced or witnessed over the last few years and it is important that we not only feel confident enough to challenge these behaviours but understand that there are avenues and networks to support you where you feel the civil service code is not being adhered to.

I would strongly recommend that other senior members consider partaking in the scheme, to not only try and expand your knowledge of diversity but to also share your experiences with junior members of staff who are going through similar issues we may have faced earlier on in our careers.

Photo of Justine HardingJustine Harding, Strategic Planning Officer, Department for Transport

When I first heard about the CCDV programme, my initial thoughts were that it wasn’t something for me. As a white, middle class woman I have had a privileged upbringing, and (so my thinking went) therefore wouldn’t fit the bill as someone to talk about diversity.

Whilst I can come across as an extremely confident person, I have struggled with anxiety for much of my life. At its most basic, this stems from a fear of failing and is most prominent when I approach a new project or voice an opinion that may be different to that of those in the room. This was one of the reasons I chose to apply to be a part of the programme.

Upon reading more about the scheme it was clear that it was much more than just championing diversity in the workplace, it was about inclusion and empowering those who aren’t necessarily confident enough to speak out.

They say that the best way to tackle a fear is to face it, so as well as it being an opportunity to share my experiences of dealing with anxiety, I faced my fear in doing something where I could fail and applied.

When I was first partnered with Asif, who works in strategic communications in the Judicial Office, I thought that my initial concerns had been warranted. However, after a very open first conversation it was clear that we had much more in common than we initially thought. Here was someone who had also struggled with anxiety, and who had some fantastic coping mechanisms to share which I now use in my everyday life.

In addition, we found a common ground in feeling like the lone person in the room. My previous roles before the civil service have been in extremely male dominated industries meaning I was often the only woman in the room – this was often exacerbated by being young and new to work. Through our conversations it became obvious that this was a situation which Asif has often experienced as the only BAME person in the room.

Past scenarios where we have had to make our voices heard in a room of people who may not listen means that we have a joint passion in not only finding ways of coping with this situation, but also working to balance representation in a room.

My initial worries about taking part in the programme have been completely nulled, and would really advise other people to take part in the scheme. It is a great opportunity to connect with someone who you may not have done otherwise. It is a fantastic learning opportunity for both the junior and senior member of staff.

We still do have some unmatched participants so if you are Grade 6/SCS or equivalent and want to make your mark in D&I you can sign up today by following this link.


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