Celebrating Black History Month at O2

By Ed Smith, O2’s Executive Sponsor for Diversity and Inclusion (Race)

Today marks the start of Black History Month, recognising and celebrating the contributions of Black African and Caribbean communities to British society. This of course provides an opportunity to reflect on the events of 2020, which have particular poignancy.

At O2 we encourage open, honest conversation and celebration via our internal employee networks. O2 has three employee networks, with the REACH network (previously known as BAME@O2) representing members from marginalised groups on Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage and their allies. The network has been a key contributor in our own journey as an organisation, listening to our network members and working with them to do better.

Throughout October we’ll be reaffirming our commitment to diversity and inclusivity internally to our people, and to our customers.  In August as part of our latest Responsible Business Strategy, we committed to lead by example and become a truly representative business by 2025. This was a significant pledge, but we know words must be followed by action – and our actions followed by change. That is why today we’re also announcing that we’ve signed up to the Race at Work Charter, measuring ourselves against their requirements to:

  • Appoint an Executive Sponsor for race
  • Capture ethnicity data and publicise progress
  • Commit at Board level to zero tolerance of harassment and bullying
  • Make it clear that supporting equality in the workplace is the responsibility of all leaders and managers
  • Take action that supports ethnic minority career progression

As one of two executive sponsors for D&I, split between focusing on Race (which I lead)  with the REACH network and my fellow Executive team member Jo Bertram leading on Women’s and LGBT+ networks, I have seen first-hand how the subject of inclusion is incredibly important at O2, from the shop floor to the CEO.

I’ve been particularly proud of our ‘Evolve’ initiative which launched this year; a future careers scheme focused on developing talent internally within O2. Whether those just starting their career with us, or those who want to try something new, the programme was designed with inclusivity at its heart. It’s a programme for all, built to help us nurture and grow diverse talent with diverse selection panels and psychometrics specifically designed to tackle bias, as well as enabling greater access to Mentoring and Leadership courses for those from marginalised groups. And other requirements of the Race at Work Charter, such as capturing ethnicity data, really chime with our commitment to be bold and open as a business – we’ve been voluntarily capturing ethnicity data since 2018 and, in August we voluntarily published our ethnicity pay gap report. This data will spur us on as an organisation to reach our ambition to be a truly inclusive employer and representative of the millions of diverse customers we serve.

For our customers this Black History Month, we’re showcasing emerging black artists via O2 Music social channels. Featuring a different artist each week during October, these artist takeovers will be reflected in our stores, with digital content, and via bespoke playlists. We’re also supporting Dope Black Mums activity for Black History Month, with an experience giveaway for followers to take to the skies of London at The O2 with ‘Up at The O2’.

Debbie Singh, co-chair of REACH, said: ”The network has always celebrated Black History Month,  but this year we needed to push ourselves further.

 “Our members have had a particularly tough year, so we’ve put together a range of events which rightly reflect on the challenges that still exist but whole-heartedly celebrate our Black colleagues, artists, activists and entrepreneurs who are leading change inside O2 and out, inviting change-makers Paul Anderson-Walsh, Cephas Williams, Mentivity, Ama Agbeze and UTCAI to join us in those celebrations with everyone from the shop floor to board level.  

“We’re also using the chance to re-name our network from ‘BAME@O2’ to REACH to better reflect our ambition and help us all reflect on when the term ‘BAME’ may be helpful and, more importantly, when it isn’t.  We’re really proud that O2 invests in and trusts REACH network members to celebrate and support our black colleagues and influence change”

At O2 we understand the importance of listening, learning, and continuously working to create an environment where the diversity of our people inside the business reflects the millions of vibrant and diverse customers that we serve. This doesn’t just mean welcoming diversity; it means championing it. It doesn’t just mean talking about an inclusive workplace; it means creating a truly representative environment where every employee feels valued and empowered to bring their whole selves to work.

Ed Smith’s day job is General Counsel for O2, where he sits on the Executive Team. He first took on the role as Executive Sponsor, D&I as six-month maternity cover. A role very close to his heart, he has been co-Executive Sponsor since Jo Bertram’s return in early 2020.