The term ‘ally’ describes people who believe in, and act to advance, LGBT equality. This can include straight and cis people (people who are not trans), as well as members of the LGBT community. Many employers recognise that allies are essential to creating inclusive and supportive workplace environments for LGBT employees around the world. Increasingly, employers are implementing formal programmes so that employees can be visible advocates for LGBT equality within their organisations.
Vodafone’s global Allies programme was launched in 2018 and has already gained 2,000 allies on workplace and 1,300 allies on the Digital Friends of LGBT portal across 20 countries. The programme includes initiatives such as online learning modules, the LGBT buddy system, LGBT news and upcoming events, and personal stories from allies and LGBT+ staff. It also provides access to visible signals so that Allies can indicate their support for the LGBT community. The Allies programme works in-country, following a schedule of events designed around raising awareness for marginalised members of the community. These events are supported by the global Allies programme and promoted to all staff.
Stonewall interviewed Emma Smith, Global Cyber Security Director and LGBT Sponsor for Technology at Vodafone.
Why do you feel that engaging global LGBT allies is important?
Emma: I believe that the only way we can make change is by trying to engage and involve everyone. Without the support of a Friends network, which now has 1300 friends on our digital allies site and 2000 members in our LGBT+ Friends workplace group, I don’t think we’d be able to make the changes that we need. We need people to feel that they can openly be themselves at work and that requires the right environment. Operating in so many markets can be isolating without a network. Our Friends network allows us to make our support for the LGBT community visible, wherever we operate in the world. This really helps drive the global reach of these issues, without which I think it would be very difficult to create cultural change.
How has your global Ally programme enabled you to advance LGBT inclusion across your international operations?
Emma: Our global Ally programme has over 20 executive sponsors who regularly meet to discuss challenges and opportunities in each market. This enables teams and executive sponsors inside and outside of Vodafone to understand why it’s important, and supports teaching and learning from each other. It also creates a competitive spirit between teams, which has really helped drive our work forward. Our global Friends network has also allowed us to support global initiatives across our markets and has helped us implement the ‘4 C’ strategy - colleagues, customers, co-partners and communities.
What are your top tips for other employers who are looking to develop or advance their global allies programme?
Emma: Listening to the Ally network and understanding its challenges are so important. You need to give the network the freedom to progress how they want to and let them tell stories. This has been so powerful for us and has really helped people to empathise. I would also highlight the value of having regular communication and clear branding. We have a range of really impactful ways for people to show their support; this highlights the organisation’s commitment to inclusion and really helps make it part of a company’s culture. Finally, I would say unconscious bias training is essential. This can be eye-opening and creates a solid foundation for allyship.