What made me feel included at Vodafone?
About 10 years ago, before we had really embarked upon our LGBTQ+ inclusion journey at Vodafone, I wasn’t comfortable being open about my sexuality at work. There weren’t any obvious role models to look to or signals telling me that everything would be alright if I said something.
Back then, it was small, human gestures that helped me to feel included, supported and confident being myself. I remember Rosemary Martin hosting an informal lunch in Paddington to get to know some of our LGBTQ+ network members and see what support the Executive Committee could offer us – quite an embryonic employee network at the time. I also recall a colleague, Belinda Ampah, asking to come along to take part in the discussion on the day.
These gestures of support from two great allies made such a huge difference to me. They made me feel that I could be open about my sexuality at work and I’m still very grateful to both of them for that.
My small part in this
I am one of our Group Heads of Legal at Vodafone. I’m responsible for our global Consumer, Partner Services, Brand and Patents legal work and currently lead our Corporate Secretariat team as well, helping to advise and protect our board.
Being so much more comfortable in my own skin in the workplace has certainly helped me to demonstrate the confidence needed to take on bigger, broader challenges during my career at Vodafone. Currently, I am part of the Executive Sponsor team working with Ninian Wilson to set our LGBTQ+ inclusion priorities across the organisation. I also chair a forum of LGBTQ+ network chairs aimed at sharing best practice between our networks, harnessing pockets of excellence in specific OpCos for the benefit of the wider Group.
The real litmus test for an inclusive culture
True company D&I starts with the basics. It can take time to get inclusive policies and procedures right but committing to doing so ensures that all colleagues feel genuinely respected and supported day to day. Setting the right tone from the top is also critical.
I think that the real litmus test is whether an organisation is prepared to support its LGBTQ+ employees through what it says and does externally. It takes a brave but genuinely supportive organisation to stand up for its values even when it could face external criticism as a result.
At Vodafone, I think that we strive to challenge ourselves in these areas and have done a lot of work to ensure that the policy structure is right and that we have genuine, heartfelt executive sponsorship for our networks and their initiatives. Externally, we are also seen as thought leaders on LGBT+ inclusion in the procurement space which is a real pocket of excellence for us. Ongoing collaboration between our network groups, HR and comms teams is also encouraging to see as we try to navigate an increasingly complex external environment. We are at our best when we come together in this organisation because, in one sense, it’s like one big work family. My hope is that we have the courage to be bold where it’s needed in these challenging times.
When engaging with customers, we should be proud to be gay, every day
Several years ago, when we were much earlier on in our inclusion journey, I attended a Pride lunch at which Mary Portas was the speaker. We had recently had some negative feedback from a small pocket of customers at the time, who felt that Vodafone “coming out” for Pride with a big splash in our London retail stores felt disingenuous.
I asked her what she thought about this, as we felt cut to the core! She said that inclusive language and actions should come through in the fabric of the organisation and that our messaging should be in sync with the ebb and flow of our corporate and customer communications throughout the year. In other words, making a big splash is great, but it’s not meaningful if it’s followed with months of silence on the topic.
A company needs to demonstrate its support day in, day out, through its words and actions. We are much better at this several years on, following several fantastic initiatives in the retail space. When you engage with us at retail now, even the smallest of signals like a rainbow name badge or the option to select Mx when you register online lets customers know that they can feel safe and included with Vodafone.
Investing the time to build an inclusive team is critical
As a leader, I’ve always done my best to build a vibrant and inclusive team through my hiring decisions. I have found that the diversity of thought and lived experience not only makes way for a good level of constructive challenge and high performance in a team, but also brings with it a huge richness in the quality of conversations that you can have on inclusion topics.
Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, for example, my colleagues led some really thought-provoking conversations on race and ethnicity. I was impressed with our collective ability to make space for everyone to express themselves and their opinions on Vodafone’s approach to multicultural inclusion. We came up with several action points that we shared with the network and HR to help feed into Vodafone’s multicultural inclusion strategy. As a result, I volunteered to be one of Vodafone’s Executive Sponsors for Multicultural Inclusion.