Creating safe spaces for men to talk about their mental health with BAE Systems

WeAreTheCity are focusing a number of our features on men and mental health as we approach International Men’s Day on 19th November.

In this article we hear from Glynn and Arthur who set up a safe space for men to talk about their mental health at their company, BAE Systems. GENts was formed in 2021 and is open to everyone across BAE to come and talk about their challenges, at home or at work.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves

Glyn.

Grew up in a small coal mining town in Derbyshire. Majority of my family were in the mining industry and I started working at the local colliery at age 16 with poor grade CSEs. I was on a mining apprenticeship and eventually working on the coal face and developments. From this at age 27 I became an underground colliery official at a colliery in South Yorkshire supervising coal face and developments. After dealing with a fatality at the coal face and poor safety standards I left the mining industry. Joined the RAF at age 28 and did 18 years as an aircraft mechanical engineer. Carried out instructing duties and gained Certificate in Education and BA Hons in Post Compulsory Education. Finished my final 3 years at the Red Arrows and due to my educational experience had to develop the training material after the tragic ejection seat fatality. From this I gained the Chief of Air Staff Commendation. At 46 I joined BAE Systems as an instructor/assessor looking after and developing apprentices.

Arthur.

I was brought up in a mill town in the North of Manchester and after leaving school with a couple of O levels I started my working life as a mechanical apprentice with Seddon Atkinson Vehicles Ltd. I served a 4 year apprenticeship and then a further 4 years as a skilled man on various stages of heavy truck manufacture. I Joined British Aerospace at Woodford in 1990 as a fitter and worked on commercial aircraft manufacture until 2002.

I then joined Airbus at Chester on A380 wing assembly.

I returned to BAE Systems in 2006 and have had various roles with the company since that time.

Tell us a little about GENts and why you set this safe space up for men up at BAE

GENts was set up following a number of conversations between Glyn & myself, these were just simply chats about everyday things like hobbies and such. Glyn found them to be helpful at de-stressing and enjoyed the ‘freedom’ given in these conversations and the lack of judgement. It was this and following a couple of conversations with colleague who had delivered a really helpful Mental Health presentation. We thought that a safe space was a great idea to get men just talking and break down the stereotypical view that to express feelings and emotions at stressful times was a sign of weakness or failure. We are open & honest about our own personal experiences both good & bad.

What activities do you run as part of the GENts network? (eg how often do you meet, topics, external partnerships).

GENts has been running since November 2021 and sessions are held on the 3rd Wednesday of every month between 12 -1pm. We don’t generally have a topic that we discuss but have had a few guest speakers join us from around the various business units. These are normally something of general interest and are to simply add something new & interesting. Anyone who dials into the GENts sessions is free to speak and run a session if they wish to do so. Nobody is forced to speak and can simply sit and listen until they feel confident to speak up.

We are associated with MINDSET, LGBTQ+ and Andy’s Man Club.

How do you think this has helped men at BAE? (feel free to tell stories here)

We believe this has helped men at BAE Systems by providing an arena where like-minded people can share stories and experiences. We go through what we’ve learned by these events and we offer our views. The topics we have spoken about are always open and we have built up a level of trust and friendship during these sessions. We have had numerous people that have given us their thanks at our setting up of this project and they have said it’s a valuable time each month and that they look forward to each session and moreover that this type of thing has been needed for a long time. Several of the callers have stated they see GENts as their safe space where they feel they can open up and speak about problems or worries without any fear of judgement or ridicule.

What have you learn’t running the GENts network? Has it helped you personally?

We have learnt that there is still a stigma attached with men opening up and expressing their feelings, that the simple act of crying is not a ‘man-thing’ but in reality we all do have times when we do feel the need to do so.

From a personal point of view we have learned that GENts is a valuable project and we have taken it as a personal thing to drive forward. The feedback we have received and the support have cemented the idea that what we are doing is the right thing for men.

Why do you believe it is important to have safe spaces for men to talk openly?

The well-being of the callers and the shared experiences hopefully will inspire others to be open about issues and the need to reach out and ask for help and advice before the issues get worse. The sessions also hopefully can highlight whatever a person may be dealing with, others will have dealt with similar before and that there is help out there when needed and that things may not be as bad as they think.

What does international men’s day mean for you?

International Men’s day is a day to highlight health issues whether they are mental or physical and that help, advice and support is readily available. That shared experiences can be positive and help to reduce worry or concern when spoken about. For example the embarrassment around Prostate cancer testing, the 2 mins of embarrassment can save a life! By men talking about this simple procedure can hopefully inspire other men to step forward and take the test themselves.

What advice would you give to men who feel they cannot open up and talk?

Simply to listen to people around them and to be confident that their true friends will support them, we all have good and bad times and that there is no shame in being open. Real men do feel pain and can cry! Once they strike up that type of conversation they may be surprised that the person they are talking to may have suffered the same problems themselves.

What’s next for GENts

To grow and learn and also to continue our support to all our colleagues and hopefully develop the GENts programme into an opportunity to be adopted by BAE Systems globally.

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