https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2016/03/11/staying-true-to-yourself/

Staying true to yourself

Head and shoulders of Wendy Hardaker
Wendy Hardaker, Commercial Law Director, Government Legal Department

Let me introduce myself. My name is Wendy Hardaker. I am the Commercial Law Director for the Government Legal Department (GLD) and Head of Profession for Commercial Lawyers across government. I am also a carer and the Carer’s Champion for GLD.

I took on the role of Commercial Law Director in June 2014. Since then I have had the absolute honour and privilege of working with some of the most amazing people in the Civil Service. We have been pulling together pretty much every commercial lawyer across government to establish the Commercial Law Group, which is now a recognised and integral part of GLD.

Much to my astonishment, my role in this was recognised by my winning the 2015 Civil Service Award for Leadership.

While that was amazing (I got to meet the Queen!), what made it particularly special to me was that it was members of the Commercial Law Group who nominated me for the award.  As those of you who have been through a change programme will know, change can be scary and unsettling. So, for the members of my group to nominate me for a leadership award – when I know that some of the decisions I have had to take have not always been popular – made winning the award truly remarkable and something I will never forget.   

Woman with award flanked by two men with Civil Service Awards banner to their right
Wendy Hardaker with her 2015 Civil Service Award for Leadership, presented by John Manzoni (right), Chief Executive of the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office

Telling my story

My other big passion at the moment is raising the awareness of carer-related issues. At the beginning of April last year, I was honoured to be asked by my director-general, Claire Johnston, to take on the role of Carer’s Champion for GLD.

Being a carer is not something I have previously spoken about much, and taking on the role of GLD Carer’s Champion and telling my story has been one of the hardest things I have done in a long time.

As I am discovering, my story is not an unusual one.

About 6 years ago my brother was diagnosed with cancer. He went into hospital to start chemo and came out 11 months later, alive, but disabled.

Those 11 months changed not just my brother’s life but the life of my whole family. I’m not telling you this to win sympathy, but to try and explain why, sometimes, life takes you down a path you never expected.

Overwhelming response

I moved back to the North West to be nearer my family, and in doing so I did think it would limit what I could do work-wise. But I was wrong. I freely admit I have been really lucky. Working for the Civil Service and with sympathetic and supportive line managers has enabled me to meet my carer responsibilities, while also carrying on doing the sort of work that I love, and even to take on the role of Commercial Law Director – a role I do flexibly, dividing my time between the North West and London. It can be exhausting at times, but being willing to work flexibly and being open and honest with my line manager has been the key to making it work.  

It’s never easy to open up and tell your story, especially in a work environment, but I’m glad I managed to find the courage to do it. The response and support I have received have been overwhelming, and I hope my story will give others the courage to do the same.

15 comments

  1. Comment by Michael Collins posted on

    I, too, am a carer. I look after an elderly parent and am gifted with line management that shows both empathy and consideration; enabling me to grow into my role as a Local Driving Test Centre Manager (LDTM). Coming from a background of being self employed, I have found the Civil Service supportive and have been given every opportunity for self development.

  2. Comment by Shanaz Begum posted on

    Hi..i really like your story I am a carer too looking after two family members that live with me and I am working full time.It is hard to really talk about what is actually involved and what goes on a daily basis and issues that you overcome everyday and most important thing is how you feel...so well done.......

  3. Comment by Kevin Oliver posted on

    Lovely piece. I totally support what you are doing.

    Carers are not generally valued for their contribution, both to the business, and to the wider community. They save the state millions of pounds, yet they still seem to get a raw deal. All we want is fairness, a balanced approach and reasonable adjustments were necessary.
    I'm glad that you are prepared to talk about it, more people should.

    I think part of the reluctance is that the traditional Civil Service was a slow moving behemoth where " That's the way we've always done it" was the catchphrase. Not so now, we're changing - not as fast as some would like, but we're changing - and If you don't communicate, then how do you expect people to know.

    No one should be reluctant to be who they are. Indeed, the Civil Service (and other employers) should give people the encouragement that they need to flourish.

  4. Comment by Josephine Porter posted on

    Valuing carers in the workplace does not happen in every office. I've experianced it.

