Rob Stephenson is an international keynote speaker, campaigner and consultant who is on a mission to help create happier, healthier and higher performing workplaces.
Rob is the founder of InsideOut LeaderBoard, a social enterprise with the mission of smashing the stigma of mental ill health in the workplace by showcasing senior leader role models with lived experiences of mental ill health. This is done by virtue of a published annual list – The InsideOut LeaderBoard.
Rob is also the CEO of Form, a technology start-up helping people to monitor their mental health using a score out of 10 (FormScore) with a mobile app to help friends, family and colleagues support each other.
Why do you support the HeForShe campaign? For example – have you witnessed the benefits that diversity can bring to a workplace?
I am a mental health campaigner who is passionate about inspiring the creation of mentally health workplaces and societies. We cannot create these without diverse workplaces. We also need more empathetic leaders right now as we navigate these really challenging times. I don’t think that traditional command and control styles of leadership are going to cut it. We have seen how New Zealand PM, Jacinda Ardern, has handled a number of crises much more effectively than a number of her male counterparts. If we are to further the mental health and wellbeing agenda in the workplace, we need more leaders like this.
Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?
I believe that it is crucially important for men to support gender equality and for white, straight men to support all aspects of diversity as we will only make effective change if we work together. But for me, I will always come back to my mission of mental health and I have a string belief that gender equality in the workplace and women leadership in particular will lead to a mentally healthier culture.
How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?
I am not all that close to the debate on this, but I get a sense that men are much more welcome these days than in days gone by. I believe that, in all aspects of inclusion, we need allies to make change happen quickly. I suspect that there are a lot of men who would like to contribute more to the conversation but don’t know how to get involved.
Do you think groups/networks that include the words “women in…” or “females in…” make men feel like gender equality isn’t really their problem or something they need to help with?
I don’t think that it would make men feel that it isn’t their problem, but it may make them less inclined to join such a group. “HeForShe” is great – it feels empowering. If I am honest, I might feel a little apprehensive of joining a network called “Women in Tech”, for example, even though as a CEO of a tech start up, I am passionate about gender equality as a build the team.
What can businesses do to encourage more men to feel welcome enough to get involved in the gender debate?
For me, one of the most powerful ways to do this is role modelling from senior leaders. If our CEO as male and is publicly behind the debate, then this will inspire others to follow.
I think that the language we use is important as discussed above and will be helpful if it feels inclusive for men. I love the idea of empowering and collaborating.
Do you currently mentor any women or have you in the past?
I have just started mentoring a young black woman who approached me as she is starting out in the mental health space. I love her proactive style and feel honoured that she would like my advice.
Have you noticed any difference in mentoring women?
I don’t have any experience of mentoring to answer this directly, but I have hosted and facilitated two Women in Leadership events for a very good client of mine. It was a real privilege to be a part of these events where we collectively created a safe space for women to be open about issues such as this across a different geographies and cultures. A few themes that came out was that women were indeed less likely to put themselves forward for roles if they didn’t tick all of the requirements whereas men would “give it a go” if they met a couple of the key points. The other issue that was covered a lot was around the importance of helping women find their voice with public speaking.
As an aside, we did a “Confidence FormScore poll” at the start and end of the event and saw a huge increase in how confident attendees were feeling after a couple of hours of connection and being able to be vulnerable and share how they were feeling. It was pretty uplifting to witness.
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