As we enter the final week of Pride Month 2021, we spoke to the co-leads of our internal LGBTQ+ network, Sophie and Max, about what Pride means to our LGBTQ+ community and the plans they are putting in place for our people.
The start of Pride this year coincided with the launch of the newly formed Virgin Media O2 which brought together two of the UK’s biggest brands. Over the past four weeks we’ve seen both teams come together to celebrate Pride internally (virtually) with activities planned into July as part of an extended Pride season. Activities have included Cinema Clubs and various talks and Q&A sessions with external speakers, working closely with The Terrence Higgins Trust and LGBT Foundation.
It’s clear that both brands have come together with the same shared value and focus: making sure our people feel they are comfortable being authentically themselves at work. Below, Sophie and Max share what they’re doing to ensure this continues for our joint LGBTQ+ community.
Sophie Parker, pronouns she/her, is an IT Programme Manager & Head of Joint Venture Integration. She is also the co-chair of the previous Proud@O2 internal network alongside Matt Herridge. She is a trans woman who actively campaigns for trans rights.
Max Evans, pronouns he/him, works in Consumer Strategy and co-led the Prouder network at Virgin Media alongside Oeil Jumratsilpa.
Both Sophie and Max are currently working together to launch the new internal LGBTQ+ network at Virgin Media O2.
Sophie: Pride is an incredibly important and high-profile event. It’s both a celebration and a protest. It’s an important means that involves our whole community in celebrating our achievements to date and putting a focus on what needs to change for true equality to exist as we move forward.
Max: Yes, the celebration point is really important and includes the progress and achievements we’ve made but, as Sophie said, there is also that important protest, history and recognition that even though to people looking in from the outside it feels like we’ve solved it, we definitely haven’t. There’s still a lot to be done.
Sophie: We’re a fully inclusive company. Every single employee should feel able to be themselves so we need to make sure that culture is encouraged and grown and nurtured and that everyone feels like this is the place where they feel truly comfortable to be themselves.
Max: Yes, that’s really key, and there are plenty of stats on how much more productive a genuinely authentic environment creates for businesses, which is a nice biproduct of the work we do rather than a driving factor. Building on what Sophie said, there’s a few parts to creating this. The first is inclusion, diversity and belonging being a part of our everyday DNA and that’s across all levels and all parts of the business. It’s everyone’s responsibility and accountability, not just those in leadership roles, to be championing, looking out for each other and holding themselves to account to learn more.
Secondly, it’s all about community, particularly for groups who historically have faced more hurdles, like the LGBTQ+ community, and an opportunity for us to learn from each other. As a cisgender gay man, I have a very specific perspective but that doesn’t mean I have the answers for everyone under the same LGBTQ+ umbrella so there’s always a lot for us to learn from each other. It’s my job as an ally to listen to representative LGBTQ+ stories and read up on the experiences of others so that I can effectively support my colleagues
Thirdly, is intersectionality. At Virgin Media O2, we’re lucky to have a number of established networks which is a powerful way for us to keep learning and make sure that we’re representing all perspectives.
Sophie: We have to bring the networks together and we have to set a joint plan. The really good thing here is that when you look at what both companies are doing, they’re very similar, so the opportunity is to look at what we’ve been doing differently and look at best practices. We have to get a plan and an agenda that supports our people and supports our customers and that’s the priority for Max, myself and the other co-chairs at the moment.
Max: Totally agree, this stage is all about working together, sharing ideas, priorities, perspectives, experiences, learnings from what’s gone well and perhaps not gone well in the past. It’s also our role and responsibility to hold the business to account to make sure that the LGBTQ+ community are included in conversations and thinking and we need to make sure that we’re keeping the business honest about that.
Sophie: In a year’s time, I would love to have marched together under a VMO2 banner at a Pride. That would be the icing on the cake that says we’ve brought together our two LGBT organisations and we’re now together representing our company with pride.
Max: Love that! That’s something we collectively want to achieve. I think for me success would be that we know that we’ve done right by our members and we need to work out what that means. The other side to that which I’m looking forward to learning from our O2 counterparts is activating our ally community. We have a lot of people in the business who are allies which is great – I want them to do more and feel empowered to do more and be really active in our community. True change only comes when it’s a consensus and majority driven rather than a minority of people in networks. We want everyone to be active and everyone to have the confidence to have a conversation and feel like it’s a network for them.