Life with a Stammer

29 September 2020

As part of National Inclusion Week 2020, Leonardo’s Sub Contract Manager Emma Leek shares her insights into how she has developed a steely determination to succeed ever since developing a stammer at the age of three.

I’ve been working at Leonardo since 2015, when I joined the Procurement Team in Luton, having previously worked in HSBC’s branch network for seven years. Outside of work I live with my husband and seven-year-old son. We’re a bit of a rugby family; all of us play and my husband and I both coach the minis and juniors section.

When I was 3 I developed a stammer, and since then I have stammered with varying degrees of severity throughout my life.

As a child I was subjected to the predictable teasing and bullying that comes with being slightly different. However, as the cliché goes, what didn’t kill me made me stronger and I learned quickly that a lot of it was borne out of ignorance.

For many years I was absolutely terrified of the telephone and public speaking. I would be rendered almost paralysed with fear when trying to do something as mundane as make a doctor’s appointment or book a table at a restaurant. It is only since having my son that I have started to overcome this fear.

My stammer and I have an ever-evolving relationship. It is a part of me and it has certainly not stopped me from achieving whatever I set out to do in recent years. Sometimes, it will sneak up on me and cause havoc on days where I can really do without it being around. During the pandemic it has been a stronger presence than I would have liked, but I have learned to adapt and take each day as it comes.

Feeling included and working to ensure that others around me feel included

Most people I speak to these days say they aren’t even aware that I have a stammer…until I’m tired or stressed! However, when it has made its way into conversations, meetings or presentations there has never been an incident at Leonardo where someone has made me feel uncomfortable about it… or even tried to make themselves feel more comfortable about it. It is incredibly encouraging that rather than jokes being made at my expense or ignorant questions being asked (“have you forgotten what you were going to say?”) I am afforded the courtesies of time and patience, which for many may seem insignificant but to me mean a great deal when I’m struggling to get a word out.

Four years ago I was asked by a senior manager to present at the All Employee Briefing. This took me by surprise and I actually declined the opportunity three times before accepting; I thought that I would never be able to do it. It wasn’t until I received words of encouragement from two other colleagues that I realised that it didn’t really matter how the words came out; people were still going to be listening to what I was saying – and it would probably make it all the more memorable! So on 4 May 2016 I stood and presented three times throughout the day to roughly 900 people. With moral support from my mentor (who snuck into each session so I had a friendly face to focus on if I needed it), I achieved something I never thought I could. Afterwards I received feedback, with the only negative comment being that I sounded nervous. Well, to be fair, I was.

In my experience at Leonardo, people – at every level – don’t focus on what you can’t do. Instead, they believe that you can.

Promoting inclusion to others

It’s really important to talk about our differences and encourage others to ask questions about them. October 22nd is International Stammering Awareness Day, so I emailed those in my teams with a few fun facts about me and my stammer, inviting everyone to stop by my desk and p… p… p… pick up a penguin in celebration of the day (I will no doubt be doing the same this year, I just won’t be at my desk!).

By talking about our differences and having fun with them you don’t need to formally promote inclusion because it’s already happening naturally and organically. I think Leonardo is definitely heading in the right direction in that respect.

I’ve never been “the one with the stammer” here; I’m just Emma!