This week we meet Joanne Smallwood who opens up about her struggles with mental health, to show visibility for World Mental Health Day and Spirit Day.
Joanne’s enthusiasm for her career and Jaguar Land Rover has encouraged her to speak candidly about the daunting personal challenges she has faced.
She makes a powerful case for more listening and greater understanding across our teams and workplaces.
Joanne, Business Operations Lead, said: “My story was not something I aimed to share, but it’s important we all take the next step when it comes to understanding both mental illness as well thinking about our many LGBT+ colleagues.”
“The business is definitely on the right track, but we can do more to make people feel happy and content here at Jaguar Land Rover and therefore even more productive.”
Feelings of guilt caused the teenage Joanne enormous anxiety and panic, which disrupted her education and required significant medical help.
It took Joanne time to find a route back and realise that honestly assessing her mental health would be an ongoing task, and that pursuing a relationship would help.
“My mum was incredibly supportive in terms of understanding and helping me put things into context. I owe a great deal to her and she inspired me to be strong.
“People who know me are less surprised that I have a female partner and more that I’ve experienced quite serious mental health problems and still need to be mindful of it.
“I am seemingly this confident, bubbly person, but I need to consider my mental well-being and there have been times when it has been uncomfortable to discuss my sexuality at work.”
Joanne joined Jaguar Land Rover’s PRIDE Network a year ago and has found the experience hugely important on several fronts.
She realised she was far from alone at Jaguar Land Rover when she joined and has enjoyed being able to help and to support other LGBT+ colleagues.
“We have new starters who want to succeed but they come here not knowing what they can say, or anxious as to whether they’ll fit into in a manufacturing world.
“In some areas nobody is openly LGBT+, and it can feel lonely or awkward to get involved in chats or important social events.”
Joanne says these issues matter enormously if the business wants to recruit and retain the best people.
“When you’re part of a global business with strict deadlines and big budgets, it’s essential you feel part of a team and sometimes discussing things other than work.”
Now on the right track – with a busy, fulfilling career and enjoying life with her partner Amy – Joanne hopes talking about her sexuality and mental health will encourage people to listen and understand.
“The PRIDE Network is not only here to help people who are from the LGBT+ community, but we are available to support and educate everyone. They’ve certainly helped me enormously.
“A great first step is just being prepared to invest some time in listening and understanding. Ultimately, we’re all aiming for the same thing and that’s happy, successful teams who feel completely at ease and able to fully contribute to our brands.”