Sept. 7, 2021

9. Debbie Forster MBE


Hear from Debbie Forster MBE, CEO of Tech Talent Charter, an industry collective that drives change to include diverse talent throughout the Tech field. We learn about burnout, imposter syndrome, and the steps that we need to be taking to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. Be sure to listen to the very end of the episode for bonus material.

You can find out more about Dr Marc Reid's book on Imposter Phenomenon and get involved with his research:
Website: https://www.dr-marc-reid.com/book
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0iVmFi_gciK--K8_lgmBFVMlwDm3f2BR

You can follow Debbie and Tech Talent Charter:
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/forsterdebbie/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/debbieforster
Website: https://www.techtalentcharter.co.uk/home

A transcription of each episode, as well as guest profiles and much more, is available on our website www.sondership.com

Credits
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Transcript

Debbie:

Our mental health, our struggles, have had to come into the workplace because there's no escape, and what I want to do is to continue to think about how do we make this manageable, even when the world goes back to whatever normal is going to be.

Danny:

Welcome to the Sondership podcast. I'm your host, Danny Attias. You'll be hearing inspiring stories from people with purpose and today's person with purpose is Debbie Forster, MBE, who is an award-winning figure in the areas of diversity, technology, innovation and education. She's a portfolio consultant, coach, and the co-founder and CEO for the Tech Talent Charter an industry collective, which aims to deliver greater inclusion and diversity in the UK tech workforce. In 2016, Debbie was named woman of the year by Women in Science and Engineering in 2017 she was awarded an MBE for services to digital technology and technology development. In 2018 women in IT named her Diversity Leader of the Year. I think that was the same year. The Avril Chester from episode one was named Entrepreneur of the Year and I remember cause I was there in the audience that day. In 2019, Computer Weekly named her most influential woman in UK IT and most recently We Are Tech Women awarded Debbie their Editor's Choice Award for 2020. Debbie is a trustee for the British council, serves on the Institute of Codings diversity board and serves on the government's digital economy council and its money and pension service advisory board. Debbie, you certainly have your hands full welcome to the Sondership podcast.

Debbie:

Thanks so much.

Danny:

We start each episode of this podcast by asking our guests about their experience of sonder. So as a reminder, sonder is that realization that every passer-by has a life as rich and conflicted as your own. It's that moment when your eyes are open to the fact that everyone is on their own journey and that sometimes those journeys become part of yours. Sometimes they happen in the background, and most often they're just thoughts, feelings, and experiences that you'll never know about. So Debbie, can you share your earliest or most memorable sonder moment?

Debbie:

Thanks, Danny. I can think of three big sonder moments for me, but I, I think what's most relevant in this point was a few years ago, I'm used to speaking at lots of events. I put on my game, face my, go and stand on a stage and talk diversity, talk inclusion, talk innovation, but I was asked to speak at a woman's event, and in that past year, I'd had a serious foot injury surgery, I had been in a series of wheelchairs, crutches, and a knee scooter, which I highly recommend for mobility, but not a lot for dignity. And I remember getting in the crutches, going up to talk in front of this group and everyone else who had spoken, had something to share, but it was shiny and it was bright and it was innovative. And through sheer exhaustion, I remember talking with real vulnerability and really talking about that, as much as I admire Sheryl Sandberg and leaning in, that sometimes I needed to lean back or I needed to lean on someone else. And what I said in exhaustion and in the back of my head, I probably was also thinking, well, this will make sure I don't ever have to talk at one of these events again. so what felt like an act of self-sabotage meant the number of women who came up and talked to me and who really opened up and showed me how alone I was not on that journey, that for how many of us having tried to be a woman in a field and be that strong woman and do those things. But we aren't feeling that way. Someone said once, we judge our insides by other people's outsides, and that sonder moment for me was the more I am willing to bring that vulnerability, when I speak to my business world to bring the real me to the business me's world, the more I'm willing to say those things and to share the bits that feel messy, that feel scary, the more I feel connected to everyone else. It was one of those moments that whether it's on a stage, in a zoom call, in a conversation with people. I do try to wherever I can find those moments to give an honest answer to how are you doing and then hold space with someone so they can do the same thing as well. And I've not yet had a time where I think, oh God, won't do that again. That was a bad move. We do that not just because we want an audience, but it is to create that trust of I'm going to bring my whole self to this meeting this conversation, this event so that you can too, and that has become a rich and energizing part of my life since then.

