Rob Munn’s personal journey into understanding his lived experience of disability began with a single conversation. But, he says, it was crystallised into so much more on PurpleSpace’s Networkology One Workshop.
Rob is European Affinity Partnership Director at Enterprise Holdings, the world’s largest car-rental company. He’s had a profound hearing loss since the age of 13 but it’s only over the past four years that the 39-year-old has become aware of its impact on his life. The journey, via PurpleSpace and Networkology, finds him developing Thrive, Enterprise’s disability support network at its European headquarters.
‘I never considered myself disabled,’ Rob says. ‘I’ve never ticked that box on a form. But because of my hearing loss I removed myself from social situations. This led to a social anxiety that grew and became more challenging the more my career developed. It came to a head one day when a colleague asked me bluntly if I was OK and I realised that I wasn’t.’
Rob recalls the power of the conversation. He began seeking support with his mental health and had counselling. ‘Enterprise does a fantastic job of encouraging all types of diversity,’ he says, ‘but I still felt that we needed a dedicated forum to discuss disability in the workplace. After all, one simple conversation helped me, which made me realise that we could make a huge difference if we could foster hundreds of those conversations.
‘I sometimes feel a bit of fraud talking about disability because I know that many people would swap their impairments for mine. But through PurpleSpace and Networkology One, I developed the skills and confidence to talk about it.’
He remembers the life-changing experience of sharing his story on Networkology one. ‘It helped me structure my story and to begin share it. But it also helped me understand that it’s through lived experience and stories that a network like Thrive is built. Anxiety brings out all sorts of challenges, perfectionism and self-doubt being two great examples. But I learned the value in being comfortable with being uncomfortable and the brighter truth that anxiety is a perfectly normal experience that you can learn to manage.
‘I don’t think I’m yet quite my absolute authentic self at work. I’m still my own worst critic. But through learning more about myself I am becoming much closer to being my authentic self. The course helped a lot with that. The point is you don’t have to know the answers to start the conversation - it’s the questions that matter.’
Eighteen months ago Rob started wearing a hearing aid. ‘I’d always thought that wearing one would alter others’ perception of me, and mine of myself. But it was like giving a partially-sighted eight-year-old a pair of glasses for first time. I was amazed. No more lip reading. No longer on the outside at events. Could I have been in a better place had I worn an aid earlier? Perhaps. But where could I have found the support? I understood the need for a network like Thrive.’
Networkology One and Networkology Two are part of PurpleSpace’s core offering - we run the two workshops annually. As well as the important personal dimension, Networkology also explores - surprise, surprise - the nuts and bolts of network building.
‘I think one of the less obvious lessons I learned is that success is about the succession,’ says Rob. ‘My intention is to no longer be chair of Thrive within the next 12-18 months.’
Thrive’s disability committee which had just three members at the outset now has nine. ‘I don’t want to grow the committee anymore, I want to grow the community: our intranet hub, our events, our allies and champions, our senior management engagement. Delegation is becoming easier as people now volunteer rather than needing to be asked.’
Rob helped Enterprise to develop a disability and wellbeing passport for staff. ‘I’d heard about passports through PurpleSpace but when I mentioned them at an industry event I was surprised how little was known about them. Industry colleagues had more questions than answers. Their questions - those all-important questions, again - helped me formulate what we did. The passport is not just for disability, it’s for all challenges around wellbeing that might affect people at work: caring, bereavement, childcare and so on. We may try to separate work and personal lives but the truth is we bring each into the other.’
The next step for Thrive is Enterprise’s 470 branches across UK, each with upward of five employees. ‘How do we make Thrive relevant to them too?’ Rob asks. It’s a question he’s looking forward to discussing on Networkology Two.
Talking to Rob, we at PurpleSpace get a real sense of dynamism and journey. (And it was great to hear how Networkology one helped him on the route.) That Rob’s own journey is in parallel with that of his network trumpets the importance of asking the questions over knowing the answers. It was truly empowering to hear him talk about finding his authentic self and concluding: ‘one day I think I will tick that disability box on a form’. He’s already ticked the box to sign up for Networkology Two.
Enterprise Holdings fact box
- Founded in 1957 in St Louis, Missouri USA
- Operates the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car brands
- Named after the aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise on which founder Jack Taylor served as a fighter pilot in the Second World War.
- Over 10,000 locations in 100 countries
- 550 UK staff on Egham campus
- 470 UK branches
- Thrive network founded in 2017
- Enterprise Holdings are becoming a #PurpleLightUp Strategic Partner in 2019
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