Meet Inclusion Activist:
20 February 2023
Q. Tell us about yourself, in particular what led to your interest in advancing equity and inclusion?
A. I’ve always worked in social inclusion roles, even before I really knew it was a thing. After university, I set up a social enterprise hosting workshops with young people to teach them music production. The music was really just a way of engaging them and the real purpose was to have conversations around gang violence, drugs, peer pressure, relationships, careers and finances. I loved that work and it was brilliant training for what I do now.
I then joined the Civil Service and worked there for 10 years doing people based roles. I worked in Change Management in DfT, I was the head of race equality in Defra and then the Head of DEI delivery at HM Treasury. I learnt so much about organisational design, culture change and the challenges of doing this work in a large and complex organisation.
While working in the Civil Service I became a dad. My daughter’s birth was a traumatic one and we spent a period of time in hospital. We eventually came out of hospital and I went straight back to work. I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD. I struggled to process what we had been through and I would have panic attacks at work, I became withdrawn, unable to sleep and a shell of myself.
Around this time I started writing about fatherhood and that was the start of my platform for dads called MusicFootballFatherhood (MFF). MFF is all about open conversations around being a dad and it’s now one of the biggest platforms for fathers in the UK. We host community events, including events in partnership with football clubs like Arsenal and QPR and we create content through blogs and podcasts for dads. We have also curated the bestselling book DAD, which is a collection of stories that reflect the diversity of modern fatherhood. DAD includes stories from 20 men around all aspects of parenting including miscarriage, post-natal depression, co-parenting and more.
In 2022 I presented the BBC One Documentary ‘Becoming Dad’ which is the first TV programme of its kind to bring issues around dad’s mental health and worklife balance to the mainstream. Becoming Dad was one of the 20 most watched documentaries across the whole BBC network in 2022.
I am also the co-founder of the Working Dads Employer Awards, alongside the University of Birmingham. The awards recognise the employers that are doing work to support working dads and striving for better workplace gender equality, mental health and wellbeing.
I have taken my experience of fatherhood and PTSD, my work leading DEI in the Civil Service and my experience running MFF to work into helping organisations with workplace culture.
My work is focused on supporting working dads, improving men’s mental health and engaging men in gender equality conversations.
Q. What outcomes are you wanting to achieve and why do these need to happen?
A. My work spans three main areas:
- Supporting working dads
- Engaging men in gender equality conversations, and
- Improving men’s mental health and wellbeing
The large disparity in the gender pay gap comes about when the first baby is born into a family and for us to address this, we need to support and encourage dads to share the caring load in the months and years after their baby is born. This also has huge positive benefits to outcomes for our children. Research suggests that paternal involvement in the early years has significant positive impacts on children’s wellbeing, education and resilience.
We need to evolve the role of the father in the family. But if we are going to change fatherhood, we first need to change manhood.
Masculinity is going through a significant evolution. Just a few decades ago we had clearly defined gender roles. Masculinity was largely defined by providing, protecting & strength. While elements of this still exist of course, masculinity has broadened. Now, modern men are also encouraged, and in some cases required, to be empathetic, compassionate and willing and wanting to take on caring responsibilities.
My work around masculinity in the workplace is about exploring what it means to be a man, helping men to engage in gender equality conversations and helping us all be better allies to each other. Ultimately, gender equality is good for us all.
Men’s mental health is such a massively under-discussed topic. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 and, in England, around one in eight men has a common mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
39% of new dads are concerned about their mental health and 1 in 10 new dads will experience some kind of PND symptoms in the first 6 months. Men are at more risk of suicidal ideation when they are new dads, other and above any other time in their life.
My work around men’s mental health in the workplace aims to improve the lives of individuals while helping the organisation benefit from better engagement, wellbeing and retention.
Q. How is your work helping to achieve these outcomes above?
A. My work is all about presenting new ideas, creating inclusive environments for open conversations and being a catalyst for culture change. I love to challenge internalised beliefs and highlight how we are all capable and responsible for change.
I frequently work with HR leads, staff parenting networks, gender networks, D&I teams and leadership teams through workshops and keynotes. I pride myself on providing an excellent service and tailoring my work to provide unique solutions to help address my client’s objectives.
All my sessions are emotive, raw, and powerful. They are grounded in personal stories while incorporating the latest research, data and best practise. I use slido, Q&A and panel discussions to ensure my sessions are interactive and immersive. This is all packaged up in a friendly, personable and relaxed approach with a nice sprinkle of humour.
To help support culture change, my sessions are supported with carefully crafted communications materials to set the tone for the events and encourage participation before the event. And post-event, I provide toolkits to support team-level conversations using content and outputs from the workshop to facilitate further conversations and embed culture change.
I am all about helping to achieve my client’s objectives, whether that be launching a new parenting network, supporting colleagues mental health and wellbeing, engaging more men in DEI and gender equality work, building an inclusive culture with allyship at the core or helping senior leaders to foster more inclusive relationships.
Q. Who or what inspires you to do what you do and how do you keep focused and energised in challenging times?
A. I love this question as it gives me the opportunity to recognise some of the people who have helped and inspired me along the way!
I have people in my life who really help me, some from a distance and some a bit closer. They are all amazing people who have done (and are doing) some big things but are genuinely nice people. From these people I learn so much about how they do their work and how they treat people along the way.
My good friend (and fellow QPR fan!), Rob Neil, is a massive inspiration. He was leading Project Race (a race equality programme) in MOJ before I took on the same role at Defra and he I’ve learnt so much from him about integrity, patience and being kind. He is also an amazing public speaker who inspires me to be my best.
Joeli Brealey from Pregnant Then Screwed is someone I admire so so much. Her ability to create a movement, to lead teams, to bring big issues into focus and help people to understand how they can help is absolutely phenomenal. I am a massive fan of Joeli and Pregnant Then Screwed and do all I can to support them.
Leon Mann, the founder of BCOMS and The Football Blacklist is another absolutely amazing person. Leon is the true definition of seeing where change needs to happen and building organisations and initiatives to help solve the problems. He does so much and is such a down to earth, genuine and nice person.
Q. How can individuals support your work?
A. You can buy our book DAD; untold stories of fatherhood, loss, mental health and masculinity. You can also catch all our content on Linkedin by following me here. And if you work in an organisation that you think can benefit from our work, please do get in contact!
Q. How can employers specifically get involved?
A. If you are an employer and you think I can help to support your work, please have a look at my website www.elliottrae.com and get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. What next?
A. We have just launched Dads Do Hair and Workplace Haircare Workshops. These are amazing sessions where colleagues can learn and practise some hair care tips while having open conversations about connection, wellbeing, parenting and talking to children about their mental health.
We are also doing more work in the football space and collaborating with some of the top premier league clubs to have conversations about men’s mental health and positive masculinity.
I am also starting work on our next book which will be published in 2024!