Danny:

That's wonderful, thank you for sharing that, Debbie. I, I couldn't agree more. There are too many Instagram type filters on society and on our lives at the moment, and actually we need to see the real people inside and then that can help us relate more to the real people inside us. Part of the principle of this podcast and particularly this question that you've just answered is to start the conversation with vulnerability to start the conversation with openness and hopefully that then can lead to greater sharing, a deeper insight into each guest's journey, rather than just saying, tell me about this amazing Tech Talent Charter that you've built. These conversations are about the people behind those achievements. And it's where did that come from? And how did you come to go about to create these things?

Debbie:

And Danny, I, I love that because you know, I'm forever asked, I hate that question that comes up in interviews. Who do you most admire? Who inspires you? Because it just, it feels if you've got any imposter syndrome going on, it becomes a challenge. Am I going to pick someone who's inspiring enough to be inspiring? What do we mean by inspire and inspire is someone or something that calls us to action gives us that energy, that feeling that we could do more and, look, Michelle Obama, huge girl fan and think she's amazing, but I wouldn't describe her purely as someone who inspires me, because I look at the Michelle Obama's of the world and think crap, I could never do that. What inspires me are the women. I know, the stories, I know So I get as much inspiration and by inspiration, get off my backside and do something from listening to what my daughter does, or someone in a coffee meeting Cause do I see myself ever becoming the first lady for United States of America? Not really on the next five-year plan. So platforms like this conversations like this, I really think is vital and I hate how much the world has broken over the last 18 months, but amidst the awfulness, I do love how many organizations, how many people, how many teams we've gone from, bring your whole self to work, to actually work, has to come into your lives. And so our mental health, our struggles, have had to come into the workplace because there's no escape and what I want to do is to continue to think about how do we make this manageable, even when the world goes back to whatever normal is going to be.

Danny:

You talked about, you look at the Michelle Obama's and you think, well, I could never be that some of the guests that we've already had on this podcast, that person that they look at and they go, I could never be that is themselves sometimes on the same day. This is Avril Chester, winning this award when a day earlier she was going through boxes of tissues. just thinking, I'm not that person. I can't be that person, but everyone around is looking at her and saying, you're that person that I aspire to be.

Debbie:

Someone said to me once what do you do about your imposter syndrome? I was like, oh baby. I tango with mine every day. And it is that love, hate relationship with that imposter syndrome. The more I do in coaching, the more I look into this bit of imposter syndrome, I'm getting more and more theories about it. I think we need to get a different relationship with what we call our imposter syndrome, because I think it's just a malfunctioning survival instinct that got bruised or beaten somewhere in the past. And it thinks it's some part of us that thinks it's protecting us and we need to do that tango get really close, really try and understand it. Instead of just beating it down or trying to lock it in a closet, cause it always comes out, it changes clothes. It puts a different hat on and comes back and starts gibbering away in your ear.

Danny:

A good friend of mine, Dr. Marc Reid is doing a lot of research into the imposter phenomenon is what he calls it and, um in fact, there are opportunities to get involved in part of his research, really like light touch involvement in part of his research. So I'm going to put some notes with this podcast so people can follow it if they want to. Debbie you've created the Tech Talent Charter. I've personally been involved in being a signatory to that Tech Talent Charter about improving diversity and inclusion in tech really important. Take us back to the beginning? Where does your journey start?

Debbie:

