For me, the realisation that I was gay was not something I took easily. Throughout my school years it was always the case that anything LGBT+ related was sniggered at and torn apart. For this reason I led a double-life, making my sexuality something I would explore behind closed doors and resorted to reading ‘self-help’ articles on the internet. Naturally, this evolved demons: being gay wasn’t something to be proud of, and I would hide it at all costs.
At the same time, I was struggling to find someone to aspire to. Being a teenager is a minefield. What should I wear? What music should I like? How do I become popular? I desperately searched for someone who I could identify with – a celebrity, a sports star, anyone. Alas, being an ethnic minority hinders success in this field. In fact, I found POC representation to be severely worse in the whitewashed world that is the LGBT+ community than I did in the mainstream media. I eventually became, and to some extent still am, forlorn and frustrated that my struggle to find representation was long-term.
At 18 I moved to university and relished off my newfound independence. Unfortunately, I continued to lead my double-life, sheltering my homosexuality due to the casual homophobia that floated around. Balancing a degree known for being one of the world’s most intense with inner turmoil took its toll. Eventually, I found someone I could trust and we developed a long-term relationship. Since neither of us were in a fit mental state it quickly deteriorated into a nightmare. I became the victim of an abusive relationship, but I knew his illness was to blame so I stayed for a long time. I sacrificed my independence until I literally broke. Being watched by pastoral staff 24/7 wasn’t fun but the whole experience taught me something: I will never sacrifice my health and my happiness again.
In the autumn of 2017 I joined Vodafone. I began brave, even mentioning to people, albeit very quickly in conversation before changing topic, that I identified as LGBT+. I awaited the sniggers, the disgust, the retreat, but they did not come. One morning we were joined by an existing grad who discussed his experiences of being LGBT+ and naturally I expected the hostile atmosphere I experienced at university. There was none of it. And for the first time ever I began to feel like I could be who I truly am and live without the anxiety of being vulnerable because of my sexuality. Upon meeting my manager for the first time I spotted a pride ribbon on his lanyard, and walking around the campus I saw copious rainbow ribbons around workers’ necks. It dawned on me that Vodafone is a place I can be out and proud. I felt respected by the people around me; the people at Vodafone were a breath of fresh air.
Before accepting the job I understood that Vodafone was a global company but I had not anticipated the vast diversity of its employees. It may sound silly to some, but to see POC represented in all areas of the workplace, at all levels of the hierarchy and in internal communications really made me feel welcome. In the past I have been patronised and felt like the ‘token ethnic’, but now I feel like I belong. To see ethnic minorities represented and succeeding within Vodafone is encouraging. Whilst it can sometimes appear the world is becoming less accepting, Vodafone is a place I feel I will always be welcomed.
Stemming from my experiences at university, I am now determined to always have my independence and health in-check. Beginning a grad scheme can be scary in this regard as everyone wants to make a good impression. What if I’m asked to work to exhaustion? If I say no will I look lazy? What if my manager thinks I’m incompetent? All valid questions. As a two-month-old Vodafone employee I can say with certainty that Vodafone is a non-typical corporate and the horror stories don’t apply. My manager and my team are incredibly supportive. I’m told to take regular breaks and even leave the office early when the week has been busy. Vodafone cares for its people. As a Vodafone employee I can be independent, healthy, happy and succeed – there is no need for sacrifice.