LGBT History Month: Why everyone in business should be an ally

As LGBT History Month draws to a close, I wanted to recognise what our people have been doing here at O2 – and, as executive sponsor for Diversity & Inclusion and an ally to the LGBT+ community, I have the pleasure of sharing some exciting news from our employee network, Proud @ O2.

Traditionally, LGBT History Month has been a time to look deep into the past, but this year Proud @ O2 took a different approach. They chose to explore more recent history and the changes in society that are taking place right now. It’s so important to come together around moments like this month, to take the time to learn and to celebrate inclusivity, particularly as people can’t be together in person right now. The LGBT+ community has been on an ongoing mission for respect and equality for many years, and even though things have come a long way, there is still a long way to go. This means an even greater need to maintain momentum on inclusion when colleagues are physically distanced from each other.

At O2, we have made clear our ambition to become a truly inclusive employer. We are committed to creating an environment where all our people are included and feel able to bring their whole selves to work. As well as Proud @ O2, we have other employee-led networks – the REACH Network (Race, Equality and Cultural Heritage) and the Women’s Network. These grassroots groups actively encourage everyone to learn, reflect, and explore allyship as a way of showing solidarity and support for colleagues. Because no matter what our own individual background or intersectionality looks like, every one of us can be an ally every day, both at work and beyond.  We believe that demonstrating allyship is a key way that everyone at O2 can lead by example all year round.  And the leaders of our Proud network are themselves actively encouraging our Inclusive Allies and non-LGBT+ colleagues to join the network and broaden their own understanding. In doing so, they are proactively helping to progress O2’s ambition to champion a commitment to both allyship and LGBT+ initiatives. Throughout the pandemic they’ve maintained a programme of activities internally, including:

  • A regular roster of livestream sessions on LGBT+ education, making use of our employee social media platform Workplace with great engagement and conversation from our people.
  • Hosting external speakers including Gareth Thomas, ex-World rugby player sharing his experience as a gay man in sports, and Charlie Martin, a transgender woman working in F1 racing during last Pride last year.
  • Continuing their ‘reverse mentoring’ sessions, inviting members of our Executive Team to hear directly from colleagues from LGBT+ communities sharing their experiences – whether positive, negative or in between, and talking candidly about issues and challenges that need to be addressed.

Another important way we drive our inclusive commitments at O2 is by empowering our people to have bold conversations, which can lead to initiatives being developed by our employee networks that make a material difference in the workplace. Proud @ O2 has done just that this year, and they are today announcing that colleagues working in stores can choose to add their preferred pronouns to their staff badges, ready for when we are out of lockdown and able to open our doors to customers again. In demonstrating that employees at O2 can be themselves, our customers can also feel comfortable about themselves.

I for one have my badge on order to show my support. And to be truly inclusive with this initiative, this isn’t just for our retail colleagues – our office-based staff can also choose to add their pronouns to their email signature and their internal profiles if they wish.  It’s entirely optional, but great to know the option is there if our people want to do it.

This work has been a real passion of Proud @ O2 and it’s fantastic to see it ready to launch. It represents how as a business, we work openly and collaboratively with our employee networks to provide practical tools and create a culture with inclusivity truly at the very heart.

But progress like this cannot be sustained without collective and ongoing action. As employees, we all have a responsibility to think about our role at an individual level. Each of us has a part to play in supporting LGBT+ colleagues, and colleagues from any other underrepresented or minority group, through true allyship in action.

I’ve been O2’s Executive Sponsor for D&I for a number of years now and am encouraged by the enthusiasm from everyone in our business to play their role in fostering an inclusive culture. It is in everyone’s power to move from simply acknowledging diversity to proactively driving inclusion. I hope that other businesses and individuals alike will follow suit by reflecting on the role every one of us can play in building a diverse and inclusive society.

By Jo Bertram 
Managing Director of Business and Executive Sponsor for Diversity and Inclusion at O2

Preferred pronouns: (she/her)  

Matthew Herridge, Co-Chair of the Proud @O2 Network, said: “We are delighted that our people can now choose to add their pronouns to their name badges ready for when they’re back serving customers on the shop floor after lockdown – and even more so that the initiative is being extended to include office-based employees, who can also opt to add pronouns to their email signatures.”

Sophie Parker, Co-Chair of the Proud @ O2 Network, said: “Work on launching the pronouns badges has been a priority for us all at Proud over the last year – by demonstrating we at O2 can be ourselves, we are allowing our customers to feel comfortable about themselves. We’re grateful for the support from so many across the business to get this ready for launch – from our Executive Team, HR and the senior leadership team in Retail – demonstrating real allyship in action.  Enabling colleagues to decide how they choose to express their gender identity and indicate how they’d like to be referred to by colleagues and customers is a vitally important piece of work by members of our network and I’m incredibly proud of the work undertaken to launch this in this year’s LGBT+ History Month.”