Well, usually the accent is one of the first things, whenever I do a talk somewhere, I have to explain. My American family think I sound kind of British and the British think I sound a little bit Canadian and the Canadians shake their heads just walk away. I grew up all over the Southwest in tiny towns in Texas and New Mexico and Arizona. That is an important part of the journey. So very much moving around a lot when I was little and so used to being the newcomer, having to figure out how to fit into a place. Had a wonderful teacher in high school that gave me a glimpse, that there was a world out there I might want to travel to. I think what's also important. is I grew up in a family with a mother who very much loved us, but now looking back had real mental health issues. So I had a, complicated, childhood I think, anytime we go through something really tough, if we can get through it and we can work our way through it, it leaves us with both a superpower and some kryptonite. And so growing up in that, childhood, it very much motivated me to be good at school to be good at things, but in order to survive with my mother, her feeling, I should look after my sister and brother, et cetera. I wanted to help people. And I got very good at reading people, but there was that start of, I want to make a difference in the world. those give you lots of super powers, great motivations. The kryptonite is I sometimes feel it as my responsibility to fix all the problems in the world and that I now know the older I get is, a weakening aspect of, I need to play my part in the world, but I also need to look after myself. I need to learn to do those things, but where that led me initially from a small town in the middle of nowhere in the Southwest of the U S was I got into education. Because if you want to make change, education's a wonderful way of doing that. And I went to university in Texas. I became an English teacher. there was a scholarship to go and work on my masters up at Leeds. I went for it, I got it. So then I found myself in 1989. at Leeds university working on a degree, and that was the one of the first times they began screaming for teachers around London. I told my dad, you need to help me sell my stuff cause I'm going to stay here forever. I told my mom, I was going to be here for a year, um, took a job in London at a boys grammar school in outer London and cause it was as different, a background as I'd ever been, and I then spent the next 20 years in education. I was an English teacher to start with but then you get to remember it was the nineties. I used a computer and if you were in education in the nineties and used a computer, you quickly became tech. but for me, this was part of my wanting to change things I love working with kids I love education and I love the doors it opens for young people. And what I saw back in the nineties was one, if you started using tech, kids, looked at education in a different way, but then even more importantly, as I started working in more challenging schools, tech was a way that any of my kids could get into jobs and careers they could never think of. After working in quite a challenging school for six years as a head, I was one of the youngest heads at the time, blah, blah, blah, blah. Um, I was doing a lot with, computer clubs for girls, and so the organization that set that up eSkills UK was asking me to get more and more involved, hosting ministers, et cetera. I like going into something that's a big problem or something that scares me and after three years, I've kind of figured it out. If I can't find a new way of challenging myself by five years, that itch, becomes a rash and I do something rash and need to move on. So sort of at five years I was looking at, do I want to stay a head teacher? They pitched me, said, come head up our, policy area of tech and education. So this was a chance to work with the big boys, they were often boys, IBM, BT Microsoft, on how we help get young people into education. at the time there was an entrepreneur out there starting something called apps for good. As soon as I saw it, I loved it. it was a startup, not for profit, looking at getting young people, teaching them entrepreneurial-ism innovation, I was starting to get an itch, someone said, give her a call. I said, I think what you're doing is amazing. I think this would go down really well in schools, she called me, I quit my job. I sat down with her and had a, oh God, you've only done this in two schools. Well, I got us into 100 schools, roll forward three to five years, we have pilots in Spain and Portugal in the US tens of thousands of kids doing it. 50% of whom were girls and for the tech experts who volunteered 40% were women, you know, tech, you never used the word 50% or 40% and women in tech in the same sentence, that's how I started getting pulled into the conversations around diversity in tech. Sinead Bunting, approached, the charter, she gathered a few of us. I said, if I have to go to another round table event on why there's no women in tech and talking about the problem, my head's gonna explode, let's do something different. We started that on top of everyone's day job, 2017, I was stepping back from Apps for Good going to start my portfolio work. I said to the group, look, I'll do it front of my desk, I'll just, let's see what happens with Tech Talent Charter that was January of 17. We had 17 companies, by Christmas we were a hundred companies. as of 2021 we're in 675 organizations. So it's sort of grown from there.

Danny:

So you, start off with this, wanting to help other people, almost feeling obligated to help other people. And, you've got to the point now where you've got to moderate yourself and you can't be there for everyone all the time. Otherwise who's there for you. And then you've just got this, journey, which. Quite linear in terms of it's education and then education with technology, and then education, technology and diversity. And you're kind of building layer upon layer upon layer to get to, its natural conclusion where you are really looking out for greater diversity in the room, greater inclusion through this tech talent charter

Debbie:

Danny. I think it's something really important when I've talked to a lot of people, you know, you've described it as linear and I remember speaking at a panel event once where they said, it looks very strategic, what you did. And I said, well, that's good because the way I described it at the time. You remember dot to dot puzzles there's that bit where it's still this mystery, you know, you get older and you can just look at it and you feel quite clever because you can already see the picture and how the numbers fit together, but when you're first learning, it, it is very much, you have your Crayola crayon, and you're going, here's one now find to look around. You think you're going to a three, no, but that's how it felt felt at the time each. And I think it's where I try and reassure people, we still talk to people of what would you like to be when you grow up? What's your career? Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? God knows. I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to be when I grow up. And I'm now really comfortable with that squiggly career of just not pressuring myself, ultimately, where am I going to go? But to understand that it's a chapter by chapter and take the next step because again, if you're farther back the line, this looks very linear. But at the time people were saying to me, you're crazy. You're a head teacher. You got to teach this pension. And then you got a safe job working with government, everything else. Why in heaven's name are you going to go and work with startups? But it's, knowing in yourself at that stage. Sometimes it's desperation. I can't not do this or this just feels like something I have to do. It's only afterwards when we look back that it feels strategic or linear at the time, it feels a bit messy but I really wanted to, to move from one to the next.

