It will never hold me back

It will never hold me back

Senior Trade Union Official and two-times parliamentary candidate Gary Clark, on how putting himself forward for speaking opportunities at work gave him strength and confidence. 

I am a 51-year-old man who has stammered all my life, but I have not let it control me. In fact, I try to control it, which I have mostly been able to do for a good number of years (with the odd bad day).

School was not the happiest of times. My stammer was the brunt of many a joke by pupils and even some teachers, so I could not have left too soon. I was only 15 when I left, without a qualification to my name.

Just remember, you’ll find the vast majority of your new colleagues won’t be bothered that you stammer. 

How was I going to survive in the adult world? To be honest it took a number of years. I went from job to job, mainly low-skilled and low-paid, and as a young adult I was unconfident and an easy target for certain adults. I bet you’ve heard them all, things like, “That’s easy for you to say”, “Come on, spit it out”, and of course I was called 'Ggggggggary' so often.

Growing in confidence

I suppose I was a product of my generation. Growing up in a single parent house, life could be a struggle and the area I grew up in was heavily affected by the miners' strike. This inspired me to get involved in the Labour and trade union movement. 

Speech therapy never really worked for me. What did was practicing and always putting myself forward to speak at meetings organised in the Labour movement. That helped give me confidence. One example always sticks out in my mind. At around the early 1990s, I was working in a small family print shop. I was stammering badly when the owner approached me and said, “All you need to do is slow down and you’ll speak without stuttering.” That made so angry but I was very quick in my response. “My God,” I said, “let’s call in the newspapers. You have just cured stammering! All the speech therapists and doctors with years of training and experience couldn’t do it, but you cured it in 30 seconds.” As you might have guessed, I didn’t last long there.

Like many of you I dread interviews. Thankfully, I’ve not needed to do one for 23 years now, and I suppose I have avoided applying for certain jobs. I’ve had good interviews but some awful ones too. There’s no easy way to prepare for them. I tried to relax but how can you when you’re nervous? You try word avoidance but you still end up stammering. On occasions, I left knowing I didn’t get the job, possibly due to my stammer.

If you do get a letter saying you have been successful, then comes your next challenge: the first day in your new job. The fear then kicks in- meeting a new bunch of strangers and thinking, how am I going to cope? and what will they think of me when I stammer? That’s when confidence is important. It’s not easy, though. Just remember, you’ll find the vast majority of your new colleagues won’t be bothered that you stammer. And I believe it’s becoming less of an issue in the workplace.

On-the-job talking

So where am I now? My stammer is mostly under control and I’ve been working for Royal Mail for the past 23 years. I am also now a Senior Trade Union Official for the Communication Workers Union, where I am in charge of all its postal members (over 3,000) in east-central Scotland. I regularly speak at conferences and rallies, and I do some tutoring for our local reps. I also represent members on discipline cases where I prepare and put forward their cases. During disputes I’ve been interviewed on TV and I’ve even done a live radio phone-in show. Was I nervous beforehand? You’d better believe it! Also, during my life I have twice been a parliamentary candidate.  

I’ve even done a live radio phone-in show. Was I nervous beforehand? You’d better believe it! 

So, what has helped me in the workplace? To start with it was learning word avoidance. But then it was being strong and knowing I had a message to tell people; no stammer was going to stop me. I still believe that today and I make sure it will never hold me back, despite the difficulties we face.

Remember, you are protected by the Equalities Act 2010. I can’t cover all the ways it can apply for people who stammer, but here are a few examples: you can be given more time to do a presentation, say, for a promotion. Or you can ask to use a different script when working at a call centre. 

The best advice I can give is to join a Trade Union. They will help and advise you. If you want, feel free to contact me through the BSA. 

For more information on reasonable adjustments and how the Equalities Act applies to people who stammer, click here.

For help and tips on coping in the in the workplace, interviews or job-hunting click here. 

If you’d like to write an article for us, click here.

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