As a founding member of the LGBT+ friends – can you tell us abit about this and how the network was founded?
3 years ago I’d nearly talked myself out of attending a meeting to talk about kicking off the LGBT+ Friends network in Vodafone. I didn’t think I was senior enough, experienced enough or important enough. Then I realised, if not me, who? If not now, when? As an out lesbian, if I didn’t stand up and talk about what mattered to me, who would? So off I went to Newbury and the whole drive there I was running through reasons why it mattered, why we needed to do something, and why I wanted to be involved.
As I got settled in the room and I looked around at the people who, like me, wanted to make a difference. We spanned ages, ethnicities, sexes, departments and levels of seniority. To me, these people were big cheeses, and I was just along for the ride! But we all had a common goal – we wanted to create a network that supported and represented the LGBT+ community at Vodafone.
We talked logistics – Vodafone spans the whole of the UK so it was important that we weren’t Newbury or London centric. At this point the Branch Chair idea was born – we have an LGBT+ lead at all of our sites and it keeps us grounded as a network. I’m proud to admit I was the first with a site against my name! I’m based in Stoke so it just made sense to jump at the opportunity. More Branch Chair’s followed in the coming months, and as we’ve opened new sites, we’ve been sure to recruit people into place so we have a voice everywhere.
We talked drive and goals – what did we want the network to do? What did we think people needed the network to do? There were no egos, it was just people trying to do something good. The most common themes coming out in conversation were: offer support, educate and connect people. Looking back, I like to think that it’s those simple goals that have helped us achieve so much in 3 years!
That all day workshop was probably one of the most daunting yet inspiring and empowering sessions I’ve ever been in.
Have you noticed a change in Vodafone since the network has been established?
Absolutely. I believe that the LGBT+ Friends network has really made a change in Vodafone. At times it’s been a hard road – as a company we’ve had to learn some lessons and we’ve had to learn how to be brave. Just the LGBT+ acronym can be a bit scary when you aren’t involved in the community, and encouraging people to ask questions often leads to some awkward “can I ask you this” conversations. On the whole, our employees want to know more, want to be involved and as I look around Stoke Contact Centre now, I see so many people who are more confident and comfortable in being themselves.
We’ve sponsored London Pride, we’ve represented at Manchester Pride and we’ve volunteered at Stoke Pride. We’re active in our communities and we’re helping LGBT+ youth charities. We’ve realised the importance of role models throughout the business and we’re working to make more available throughout the company. Our CEO even spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos about LGBT+ Inclusion. That wouldn’t have happened 3 years ago and I am so proud of the way Vittorio spoke, not about numbers and profits, but about inclusion being the right thing. Publically and privately, Vodafone supports the LGBT+ community and that is a tangible thing now, not a lip service nod in the right direction.
Are you proud to work here? Can you be yourself at work? etc etc…
I am so proud to work here. 3 years ago we said we wanted to crack the Stonewall Top 100 – to prove to ourselves and others that Vodafone is not just a place to work, but the place to work if you’re LGBT+. And we’ve done that.
I’ve always been open about myself at work, in fact I was out at work before I was fully out at home! I’ve had brilliantly supportive managers throughout my career who have helped me grow and encouraged me to use my differences and my views to my benefit. I’ve never been asked to conform, I show up to workshops in jeans and trainers because it’s how I feel most confident, and there’s no judgement. There’s no pressure to look, behave or talk a certain way, I can just be me, doing a job I love in a company that accepts me for who I am.
Plans for future – we have done so well being recognised as a Top 100 employer but what now do you think we need to focus on?
This is a huge achievement – we’ve done incredibly well, but it’s taken a lot of people a lot of hard work to get here, and I thank every single one of them. Without the commitment of our Branch Chairs, their committees and of course our Network Lead Carl and our sponsor Neil, we’d flounder.
We need to take the time to celebrate the success that we’ve had, but there is always more to do. In the UK, we still have employees who have bad experiences in the workplace, we still have employees who don’t feel that they can be out at work. We have more leaders to educate and encourage, people who need to be supported through transition, we have new starters who need to know that it’s completely ok to be their true selves at work.