Danny:

You are also charting new waters. whilst it's a linear path, it doesn't mean it was predetermined or predestined and you're starting as a teacher in 1989 and you're certainly not going to be saying well, by 2021, this is exactly what I'm going to do. It didn't even exist and that it's something that we've talked about in previous podcasts when we say, what do you want to be when you grow up? the answer to that is, I don't know, because you don't know, cause those roles don't even exist yet. to try and think that you need to fit into this pre-industrial mould, where you're going to go in and you're going to work in a factory, going to be a specialist in X, Y, Z, it just doesn't fit anymore. we've got to get those young people's parents more comfortable with that uncertainty.

Debbie:

There was some interesting research done years ago, and they were talking about resilience, that ability of we make a mistake, we fall down, we hurt ourselves, we get ourselves up and we go again and they've done some research with groups of young people. Do you know who came up worst in terms of resilience? Bright girls. And it was a really interesting piece of research and I think there's sometimes for women, we're terrified of mistakes, we're terrified of getting wrong and we've come up through an exam system that rewards perfection and getting it right. Whereas, we know in life, success is just finally getting there and what you do when things burst into flame and when it goes wrong and when you make that mistake, but we were so afraid and quite often when I'm doing some of my coaching and mentoring, so often what I'm doing with women is helping them let go of that fear of getting it wrong. Or what they will think and trying to understand who is they to you what does this mean? It's the, of course we're going to get it wrong. And then what do you do? It's it's we need to start seeing failure and mistakes as way points, not end points on the journey, but we're not doing that with young people. And when we're not doing that with ourselves, and I think for women in particular, we teach ourselves to be risk averse, mistake averse, and you know, and I worked in a girl's grammar school and I could watch it go, when you ask a question, watching how good they were at hiding until they had the right answer. It was that they will do anything. Not to get it wrong and, and our exam system really reinforces that and then business does that. so I think for everyone, because men have a different kind of price tag in that fear of the way we value success and how men have to go at it, so the system is killing us all. Have to rethink that. We have to redefine those things.

Danny:

we know, barriers to entry, even into jobs and careers in terms of the roles that women will apply for as opposed to the roles that men will apply for, there are, a lot of things that can be done for the employer to think about how they position it and how they interview and how they have a conversation, but also for women, in terms of that coaching and mentoring and getting them to see things from a different perspective. And once they've experienced it the right way, It's just so hard we go back to vulnerability and by definition, you are afraid to be vulnerable because, because you don't know how that's going to be used against you. You don't know how that's going to be used to push you down and we've already covered a few episodes where we talk about, ethnicity and we've covered gender, and it's just a repeating story society needs to kind of wake up to this and this, this is the kind of thing Tech Talent Charter is doing. It's trying to help educate and it's trying to help raise the bar. I remember when I discovered Tech Talent Charter, It's just trying to get my head around what it was, what is it, what's it trying to do? What does signing up to it actually mean? And really all of those questions are really difficult to answer until you understand that there is a problem. You talk about going to these round table when it's kind of full of men. And so I've been going to them most of my professional career, and I don't necessarily see the gap because I'm a part of the problem, but not part of the gap and it's, then once you start to see the gap, you see how you can become part of the solution, and using your allyship or your privilege or your position to be able to really shift the tables and then how much richer and how much better things become when you haven't got a group of people who look the same, sound the same think, the same have had the same education, making the same decisions and things aren't changing.

