No Topic Off Limits: PHA’s Journey to Open Communication

Encouraging discussion through open and honest conversation

‘No no, don’t worry about getting the death card, that one can actually be read really positively!’ – I breathe a sigh of relief, as my previously sweaty hands clutched a Tarot card with the grim reaper staring back at me. All par for the course for the second Thursday of every month when we hold our Open Conversation Forum.

Bringing in external trainers to provide robust education sessions is a key part of any ED&I strategy. Here at PHA though, as well as our myriad of training initiatives, we also have a belief in peer-to-peer discussion and good old-fashioned debate. Learning from your colleagues and being in a safe space to untangle contentious issues can often be the best way to enact cultural change. This is the purpose of our Open Conversations Forum.

All sessions begin with a short informative introduction to the topic by the host, followed by a 30-minute discussion with everyone given an equal opportunity to share their view, or just listen to others if that is their preference. We also announce the topic in advance and allow employees to send their thoughts over email if they prefer.

We aim to keep the topics as current as possible, and it is fair to say we don’t shy away from having the big conversations. In the last 6 months we have traversed terrain such as the debate on the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill, the effect of colonialism on black British culture and comedy’s privilege to push societal boundaries.

Our latest session was one our most enjoyable yet. With the UK becoming increasingly secular, particularly among the younger generations, people are turning towards new forms of faith and spirituality – something we were keen to explore amongst our staff. We encouraged PHAers to share what they believe in, what they turn to when needing inspiration and where they find meaning.

And what a treat it was. We learnt about colleagues’ passion for Palo Santo, esoteric history, tarot cards, manifestation, astrology and crystal healing. By creating that safe space to discuss freely, we were able to learn more about these beliefs directly from the lived experience of those who sat shoulder to shoulder with us at our desks.

Helen Salvin, who spoke about her interest in astrology, said after the session, “I always enjoy an open (and non-judgemental!) discussion about star signs. Naturally, there are sceptics, but increasingly, people are buying into the study of the Zodiac. The way I see it is that like anything spirituality-related, star signs should be used as a guide as opposed to a concrete prediction of events, and people should be respectful of a person’s belief system – however weird it might seem!”

The reality of our world is that there is no one set ED&I pill to swallow that will enlighten us all to the chosen way of thinking. We are all unique, and we all have individual opinions. And what a relief we do – that’s what makes us human! That uniqueness is at the centre of our Open Conversations initiative, by creating the environment for people to express themselves and discuss their beliefs freely we will ultimately create a better, more diverse agency.

Written by Harry Cox