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We Create Space: Meet the Founder, Michael Stephens.

Michael Stephens, Founder of We Create Space, speaks about the career and mental health journey that led him to create a global community-led platform and consultancy activating social change for LGBTQ+ professionals.

Yujx stands against a white wall wearing a black top. He smiles. He has brown hair in a centre parting, and wears square glasses. He has nose and lip piercings.

Interview by Luke Lopez


Why did you start We Create Space?

I set up WCS on the back of my own personal experiences with identity; overcoming various mental health struggles while climbing the corporate ladder as a young gay man determined to prove my value. I ended up burning out at age 30, at what I thought was the pinnacle of my career - having found that there was not only a lack of easily accessible information and relevant conversations about mental health, but also a distinct lack of understanding on the topics of LGBTQ+ inclusion at work. I found myself dealing with my internal struggles on my own, not fully understanding the impact that my past was having on how I showed up in the present - inside and outside of work. With WCS, I really wanted to create a community platform and consultancy that addressed both the personal and professional needs and challenges of queer people; activating social change through creating space for LGBTQ+ people and allies to come together and learn about themselves, but also each other.


Tell us about We Create Space's origins.

We started by hosting free online community workshops and retreats during COVID. Together, with the help of other facilitators and guest speakers, we explored topics such as identity, purpose, values, self-awareness, body-image, story-telling and queer leadership. WCS was initially just a Zoom link really - a safe space for sharing tools, tips and coming together to have meaningful conversations. People came back week after week. That was where we started seeing the community being built. Despite people joining from all over the world, they felt connected - because we were bringing them together with a common mission - improving their own understanding of themselves in order to improve their connection to others. It was about after a year of hosting community workshops we started working with more brands and companies.


Why is working with corporate partners important?

Working with corporate partners is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it enables us to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace, fostering inclusivity and equality where we spend most of our time. Secondly, it lets us apply our community insights and learnings in corporate environments - helping companies better serve diverse employees and customers. Moreover, our extensive speaker networks highlight the breadth of diverse experiences within the LGBTQ+ community, promoting deeper understanding and empathy. Additionally, by connecting our grass-roots community leaders with corporate organisations, we bridge gaps and foster mutual growth. These partnerships create spaces for new perspectives and conversations, driving innovation, and social progress. Overall, it's a symbiotic relationship that advances LGBTQ+ rights and corporate diversity.


How else do you support the LGBTQ+ community?

As a registered CIC community-led social enterprise, the profit made from the consultancy work we do with large corporations goes back into the LGBTQ+ community. The money goes towards providing free events, resources, well-being solutions and support to the wider global queer community. In the last three years, we’ve built a global community of 20k members, hosted 1000+ events, worked with 180+ corporate partners and invested £450k+ back into the LGBTQ+ community through the creation of paid work opportunities.


Who are the We Create Space collective?

The WCS collective are a global network of 250+ speakers I've built - the wonderful people I've met and had the pleasure of working with over the last five years; made up of trained DEI specialists, therapists, certified coaches, mental health professionals, activists, senior execs, and corporate change-makers. Each has a unique talent and powerful story to tell. I recognised from quite early on that although my story resonated with a lot of people, it didn't reflect everyone's experience under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. The rich diversity of backgrounds, stories and experiences in our collective aims to represent the plethora of intersectional identities across the queer spectrum.

What have you learnt about creating queer-inclusive spaces?

I think intention, safety and trust are three of the most important contributing factors. Be intentional with who you are including and get clear on why they are there. This makes events and experiences all the more powerful and impactful. Safety is paramount; not only physical safety but also emotional safety, ensuring that everyone feels respected and accepted. Trust is built over time - by actively listening to a range of voices, learning from their experiences, and continually adapting to meet a community's evolving needs.


What do you mean by 'Queer Leadership'?

When we talk about Queer Leadership we're essentially talking about challenging the status-quo and doing leadership differently. It's primarily about self-leadership - understanding that we each have the power to shape the world around us. That starts with actually looking inward and understanding our own mental health - our own thoughts, behaviours, emotions and beliefs. And how that self-awareness can massively impact the way we show up in the workplace as leaders, allies and change-agents. Ultimately, to understand how our identity and experiences impact the conversations that we're having, the relationships we're fostering or the communities that we're building.


What are your hopes for the future of We Create Space?

To continue building a global platform and consultancy that serves and supports our clients and our community; to activate social change, connection and transform the status-quo through DEI-led conversations, initiatives and experiences; to educate, support and inspire all individuals to engage in personal growth, healing, leadership development, active allyship and community wellbeing. I want us to contribute to creating a world where individuals lead with love and influence positive social change and growth by ‘Creating Space’ in their own lives; consistently prioritising and practicing awareness, care, compassion, and respect - for themselves, and others.


Roxy has back hair with white streaks, she wears black glasses with a black beret and a red jacket. She stands in front of the Louvre.

Michael Stephens (he/they)

Michael is the founder of We Create Space. He is a Creative Director, Story-Teller and Community Builder. He loves to bring people together on a common mission and create magic. He spent over 10 years working for some of the world’s most respected British brands - including i-D Magazine, Vice Media, Liberty London, Ted Baker and Virgin Atlantic - but diverted from his original career path after overcoming a series of life-changing mental health challenges. He now works with leaders, communities and organisations to help promote the importance of prioritising self-care and personal-growth alongside professional development, predominantly within the lgbtq+ communities.


You can find more information about Michael here.


 

While you're here...


Did you know we consult with Businesses, ERGs and Change-Leaders providing bespoke corporate solutions? Through consultancy we design shared learning experiences, produce DEI insights and craft bespoke content that support individuals with strengthening their roles as change-agents within their communities and organisations. Find out more here.


We also organise FREE community events throughout the year! We offer a variety of ways to get involved - both online and in person. This is a great way to network and learn more about others' experiences, through in-depth discussion on an array of topics. You can find out what events we have coming up here. New ones are added all the time, so make sure you sign up to our newsletter so you can stay up to date!

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