Debbie:

But I think it's also, we've been moving the dial on because when we first started, the buzzword was diversity, diversity, diversity, and that's fine cause you're right we've gotta get other kinds of people in the room, but if all you do that and you've not changed the culture, the ways of doing things that safety and growth, then you're either going to have people bounce right out of there, or in order to survive, they're going to try and find a way to becoming just like everyone else in the room. You know, recruitment is part of it, but we're more and more talking to companies, think about the inclusion, the belonging, the equality of opportunity for people, because we can't just get them in the room. We have to create the safety, the structures, the belief that they have voices and voices that are heard and change that we grow them into leadership because that's when the change happens, because otherwise we're just then saying, come in square peg, now we're just going to need to carve you a bit, If it is just a group of women in the room trying to solve the problem, usually the solution is going to be, the women should change themselves, or in fact, if we get everyone in the room, it's how do we create a solution? Because the more you start unpacking some of these things, it's actually only where it's not even working for all men. It's working for a certain kind of man in a certain kind of mindset. It is we have to change the culture and these things. When you were talking about the coaching and mentoring, it is helping people from underrepresented groups begin to see themselves differently, to begin to reframe how they see things like threat and vulnerability and those sorts of things. For me, when I was much younger, I had to accept that ultimately, as far as I could see for a really long time, I was always going to be scared. But what I learned that was liberating for me is bravery and having courage and bravery is not, not being scared. It is the walking while you're scared. And so for me, from my twenties onwards, what's helped drive my career, and drive my growth has been I'm happiest when I'm doing something that faintly terrifies me. What's happened. I think more in the last three to five years is we also need to create, a sense in growth of sustainability, helping empower us to saying no, helping us know when to push back when to create boundaries and, in the last year and a half, I'd love to pretend that everything I did in my coaching, my mentoring, my board memberships and my running the Tech Talent Charter, I was doing this from my, zen peak of serenity, but I worked myself to a stage where I realized, I was burnt out and I mean, badly burned out where I needed to seek professional care to do this. And there is that bit, again, we need to help grow people to know when we need to lean in, to know when we can say yes, to take risks, but we also need to know when we can lean back and saying no, or not yet, or not right now, or I don't want to do that. So, you know, I've had to, and this is where I've said my journey has been initially it was that leaning into the fear and I can do things and I want to help people what the rest of my life is letting the balance in that of it is not my responsibility to do that for people that I can look after myself, I can say no. I thought I had a whole lot of that figured out before lockdown and then I've had to go back to school as it were and relearn some lessons at a much deeper level, because I went into this, while telling everybody, and working with the people that I coach and mentor, treat this like a marathon, not a sprint look after yourself and I just didn't. and when I would know that I'm getting burnout, I had a professional saying to me, you need to cut back and I just kept saying, I can't, I can't. And it was because I couldn't find a way to give myself permission.

Danny:

It's almost like do what I say, not what I do. And, sometimes we need our own advice played back to us, because we can see the problems and we know what to do and what not to do, but we don't do it ourselves. And I don't think that's because we think we're above it. It's just because, maybe we overestimate our resilience. I can relate to a lot of what you just said. I won't take on an opportunity unless it absolutely terrifies me. If it doesn't terrify me, it's just not worth the effort and it doesn't mean that I then want to be terrified for every single moment. It's not it's, it's saying now, how do I manage through that? How do I sustainably take on this challenge? But it needs to be a challenge. And, and why is that? I suppose. if it doesn't terrify you, then anyone can do it. it doesn't need me to do it. Maybe that's the approach. I'm trying to

Debbie:

