From Father to Son – it’s time to talk about inclusion

19 November 2020

To mark International Men’s Day, Mark Stead, Leonardo UK's Senior Vice-President, Radar and Advanced Targeting, talks about his responsibilities as a senior leader and role model to facilitate inclusion and to look out for his team’s and colleagues’ welfare, while ensuring his own life maintains a healthy balance.

I joined Leonardo in mid-2019, having previously worked for Thales, QinetiQ and the UK Ministry of Defence. Although I live in the Cotswolds with my wife, three teenage sons and gundog called Roxy, I commute weekly up to our Edinburgh site.

I’m a mechanical engineer by qualification, so outside work (after my lumbar spine spectacularly threw in the towel on my rugby playing), tinkering with machines and home renovation is my thing.

My wife Clare is a hospice nurse specialising in cancer, motor neurone disease and other life-limiting conditions, so there is no shortage of openness on health issues and pretty challenging holistic care matters in our household.

A challenging past year and year-end ahead

To be honest, I’m a bit frazzled currently, as we’re approaching year-end which is always a very busy period juggling orders and sales, while also preparing for next year. On top of which, COVID has thrown up a very odd set of circumstances for us all, both inside and outside work. It has been tough to navigate a path through much of 2020, trying to maintain high business tempo, while family life has been a bit of a rollercoaster too!

Being just over a year into my Leonardo career, I’m still on a learning curve for some of the nuances of our project portfolio, processes and culture…but I’m relishing it. Having moved organisations three times during my career, I find it is always a bit of a stressful experience, particularly in a senior leadership position, but healthy too to keep stretching myself. I feel it is important to try to become operational and positively contributing and impactful as quickly as possible. But inside that means I am paddling like crazy under the surface, all whilst trying to remain maybe not quite serene, but at least composed and in control outwardly! If I’m honest, it would feel strange to me if it wasn’t like this, as I wouldn’t feel that I’m learning and challenging myself. However, I am all too aware of my mental health in the process though, which I have to take care of.

Occasions such as International Men’s Day (IMD) are an ideal opportunity to focus on mental health; it remains scary just how high depression, alcoholism and suicide rates are among men, yet still how unlikely men are to talk about it or seek help. It’s time for genuine change though! My wife and I can’t encourage our boys enough to talk about their mental health, and the only way they do that is by seeing us do it too.

Positively impacting those around you

IMD is also a time to highlight how men can be positive role models – to their children, friends, community and colleagues – something I picked up at an early age from my father. As a teenager doing part-time work for my dad, I was left with an indelible impression about how I wish to treat and embrace others. My father was an air conditioning and refrigeration engineer, fitting and maintaining aircon/cooling systems for industrial sites and computer rooms in and around the Coventry area. Something fundamental that struck me over time was how he treated the range of people he worked with as equals, and, critically, how he interacted with them.

Coventry was and remains a very ethnically and culturally diverse city, so there was a rich mix of people from all backgrounds working at these sites. Despite whatever technical problem, installation challenge or temperature grumble my dad was encountering, and whoever he was serving, speaking and working with (from the Managing Director to the computer room engineer or facilities team), he would be jovial, polite and engaging. Whatever a colleague or customer’s ethnicity, gender, race, age, character, role or seniority, my dad would form and sustain really great constructive relationships that helped get the job done. He would treat them all with similar respect and without prejudice, he would never use offensive language of any kind and would always be sensitive to their individual needs and circumstances.

I’m acutely aware of the diversity of people working in our company, covering everything from age, gender and experience to race, religion and ethnicity. Leonardo may employ many talented engineers across the UK, but we’re not a homogenous bunch. This inevitably means each individual has their own challenges and approaches that need considering in the wider realm of us being successful – at team, departmental and company level. And understanding people is at the root of this.

Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to adopt this. The day-to-day unconscious norming of equitable and mutually respectful engagement, of being by nature inclusive and embracing of the diversity within groups of people, is where it starts – whilst at the same time acknowledging life and opportunity isn’t presented equally to everyone and that everyone sees things in their own unique way.

If we are not inclusive – in all activities, interactions, decisions and scenarios – then really talented people and their contributions will be lost to us for good. As a result, we’ll be less competitive, less innovative, less supportive and less successful. Both within Leonardo and the wider engineering sector, we need to see more diversity in our recruitment, our meritocratic promotion and in our leadership layers. Within my own leadership team, for example, I’m delighted to see an improving gender balance; it changes the dynamics for the better, brings a wider range of experiences and perspectives to the table and sets an aspirational example for others to follow.

We have to acknowledge that is not widely the case as yet though. Unconscious and conscious bias both exist and have to be acknowledged. It is what we actively do to counter and change these that really matters, and that starts with me setting an example and championing change.

Building on our progress in 2021

As I did last year, I will ensure my team is fully bought into our inclusion and diversity objectives, as well as our business targets, for next year. Only by thinking and acting inclusively and embracing diversity as a team can we collectively change the business for the better.

I’ve been fortunate to work with and lead some amazing and amazingly diverse people in my career so far – and I fully acknowledge for me personally I have encountered few of the problems many face in striving to be included and to foster diversity. Everyone deserves and should expect a level playing field. We need the benefits of diversity in our teams, and I as a leader have a duty to champion, enable and progress ever further towards that goal.

We can all contribute to forging a culture in Leonardo where everyone feels welcome, everyone feels their contributions are equally respected, and individual needs and preferences are no impediment to working effectively here.

All I ask is that every one of us brings the spirit of inclusion and diversity into our individual and collective consciousness; that we become aware of ourselves and others, and how our actions and speech impact others and vice versa. If we can commit to consciously treating ourselves and all others with respect, dignity and equality each and every day – from the smallest gesture to the biggest decision – then we are on the right path…and who wouldn’t want to work in an organisation that does that!