Proud at O2 marks Pride 2019

By Jo Bertram, O2 Executive Sponsor for Diversity and Inclusion

This week I’m getting ready for Pride after our staff network, Proud at O2, invited members of O2’s executive committee to join them.  I attend most years, but this will be my first time taking part in the O2 parade.  Alongside Ann Pickering and Nina Bibby from our exec committee, I jumped at the chance to walk the route in London on Saturday, celebrating equality alongside members of the Proud network.  But I am also acutely aware of the significance of these events in a year that has given rise to some shocking hate crimes against the LGBT+ community, all the more notable in the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York that gave rise to Pride.

Proud at O2 has had a presence at Pride since 2013, and the entries have grown year-on-year. This summer they are expecting their biggest ever turnout with 550 members attending events across the country. These are fantastic numbers – real testament to the growth of the network and the stellar efforts of Proud members who organise O2’s attendance each year.

Later in the summer our iconic O2 blue bus will be on the road, joined by more members of our exec committee – Gareth Turpin in the Manchester parade, and Derek McManus and Nicola Green in Brighton. Proud at O2 will also be at Glasgow Pride, Liverpool Pride, Belfast Pride and Leeds Pride and UK City of Pride – Newry.

Whilst Pride is an enormously important moment in the LGBT+ calendar, here at O2 we are committed to creating an environment where our people are included and feel able to be themselves all year round.

That’s exactly why the Proud network exists, and is why we have a bold ambition to be a leading inclusive employer in the UK. As a customer led organisation, it’s vital we have a diverse, balanced and inclusive workforce that reflects and understands the needs of our 25 million customers. It’s about doing the right thing for our people and communities.

We continue to make strides as a business with initiatives firmly rooted in inclusivity. We recently introduced a new Family Leave policy, in which we increased the amount of paid paternity leave we offer our people from two to 14 weeks. This policy covers heterosexual and same-sex couples, as well as partners welcoming a baby via adoption or surrogacy, ensuring that all new parents have the support and flexibility to spend valuable time with their new family. And last month we launched a toolkit for our people and managers  to support individuals who are going through or considering starting a gender transition journey.  These initiatives demonstrate our commitment to promoting inclusion in the workplace.

Talking to me ahead of Pride in London, Mark Leonard, Chair of Proud at O2, said:  “It is wonderful to see the biggest ever support from our network at Pride events up and down the country, big and small. But beyond the fun, glitter and rainbow flags it’s vitally important to remember how we got here. In the 50 years since the Stonewall Riots that sparked the birth of Pride, I would have hoped as a society we would have come further.

Stonewall has recently reported that one in five lesbian, gay and bi employees have experienced verbal bullying from colleagues, customers or service users because of their sexual orientation in the last five years. Whilst 42 percent of trans people are not living permanently in their preferred gender role stating they are prevented from doing so because they fear it might threaten their employment status. These statistics are unacceptable. Here at O2, I’m immensely proud of the company’s ambition to be a leading progressive employer, these recent initiatives help create a diverse and inclusive culture for our people. In 2019 nobody should feel alone or unsupported at work, or unable to be their true self.”

So, as I get ready for the weekend, I want to take a moment to pause and recognise all that our Proud Network bring to O2.  But we must never grow complacent, as there is always work to do to offer our people a place to work that is inclusive, diverse and supportive.