And it's it I think what has then happened, I have got very good at that but it is also realizing I somehow in my head, if an opportunity presented itself, as someone asked me to do something, if it scared me, if I could do it and I'd been asked and I should do it. Shouldn't I. There was no sense of you have too much on your plate. Don't be stupid. Don't take that now. I probably earlier in my life, what I needed to do was to lean in as real as I could take those challenges now. As I've got very good at those, It is also then saying, I need to be as good at saying to people, no, I can't do that. Or that is a super opportunity. Let me introduce you to someone else. Let me connect you with someone else because I have too much on, and I think that's part of the vulnerability as well, because I do think I've felt this for a while and it's become even more true, I think in the last 10 years or so we have fetishized, not just entrepreneurship, but that hustle culture, that bit, when you ask how are you guys doing? If you, weren't saying, I am stressed out and I am exhausted, then you're clearly not in the game. And we have now got where in some kind of perverse way, we wear stressed and exhaustion like a badge of honor and that was before COVID. a lot of times I was trying to get people to just, when I'm doing my coaching, let's unpack, what do you mean by stress? What are those things? If we unpack stressed, we start getting some real emotions. I am overwhelmed, I'm angry, I'm scared. and then we can start doing something about it, I thought I had it figured out, but then again, COVID, lockdown. And then almost your sonder moments were bad for me because I was seeing firsthand, through my coaching and Tech Talent Charter, so many things and so many scary, bad things for other people. I was struggling to look after myself because I could tell myself that look, when I'm working with the people that I'm coaching, they're going through so many things they're working with those people look at the people I know who are having reviews and all those sorts of things. And it was, my daughter would always say to me her ripe wisdom of twenty-five was saying, mom, you've got to cut back, you've got to start turning stuff off, you're doing too much. And I was like, you don't understand there's this. And they're having to, how can I? And she said, mom, you can drown in six inches of water, as much as six feet, don't minimize what's going on for, you have to get yourself safe before you can do something for anyone else. We've come through a global crisis and all the rules were off. Some people have been through some incredible traumas, but even if we've not been personally traumatized, we're in a world that is traumatized. I think issues of self care, empathy, compassion with others, compassion with ourselves, we're having to revisit in a very, very different way. Woe betide the person that is thinking that we go back to the old rules. I was talking to a friend who's in a large organization. I will not name she's sweating if she'd hear this, but she was on some call where everybody was asked to share one or two words that described how they were. And she said it was the most terrifying word cloud coming up because it was exhausted, burnt out, tired. We need to remember there are two groups of people coming out of us, there are people who've been traumatized because they have been out of work or in precarious work. Then there's also a group of people who, on the one hand feel very grateful because we have been in work, but who are on their knees, exhausted mentally, emotionally. we need to take note of that as leaders and managers and peoples in the space to help get people better.

Danny:

Your daughter's advice really was that, information to get, when you get on a plane, which is, you've got to put your oxygen mask on first, before you can help other people, because you won't be able to help the other people, if you're not able to look after yourself. It's really sound advice. When you talk about wearing that stress as a badge of honor, it's something I've found myself stopping to say, since COVID started, people will go, oh, you're too busy, you're taking too much on, you're trying to do too much. When do you rest? And I'd always say, I'll sleep when I'm dead. I don't say that anymore because it's just a stupid thing to say, isn't it? And it's saying that you'll be dead sooner if you don't, if you

Debbie:

Yeah, yeah.

Danny:

Just looking after yourself and you can do things so much better with so much more awareness and involvement and compassion. Recently we've had the Olympics and we've seen now real life examples of people saying, I've got to stop. I cannot do this. I don't know how the general public react to that, I think you'll get some certainly in the circles that we're in, in the information funnels that we appear in, on, social media or LinkedIn, which will be very supportive. But I suspect generally people will find it difficult to relate to that because they're not relating to the individual, they're relating to the thing, the person on stage, the person on the screen, not the real person behind that I suppose, we've come to regard those people. as super heroes. And so we don't think they're human, we don't think they're vulnerable. So Debbie, let's go back a little we've heard a lot about, your journey and we've heard a lot about, the problems and challenges of society. Want to hear more about you, the kind of a Debbie behind the helping of other people you mentioned at the beginning three Sonder moments came to mind, would you like to share another one of those?

Debbie:

