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I am proud to be CEO of Touchstone an organisation that has been much more than an employer for me. I came to Touchstone in late 2012 not as employee but as an out of work service user in mental health crisis who had travelled through the mental health pathways including spending time in hospital for a serious mental health condition. Touchstone was different to the clinical settings I had been treated in, I felt as if I arrived in a safe and inclusive space where I was greeted with staff from diverse backgrounds – I felt I had finally arrived ‘home’. I started with very little hope and believed that I would never be able to work again. As I was being supported, a part time opportunity for a junior role came up in Touchstone and I applied for the role and succeeded in being appointed. At that point in my life, I was primarily concerned about being well at work, having a good attendance record and just being grateful I had a paid job. In my early weeks, I was very fearful that people would find out that I had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act until the then CEO and my inspiration, Alison Lowe spoke to me and saw something in me that others didn’t. All the traumas in my life such as racism, domestic abuse, discrimination, mental health, etc…which I always viewed as deficits and barriers were actually invaluable lived experiences and assets preparing me without any planning or thought to one day be CEO of Touchstone. An organisation now essentially led by a service user free from any loyalty to any profession. For too long, I tried to fit into places, however in Touchstone I can be open and be my true authentic self which in turn creates an inclusive culture for colleagues to be their authentic selves regardless of their diverse identities and lived experiences. I am open with all staff about how I live with my mental health condition (Bi-Polar) and how I manage with it at work. I like to call this approach ‘radical vulnerability’ which comes from a source of strength. At the outset when I became CEO, I introduced a non-hierarchal and distributive approach to leadership with the first decision to get rid of the CEO office based on the principle ‘I will come to see you’ and to take away the ‘power’ of location. I am in a privileged position that our staff profile is so diverse for example with over a third of our staff from BME backgrounds and a third that a LGBTQ+. Building on the achievements to date I wanted to ensure a co-produced approach to equality, diversity and inclusion is always front and centre when it comes to decision making. When asked by my CEO peers how do I find time to consider EDI matters my response; ‘it’s the first priority I think of…its essentially about people and the world…I know my people and the world around us, it gives Touchstone a competitive advantage.’ As CEO along with other Touchstone Directors, we actively lead and get involved in practical activities that most senior leaders would not such as directly delivering EDI training to staff, leading equality staff network groups, leading the Allies Together group and influencing external partners such as the NHS to change their practices. I don’t want Touchstone just to be the best inclusive employer but to fundamentally change the world around us. I want all partners we work with to become more inclusive and be more like Touchstone. As for achievements the work we do has been nationally and internationally recognised with awards and recognition from various sources such as currently being a Top 5 national Charity ‘Best Companies’ to work for, Top 3 Inclusive Companies, Gold Award Stonewall Employer, accredited Investors in People Platinum employer (national winner in 2022), Disability Confident ‘leader’ accreditation, Inclusive Yorkshire Business Leader of the Year 2024 (HR & Employment Awards) and the ‘Alzheimer Europe’s’ Anti-Stigma Award. At a personal level after 11 and half years with Touchstone (3 years as CEO), my first goal of maintaining good mental health in the workplace has been achieved with a full 100% attendance record which is testament to a work culture where mental health stigma has no place and my second goal was to have a job and a sense of self-worth. Becoming CEO was a bonus – not bad for someone from a poor working class Pakistani family, with little hope given by teachers, living with various traumas such as racism and reaching rock bottom being locked away in a dark room on a mental health hospital ward. To see light there needs to be darkness in the first place, I followed the light which led me to Touchstone.