Inspirational Woman: Amy McKeown | Award-winning health, mental health & wellbeing consultant

Amy McKeownAmy McKeown is an award-winning health, mental health and wellbeing consultant.

She coaches organisations of all sizes to build strategies with are both innovative and measurable, whilst providing unique expertise in implementing said strategies. Amy is also a respected thought-leader within her field, sharing her advice regularly on LinkedIn and at speaker events such as Mad World.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am an award-winning Mental Health, Health & Wellbeing and Women’s Health consultant with more than 20 years of experience. I coach organisations of all sizes (from FTSE100 to small enterprises), putting into place evidence based, measurable and sustainable strategies.

My niche is that I can design creative and innovative strategic programmes as well as having the skills and experience to implement them. I enjoy working collaboratively and creatively with organisations to create programmes which truly make a difference to the health and mental health of employees on the ground or ‘shop floor’.

Outside of consultancy, I have become known as a thought leader. My straight to the point content sparks much discussion and progressive debates, as I tend to be ahead of the curve in my opinions.

I am also an avid supporter of Women’s Health and passionate about women’s issues; menstruality, motherhood (and all its associated topics) and gender equality – to name but a few. As a mother of a 2 year old and a 5 year old I have a lot of personal experience in many of the issues women face combining motherhood and career.

An integral part of my story is that in 2016, I was made redundant weeks after returning to work after a long and traumatic miscarriage. I am sharing my experience to help break the silence around miscarriage – 1 in 4 pregnancies sadly end this way though we never talk about what actually happens during a miscarriage, or what families are going through. I’m campaigning (with the support of Maternity Action and Pregnant then Screwed to change the Equality Act 2010 to better protect women around pregnancy and especially miscarriage.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No quite the opposite. I had no idea what I wanted to do except combine health and mental health, business and technology. My father was a prominent Consultant Psychiatrist which is how I fell into this path or calling. There were no options to do this in 2002 as Facebook hadn’t been invented yet and mental health was still a total stigma. No one was talking about health and wellbeing at work. My career to date has felt (and still feels) as though I am muddling through.

I have always had themes around health and especially mental health in every job I have done, whether running a mental health tech start up, working at Accenture or at EY. I have used these themes to work in a number of diverse roles in very different companies and build as much experience as I can. I have built confidence and belief in myself and now know and trust that I am usually 5 – 10 years ahead of the market in the way that I think about things.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Massive challenges. I was a young woman in her 20s running a mental health tech start up in 2003! This and my work since, helping organisations to write and implement health and mental health strategies, has been challenging as it is pioneering work. Being different and creating change can feel like an uphill (and very lonely) battle sometimes. Being ahead of the curve means you spend a lot of time educating people, trying to change hearts and minds, dealing with institutional politics and trying to broaden narrow mind sets. If you combine this with the stigma and fear around mental health, my work can be very hard. People are now talking about mental health more but this is not often matched with budget or a real desire to do anything significant about it. I can waste a lot of time and energy with people who want my knowledge and experience for free.

I also think that, even in 2020, the world does not know how to deal with bright, outspoken women who view the world differently. They are perceived as ‘different’, ‘quirky’, not to be taken seriously, or a threat. It can be very hard to know how and where to fit into a world that wasn’t designed for you to succeed in. Especially when you are trying to combine a career with young children. I can find it a daily battle to keep going and not to judge myself by society’s ideals; who I work for, how much money I have, what my job title is. We are at a very interesting (and frightening) time for women’s rights and progress. I sincerely hope that Covid-19 leads to a more egalitarian and flexible world and that it doesn’t diminish the little progress that women have already made.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am proud of a number of things that I have achieved career wise. My mental health tech start up prevented a suicide. Health EY, the health, mental health and wellbeing programme I designed and helped to launch at EY won a number of awards.  And my first consulting client was a writing a global strategy for a FTSE100. All successes that I am grateful for and very proud of.

My 40th birthday was over lockdown and my partner arranged a video tribute for me in which over 42 people contributed and sent me a message. I consider it a wonderful achievement that these people were from all areas of my life; from school and university, from every job I have ever done, to local and family friends, mothers at the nurseries and schools my children go to, and my extended friends and family around the world. I felt a huge amount of gratitude that I had developed such a network of people that support and believe in me. Building this, and my family, has been my biggest achievement to date.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Well firstly, I feel a bit of an imposter answering this question as I am not sure I am a success… I often feel quite the opposite.

If pressed I would say my integrity and loyalty. I have always tried to make my choices based on what feels right to me, and how I can be of service to others. How I can use my skills, knowledge and experience to help others. This can often lead me to having a different opinion and position to others. As I have grown into myself, I have built my confidence in this and have built a solid, long term network of people who trust me and support me for being me. It might be the slower path to ‘success’, but it is the only one I feel I can take and look myself in the mirror.

I am also an incredibly curious person. I love learning new things and meeting new people. I have huge tenacity and stubbornness. If I decide I want to do something, heaven and earth moves until I have achieved it. Even if I have to find my way around multiple obstacles to get there.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I am a strong believer in what goes around, comes around. I have been helped at various stages of my career by people unofficially mentoring or championing me. Some for decades!  Likewise, I try to do the same to others that ask for my support or guidance. If you help others, others will help you.

I’m not currently part of any official or structured mentoring scheme but I can really see the need for them, especially for women. Men are much better at supporting each other and using their ‘old tie’ networks. Us women need to stop seeing each other as a threat and help each other more. There is room enough for us all and we all offer something unique and different.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

There are so many different answers I could give to this question. I am so, so frustrated by the pace of change for Gender Equality which seems to have been snail paced over the last few decades. I find it ridiculous that in 2020 we have not achieved pay parity, equal numbers of women on boards or created a situation where a family can manage 2 big jobs around school age children or motherhood. We need systemic change.

My real concern at the moment is not how we move forward but making sure we don’t slip back. All the evidence suggests that Covid-19 is disproportionally affecting women more than men. It is the biggest crisis for women’s progress since the end of the second world war (where women were forced out of the factories and wearing trousers, back in the kitchen wearing skirts). My optimistic hope is that the fact that the world has been forced into embracing remote and flexible working means that we continue this in future. That we build workplaces and careers to support this and that this opens up opportunities for women to work in more senior roles, more flexibly and remotely.

I believe that using this crisis to change how we work would create a more egalitarian system all round. Things would improve not just in terms of gender equality but also health and mental health, social mobility and making the workplace more accessible for people with disabilities.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Not to waste so much time worrying what others think about you. And not to judge yourself on what society deems as ‘success’. Having a flashy job title, working for a big name or earning a vast income isn’t the be all or end all. Especially if you are doing something you hate.

Believe in yourself, work in something you enjoy and are giving back from, and trust that the money will come.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My current challenge is getting back out and trying to rebuild my career after having 2 children, a miscarriage and a redundancy. I love working, have lots to offer and want to be back out. Especially as health, mental health and wellbeing are booming and needed more now than ever before. I have unique experience in this area and it’s my passion. It’s what I was put on this earth to do.

I have recently launched my website (www.amymckeown.com) showing who I am and what I do. I also blog and vlog weekly on LinkedIn. By showing my experience and building my network and profile I hope to build up a business or career that supports me and is a good foundation for my future. Anyone wanting to see what I offer or use my services can contact me either way.

I’m also starting to put energy behind my Miscarriage Campaign after the summer. Watch this space for me changing the Equality Act.

My other passion project is developing a conference specialising in women’s health and mental health and issues. This is at an embryonic stage, delayed even further by Covid-19. Where there is a will there is a way though…


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