Humans are natural storytellers. We’ve told stories for as long as we’ve been around: from cave paintings to Shakespeare; from fairy tales to Harry Potter; from TV advertising to Instagram and Snapchat. Storytelling has been used for years by marketing companies to sell us a vision of our future selves, and by journalists to tell us what’s going on in the world; but it’s only recently become a medium for telling our lived experience in society and the workplace. It’s paying huge dividends.
Take one of the UK’s most successful storytelling campaigns as a perfect example: Time to Change is a partnership between Mind and ReThink Mental Illness and was established to end the stigma surrounding mental health. It uses storytelling as a key medium to drive cultural change right across the country. In the last decade, we have seen a significant change in attitudes towards people with mental health issues, and the reporting of discrimination has dropped significantly.1
So, what does the success with Time to Change mean for the rest of the disability agenda? For me, it’s proof that storytelling can lead to culture change and can be a powerful tool to help people with disabilities and mental health issues to face less discrimination, get access to more opportunities and help more people to better understand mental health issues and disabilities in the workplace.
It’s led me to spend the last few years working in a number of ways to unlock the stories that exist within the financial services industry and to help other organisations to find ways of unlocking stories in order to change their cultures. In 2014, I helped to launch ‘This is me’ at Barclays, which was the start of a mini-revolution within the industry. It resulted in a city-wide campaign introduced by the Lord Mayor of London and has seen many colleagues across the industry step up and share their own stories of mental health issues, caring and disability.
Rather than recount everything about the campaign, I wanted to share some top tips for helping people to unlock their own stories. While this is primarily for diversity and inclusion (D&I) professionals, I think the same approach could be used by anyone looking to help others to share their stories:
Provide structure and guidance
Helping people to tell their story in a logical, well-structured way is important, not only to help them articulate what they want to say, but also to ensure that what they say is valuable for those reading their story. Think about the audience, where their story will be told, whether it will be part of an existing communications campaign, an internal blog, at an event, or on their own social media.
Create a support network
Ensure that storytellers can connect with each other and that they understand what support is available for them. Knowing people who are going through the same thing is an important part of feeling comfortable telling their story.
Enable storytellers to become signposters
Storytellers often become magnets for others with lived experience. Ensuring they know where to signpost people who need support, is important to avoid dealing with other people’s issues alone.
Practice makes perfect
It helps to ensure that the story being told is the right story to tell. Ensure that storytellers draft and redraft their story and then share it in different ways to hone the key messages.
Be a thoughtful sounding board
Challenge storytellers constructively, listen empathically and offer guidance and support about what is appropriate information to share, or not.
The great thing about storytelling is that it encourages openness, honesty and a culture built on trust. From what I’ve seen and heard from other organisations, storytelling has the power to change the way people work, how they respond to people of difference and equips them to better support those around them.
For many people, starting the journey towards unlocking the lived experience stories is scary, and can feel too hard or too big a mountain to climb; but it doesn’t need to be that way. When I started back in 2014, there was almost no advice or support out there, but now there’s loads. Over the years, I’ve contributed to some of these platforms, but the one I’m most proud of and recommend is Purple Stories from PurpleSpace. It’s a free resource and is focused on how individuals tell their stories of difference. Whether you’re looking to tell your own story at work or want to help others share their stories to help change the workplace culture, I’d encourage you to take a look at www.purplespace.org/purple-stories.
David Caldwell is Digital Accessibility Manager at Barclays and a Founding Ambassador of PurpleSpace. Follow David on Twitter at @cfunn and PurpleSpace at @MyPurpleSpace