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Keeping our Digital Voices heard: a day of virtual learning and reflection

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Screen showing the Digital Voices members listening in to the recent hybrid event
Digital Voices members join the recent hybrid event via online tools

Our Digital Voices network reconvened recently with a necessary twist on our usual learning events. After the programme was paused in March due to the global pandemic, we came together for our first ever #DigitalVoices hybrid event.

Without being able to meet face-to-face, our speakers were presenting from studios and offices across the country to provide a more virtual learning experience.

In its third year, Digital Voices aims to equip women with the skills and confidence to tell their story, inspire others in DWP Digital to find their voice and build an inclusive platform to tackle gender equality.

Gender equality and where we are now

Digital Voices programme lead Joanne Rewcastle is shown presenting in front of television cameras and monitors
Digital Voices programme lead Joanne Rewcastle presents at the hybrid event

Programme leads Joanne Rewcastle and Claire Metcalf kicked off the day by welcoming back our Digital Voices and reiterating the aim of the programme -  for more women to have the confidence to tell their story, to be credible role models, encourage and inspire others to speak up and create a gender-inclusive environment.

One clear message throughout the day was that, although our work, home, social spaces and the world may have changed, our goals and aspirations towards equality have not. The fact that women have felt the burden of COVID-19 was underlined throughout. A recent study found that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s, and women make up 39% of global employment but account for 54% of overall job losses.

Telling our Digital stories with pride and an open-heart

The stories shared from across the Digital Voices community stories painted a vivid picture of the commitment to our services, colleagues and citizens. When describing the last six months of work, words like exhausting, disjointed, stressful, intense and most common, challenging were often used.

We discussed openly what we were most proud of from the last six months and our day-to-day coping mechanisms at home and work. There’s been hungry kids, caring responsibilities, no toilet rolls, new babies and new starters to factor in alongside our regular work commitments.

One of our Digital Voices, Angela, said that her team at work were her squad and was proud that they really coped with challenges, bonded and solidified themselves as a group. Another Voice, Alison, was proud of how quickly her family got into a routine that worked for them. Anne, vocalised what most of us were thinking – “I’m just glad we are getting through it”.

Followed by the most uttered phrased of 2020 – “You’re on mute!” we talked about how energised, uplifted and motivated we were to get back on track with our Digital Voices journeys and for the day’s activities.

Blogging, understanding our roles and communicating with confidence

Lisa Mason and Andrew Ellis from DWP's Digital Engagement Team lead a session during the Digital Voices learning event sat at a table in front of a monitor, surrounded by cameras
Lisa Mason and Andrew Ellis from DWP's Digital Engagement Team lead a session during the Digital Voices learning event

During the event, we discussed practical ways to build the skills and confidence to communicate across all platforms effectively. Since lockdown, the Digital Voices community has contributed two external blogs, five internal blogs and countless social positive social media posts and discussions.

Speaking of how she felt after seeing herself on screen in a video interview a few months ago, Digital Voice Judith talked about putting herself out of her comfort zone and even said she didn’t recognise herself. Blogging and social media mentor Andrew agreed that “getting started is often the hardest part” when posed with the question of “How do I get started with blogs when you have no oomph?”.

The Voices reflected on whether their learning needs had changed during the last six months - 34% of them agreed that their  priorities had changed since lockdown began.

One clear shift was how the Voices can create and optimise our presence in a virtual environment, and how they can be more effective when presenting and engaging by video.

Some of the suggestions included implementing new structures, working with technology and being smarter around digital channels in order to work better together away from physical locations.

'It's OK not to be OK' - learning resilience

In the final part of the Day of Learning, we were joined by former DWP colleagues Jane Reid and Janice Hannaway. Jane and Janice met 35 years ago at DWP in Glasgow and since then Janice has trained as a psychodynamic therapist and Jane has held various roles in user research with a focus on gender.

One of the main objectives in Digital Voices is building confidence, and this session was a great opportunity to explore some of the theory behind that. Janice ran us through some of the psychology of why we are possibly feeling so exhausted, demotivated and overwhelmed, comparing our experiences similarly to the grieving process. Both Jane and Janice also spoke about the feeling of mental and physical exhaustion, a collective feeling of tiredness even when we don’t know why.

The overarching message from this discussion was about acceptance. Accepting that is actually how we are all feeling, it is OK to not be OK and it’s OK to own it, accept it and share it.

It was emphasised how working in multi-disciplinary teams, it’s easy to encounter imposter syndrome and we heard tips on how to challenge this by separating feelings from fact, celebrating successes, practising saying thank you and talking about how you feel.

What the future holds for our Voices

After such an interactive and inspiring first hybrid session, it really felt like the Digital Voices' energy was well and truly back.

Our aim is for the Voices to shape the future for their further development by creating content, learning, practising and reflecting on their experiences while keeping the conversation going. In the meantime, we will be online in our Share and Learn sessions and for the Digital Voices graduation, but there is sure to still be cake and tears (virtually!)!

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