I think, the earliest one was, obviously very profound. So that was back when I was 20. I had grown up in this tricky childhood, but when I say tricky childhood, I think what you need to realize is from the outside, looking in, I was from a super fantastic, very Christian home. Okay. So we could have a scary episode happening in the background with my mom and not to judge her real mental health issues, but the doorbell would go, we'd be cleaning it up, sorting out, she would answer the door and then we would hear from people, oh my God, your mother is just so Godly and so wonderful, you should be so grateful. So I had that disjoint growing up and again, growing up, you don't know, that's not like everybody's house you know what everybody does. Everybody's mom swings you around by your hair, does these things screams these sorts of things? If you're in a dysfunctional home, the dysfunction is held in a very delicate balance. And when I left for university, that was bringing out one little piece of the puzzle and it got much wonkier for awhile. And as that got even crazier, I developed an eating disorder. which sounds terrible and it was, but it meant I got help. When I got help, I then realized, oh, this isn't actually a normal childhood, this isn't what happens. the moment of connection for me, I came out of that grateful, healthier, but feeling broken because remember this was the eighties. We didn't, even have a language for mental health. Okay. it was just nothing. But I remember coming back to a university and one or two people from university knew, cause I was sort of leading some things at university, what had happened to me and they said, are you willing to talk about it? I remember talking at an event to new freshmen coming in about having the eating disorder seeking help and that moment for me again, was Okay. I am willing to do this because I want to make a difference, but this makes me the freak on campus. But what came out of that was that moment of connection of all sorts of people coming up and saying, oh, well I have this and I do that. And it was that connection first was understanding that my childhood was more broken than I'd understood, but then understanding I can overcome that and if I can be brave enough to share it, that doesn't shut doors for me that opens other doors. So that put me on a path of the beginnings of vulnerability before we had a word for it, and I just thought it was just kind of crazy, but it worked for me and that's what I did. The other thing was looking at under COVID. you mentioned, part of my portfolio is that I do the coaching and mentoring and the coaching for me is one of the most awesome things I get to do it is a weird thing to realize that I can make some money doing this. I work with social entrepreneurs, but it is that privilege of being with people on the journey. For me, the last 18 months, that connection was COVID has stripped back everything, and that in the first instance, the people that I get to coach are just such a diverse group of people doing amazing social enterprises and organizations across the UK and just such different backgrounds. And it is that heartbreaking connection of seeing lives. Prior to this, it was great, but I got to work with them very much as the social entrepreneur COVID was that connection of, Okay, I'm going to be with you on this journey, the whole of your human self. If it means you've lost somebody, if it means you're struggling with the challenges of living by yourself now, in a flat for a year of watching what's happening to your charity, working with the homeless and all of those sorts of things. That connection of realizing, has been that calibration again for me, I was so busy watching and engaging with that piece, that's humbling and painful. Watching those breakthroughs are the greatest gift, the greatest privilege you can have. But my moment has had to be, I need to remember I'm in that journey too and bringing that humility. And we were saying, you know, Danny, you and I might've had this podcast a few weeks ago and we had to reschedule it well, depending on your listeners idea, that is either a really good or a really bad thing that we didn't then, because I was still going to do it because I still hadn't admitted to myself how burnt out I was. We all use that phrase in the same way that we've done that I am stressed, I am exhausted, I'm crazy. I was really from Christmas onwards getting worse and worse, but not really seeing it because I was getting disjoined. I was so connected with everyone else's journeys. I was getting disconnected from my own journey. And even when my other half who lives with me would say things, I would do the yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, shh. I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm fine. Stuff's happening? it was suddenly then experiencing really what burnout is and that it's aptly named feeling as if all my nerve endings were burnt. I could do the smiley face on camera, come off and just think I don't care. I can have an amazing session on a coaching session, come off hear something and go to pieces, and just this growing disconnect, oh, God, this isn't me. I think the, flip side of the concept you're talking about is we need to remember our place in that journey. I'll let myself get lost in helping support, curate grow other people's journeys, cause I want to disconnect from mine. I do have that old message from childhood of you're never quite enough. And so that bit of talking to a professional and having this woman saying to me, you know what, this is, you know, what you should be doing? Why can't you give yourself permission? She was saying to me, Debbie, you should be taking six weeks off work. And I sort of did this maniacal laugh and I said, it can't happened and she said, no, seriously. I can write a medical note for your boss to give you six weeks off to which I did another maniacal laugh. I said, I work for myself, I know her, she's a bitch, she'll never let you off. She'll never let this happen. I'm having to redefine and look at, how do I look after myself? How do I do those things? But again, I have a larger group of women that I thought again, I've got to be willing to be vulnerable, several have been asking me, we're not hearing as much what you're doing, and I went in and just sort of said, here's where I am. This is what it is. Apparently I am moving from what is called chronic into acute burnout. I'm going to be pulling back for a while. Watching the people coming in, then to say, I had this three years ago, you need to do these things. I'm here for you. If you need it, somebody else saying this is happening to me right now, And that's been that moment for me recently that I just keep having to go back to, and it means stepping back from some things or resigning for things or saying, no, thank you very much, or no, I'm not going to do that. And it is painful. It is uncomfortable. It's training muscles. I haven't used in a long time to do that. Drawing the boundaries, which is the other half of vulnerability, I do a lot of reading of Bren Brown and vulnerability is bring your whole self to it, but it's also looking after yourself, it's creating those boundaries.

Danny:

All of your experiences are, saying when you open yourself up, instead of people pulling away, they lean in and you start to see that everyone is going through these kind of problems. And more than that, they're are offering to help. So you're constantly trying to help all these people around you, by making yourself vulnerable. that two way experience where you can help each other. So when are you taking those six weeks off, Debbie?