  5. Comment by Alan Colquhoun posted on

    That is a truly touching story. I have a friend and daughter who have diagnosed mental health problems. Their DLA was withdrawn and they did not then qualify for PIPs. The Mental Health services they used to access have been slashed and have become severely disjointed due to lack of funding. So I can say my experience is different. Also, Special Leave has been reduced significantly and the department are going to employ new staff on 7 days per week contracts. So there will be even less time available to care for vulnerable people.

  6. Comment by annonymous posted on

    I am a full time carer, and an induvidual who is suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I am on the mental health register, and registered disabled myself, including other health issues, and recently the support from my line manager has been lacking, whereas perivous line manager's took into account of my needs, it has left me in a very stressful position, and has caused me to self harm as that is one of my coping mechanisms, I have spoken to various support services who have made me aware the flexibility is there. My current situation with my line manager is causing my stress level to rise to a completely alternative extreme.

  7. Comment by Sue Randall posted on

    I am a carer for my mother, who lives with me. I have no choice but to work full time so its a difficult situation to juggle. I am lucky to have a lovely and helpful line manager who does everything she can to support me. I myself suffer with depression and type 2 diabetes so trying to keep everything on an even keel alongside working is difficult and challenging. I tend to use a lot of my annual leave and flexi time to ensure my mother attends her doctors and hospital appointments and also to stay with her when necessary. We have just gone over to a Pension Credit site and the way of working is not as flexible. All the talk about a pay rise if you agree to change your contract concerns me. I have a carers passport but I worry that this will not be considered and I am seriously considering partial retirement because of this. I hope that valuing carers in the workplace is something that is taken seriously.

  8. Comment by EJ Riddett posted on

    Having two disabled parents already, when my housemate was admitted to hospital and my sister had a car accident the very next morning, I worked from home in order to make all necesary arrangement - such as collecting my sisters property from her car before it was towed away. My line manager told me I was "taking the piss" and has given me such a hard time I have been forced to take leave whilst my mother is ill in hospital awaiting surgery.
    Please continue to push forward with this much needed publicity - people really do not appreciate what a tough and good job people such as your self are doing.

  9. Comment by Rosie Anderson posted on

    I really feel for your situation and that of all the other contributors. My husband and I are both disabled and provide care for each other while working as full- time civil servants.
    Its not just our health condtions that present challenges but the attitudes of others.
    There is still a long way to go where disabled people and carers are no longer considered as an inconvenience but an asset.

    • Replies to Rosie Anderson>

      Comment by Rosie Anderson posted on

      Congratulations on a very well deserved reward!
      Your story of selfless commitment is very touching.
      You and your supportive line managers are to be praised indeed!

  10. Comment by Sarah Clayton posted on

    Wendy, well done on your award this is much deserved. You are an inspiration and I'm glad your leadership skills are being rewarded. It made my day opening my PC and seeing this today. I also admire your openness in telling your story.

  11. Comment by Pete Handley posted on

    Hats off to Wendy for sharing her story, all carers have one but it can be hard to speak out.
    Finding yourself in the position of becoming a carer can come to anyone at any time, More often at a time of personal sadness and grief. Carers needs are very individual and challenges can be presented in so many different ways both hands on and hands off as an organiser and PA. Defining a person as a carer is difficult and the roll changes with time. I am really pleased that the civil service is recognising that there can be ways of carers balancing their work and personal life responsibilities, and that drives for change need to take into account ways of working collaboratively for the benefit of the civil service and its employees, and that it would be wrong to design job and person specifications in a way that exclude carers from continuing in their roll, or even from entry to jobs in the civil service. The civil service needs caring people.

  12. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Fantastic blog and congulations on your achievements!

  13. Comment by shirley posted on

    Excellent , well done

  14. Comment by Sue Law posted on

    Reading your story and the experience of others resonates so much with me. I have a Carers' Passport, and a very understanding boss who allows me to work flexibly as an official homeworker to meet both business and my family's needs. It's good to know there are others out there facing the same sort of problems - I just wish everyone had the same opportunities and a caring line manager.