Edinburgh aerospace firm boss backs wokforce mental health conversations

As a business leader at the helm of an aerospace engineering company with 2,000 employees in Edinburgh, if you were to ask Mark Stead during Mental Health Week about one of his proudest moments in the past few months, you might be surprised by the answer.

Friday, 14th May 2021, 12:30 pm

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In amongst breakthroughs in innovation and business orders, it was a conversation he had with an employee.

Mark Stead SVP, Radar and Advanced Targeting at Leonardo said: “One of our project managers got in touch with me a few weeks ago to openly explain his recent experience with a mental health condition, how he is managing his return to work and how supportive his team and his management chain have been throughout.

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Mark Stead says workplace has 'changed for the better'

"I felt a real sense of pride in his courage in speaking openly to me about what he was experiencing with his mental health.

"I also felt proud that it showed real evidence of change for the better in how we recognise and manage mental health matters. With the change in work and life now a constant that is here to stay, we cannot afford not to lead by example in enabling change for the better in how we live and work with mental health and wellbeing.”

Leonardo is providing key technology for advanced engineering projects such as the futuristic Tempest programme, where it is working with partner companies in Team Tempest on the next-generation of combat aircraft, operating at the cutting edge of technological innovation.

Team Tempest is exploring the integration of state-of-the-art capability such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and ‘cobotics’, where people work alongside robots in close collaboration.

Mark believes the most important element of any technology is the human behind it who is driving it forward, so along with his other UK site leaders he is placing an equal emphasis on the latest thinking on wellbeing and mental health at Leonardo in Edinburgh, to keep the people at the heart of the business healthy.

The workforce at Leonardo, whose Edinburgh site is based at Crewe Toll, includes four generations of workers including ‘Baby Boomers’, Generation ‘X’, Generation ‘Y’ or Millennials, and Generation ‘Z’.

Mark has observed that each of these groups like to communicate in slightly different ways, with some preferring face-to-face discussions while others more used to communicating online. And he wants individuals to choose a form of communication that feels comfortable for them when they are having important conversations about their mental health.

Mark said: “For Leonardo, we exist in the context of a Defence environment, which is traditionally very male-dominated and with an association of more typically masculine cultural traits which together have historically tended to play down vulnerability, humility and openness around wellbeing. For these reasons, inclusion, diversity, mental health, and our individual and collective wellbeing in the workplace whether on site or at home, is at the forefront of my mind for our people here in Leonardo, and has been an area of keen focus for us in the last couple of years with a further acceleration through the Covid-19 pandemic response.”

Mark’s belief in the importance of prioritising mental health also comes from his personal and family experiences with mental health that have provided him with a frame of reference to better recognise the mental health of those around him at work, so he can empathise and champion change.

His wife Clare is a palliative care professional, and he always has very open conversations about mental health, which include his three boys, as they would like them to grow up without the sense of any stigma so they can be open to talk and share how they are thinking and feeling.

Just as the company is encouraging the next generation to feel empowered to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) through their STEM Ambassadors’ community education outreach programme, he wants to explore the potential in the future to educate young people on taking care of their mental health as a central life-skill.

Mark said: “As business leaders, we have a huge responsibility not just for our current workforce, but equally for our schoolchildren now who will form our workforce of the future.

"By nudging our culture to be more and more neuro-diverse, inclusive and open about mental health as a very real and ever-present feature of how we work and how we discover and sustain high performance, we can better harness the strengths in our people now and in future generations.”

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