Debbie:

Well, what I'm doing, I'm making a great escape. So we've been working sort of through the summer and then we're going to go off to Spain. We've proved in the last 18 months that we can work from abroad. So we're going to take the odd week here and there, but I am going to be working from Spain I'm not getting on a plane, I'm not getting in a little, little box of germs. we're going to drive across, I got to the point, cause I do worry. what's going to happen. And I had to look at my other half and this was me looking after myself I don't care what it takes to get me across. I will be a boat person heading the wrong direction. We are going somewhere because I need to unplug, turn off, get away from screens and see something else outside the window.

Danny:

Are you going to take a digital detox?

Debbie:

Yes, I am going to do more periods of digital detox because again, it's galling my 20 something daughter is the one that tells me you're way too online Mum, you need to unplug, you need to do these sorts of things. And it is a detox because it is glued to our hands and our eyeballs go and we're scrolling through all sorts of things to no good reason.

Danny:

I've been there in the past where I've said, right, I'm going to switch off the notifications. that didn't work, I'm going to move the app to another screen, no, that didn't work. I'm going to uninstall the app and that didn't work, I'm going to pull the SIM card out of this device and just go. And actually, it was a couple of years ago, but, it was a week or two weeks completely, completely offline. And it is it's so, so refreshing. having maybe a year ago, come off all the social networks apart from LinkedIn. I'm on LinkedIn far too much. I'm probably spending the same amount of time on my social networks is just on one and it's just, just going, well, you can just leave that and check it once a day. We're fighting big tech money, influencing, psychology, which is trying to get us to engage with our platforms more what's really hard to do so.

Debbie:

I just really galling when you realize it. It is a Pavlovian response. it, is that feeling of, oh my God, they have absolutely wired this into my brain Oh, somebody hit a like somebody tagged me ring the bell and slobber like the dog. So Mr. Zuckerberg is now talking about his next big dream is the metaverse which is bringing everything together in virtual. If you've read ready player one great sort of light dystopian piece, Mark wants to build that. If there's going to be a metaverse, I don't want Mr. Z building that. It goes back to my day job. I need the right people around the right tables. I am not a luddite, I love tech when it works well, we just need to make sure there's more people at the table who are designing this. Otherwise we are building and working towards a kind of dystopian novel, we would never have read, We need more people in the room to say, no, not just no, but hells no.

Danny:

Totally agree, Debbie, thank you so much for giving up your precious time to share your story. how can people, find out more about the Tech Talent Charter, follow you and get in touch if they need to?

Debbie:

So to find out about the Tech Talent Charter, check out our website, techtalentcharter.co.uk. You can find us on Twitter and on LinkedIn. I'm on Twitter at Debbie Forrester. I'm on LinkedIn. And for companies to join for people to get involved with the Tech Talent Charter, it is free and this is about getting in the room with all the other companies that actually want to make this happen. And the more people in the room, the more we can actually really shake things up.

Danny:

I really appreciate your time, Debbie. and you being so vulnerable and sharing your story.

Debbie:

Danny, thank you for setting this up, this is a wonderful platform and it's lovely to have a space where these conversations are happening.

Danny:

And does yours have a name, have you named your imposter syndrome?

Debbie:

in the last month I've realized it's probably called Mom. So I have to tell myself at the moment on a daily rate, when those messages come up go, mum was wrong. Mom is wrong. Mom's wrong. Nope. That's not what he does. That's not true. Keep moving, keep dancing. It's gonna be all right.

Danny:

I think we're out of time for this therapy session, uh, Debbie,

Debbie Forster MBE

CEO, Tech Talent Charter

Debbie Forster MBE is an award-winning figure in the areas of diversity, tech, innovation and educa-tion. She is a portfolio consultant and coach and is co-founder and CEO for the Tech Talent Charter, an in-dustry collective which aims to deliver greater inclusion and diversity in the UK tech workforce. Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) named her Woman of the Year for 2016 and she was awarded an MBE in 2017 for “Services to Digital Technology and Tech Development” and in 2018 Women in IT named her Di-versity Leader of the Year. More recently, WeAreTechWomen awarded Debbie their Editor’s Choice Award for 2020 and Computer Weekly named her Most Influential Woman in UK IT for 2019. Debbie is a trustee for the British Council, serves on the Institute of Coding's Diversity Board and serves on the government's Digital Economy Council and its Money and Pensions Service advisory board.