‘Be Yourself’ at the Department for Transport

Post by Soraya Mitchell, Department for Transport

Friday 16 September 2016

Being yourself at work might not be a radical idea if you’re a dewy skinned millennial – or even Generation Z – with grounded values and an appetite for experiences and distraction, but for others (myself included) it’s an idea contrary to the expectations we had when we first scrubbed up for the job market. We were ‘corporate’, a vague grey concept without definition and which I interpreted as meaning look smart and use big, clever words (I’ve spent most of my professional life ever since trying to dumb down and write for seven year olds).

Now in my current role heading up internal communications at the Department for Transport, myself and the team are responsible for having sent the organisation into something of an existential spiral (I apologise but on this occasion, if you need to, you’ll have to look it up) pondering what being yourself is and why it matters to creating an inclusive organisation?

Working closely with the diversity team and others, we came up with a campaign – ‘Be yourself!’ Using this simple call to action, we had posters, we had videos of senior leaders outside of work sharing their interests and hobbies, and we had a ‘Wear What You Want Day’ to mark the launch (‘Wear Your Own Clothes Day’ I had said until one of my team helpfully asked, ‘who else’s clothes would people be wearing?’ – single generation z’s I don’t want to know).

On the day, we took photos of people holding placards scrawled with messages about themselves – tap dancers and ballet dancers, weekend youth workers, lovers of football, the countryside and HS2 to name a few! We uploaded the pictures to screens and posted on Yammer. It was a campaign designed to be inclusive and co-created with our people. Some people said it was a gimmick, others cried ‘we want to wear our suits and be our work selves’, and a rare few admitted that they just didn’t get it.

It was almost too simple. Being yourself can only be known to the individual: you be what you want, corporate or not. What it requires from the rest of us is acceptance – and for that you need trust. That is why being yourself matters. It builds inclusive organisations because it is based on trust; it is based on acceptance; and it requires respect from all of us. That’s what we wanted to create with ‘Be Yourself’. A feeling of community that we could all share, based on trust and acceptance, so that it felt inclusive.  

And at DfT, on the whole a more mature baby boomer and Gen X type of place, being yourself isn’t so radical after all. Post campaign, 94% said they thought it was important, or useful to be yourself and more impressively, there was a 20% leap to 90% of people saying that they felt comfortable being themselves.

Our challenge now is to keep the momentum and to stay true to that trust. DfT we want to continue to be a place where people can be themselves, whatever that may be.