Vodacom leads telecoms industry in LGBTIQ+ diversity and inclusion
Vodacom, South Africa’s largest mobile network operator, is leading the telecommunications industry in supporting, celebrating and empowering its LGBTIQ+ employees through its workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives.
In recent years, the company has partnered with the likes of ABSA and Investec to initiate events and discussions on “coming out in the workplace” to help young LGBTIQ+ people navigate the traditionally conservative corporate space.
Vodacom has also integrated LGBTIQ+ inclusion into the employment of new staff. Kally Mabe, a cybersecurity specialist at Vodacom, shares their story of the onboarding process.
“I decided to come out to my recruiter and my manager. It did not affect my application, interview or hiring process,” Mabe tells Mamba. “Instead, I was treated fairly and as I am or as I came out throughout the interview. Since I have been at Vodacom, I am at my happiest. I’m thriving in my career because I do not have to face anxiety or be stuck in a closet.”
In addition, Vodacom has developed resources and employee support networks that are accessible to all staff, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. These include its LGBT Employee Network and Friends – a support network designed for LGBTIQ+ employees, leaders and allies to create a culture and environment that overcomes stigma and misunderstanding.
Mabe, who heads the LGBT Employee Network, explains that it is a safe space for LGBTIQ+ staff and allies; a platform through which they can learn and advocate for LGBTIQ+ rights by increasing visibility in the work environment and across markets. (Mabe, however, recognises that there are numerous African countries in which Vodacom operates where the criminalisation of LGBTIQ+ people is a serious issue.)
These employee support networks are also responsible for annual EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) benefits and workplace equality requirements. The fact that the LGBT Network’s executive sponsor is an Exco member, indicates how seriously the company takes this issue.
“It means that we as people are willing to do the work necessary to treat each other equally…”
Mabe explains that Vodacom believes that inclusive workplaces boost the productivity of its employees, which translates into better and improved business for the company, its employees, business partners and customers.
“It means that we are working towards a balance between all genders, regardless of whether the person’s identity is recognised by the legal system. Most importantly, it means that we as people are willing to do the work necessary to treat each other equally. If we are willing to better ourselves and treat others the way we would like to be treated, we will eventually create a safe space for all,” Mabe says.
Vodacom has also implemented gender-neutral staff policies, education and awareness campaigns, gender-neutral restrooms, and an email signature toolkit that displays preferred pronouns. There are toolkits for transgender people on health care and on how to come out in the workplace.
The company has a Pride calendar as part of its inclusive corporate strategy that keeps track of all important dates for LGBTIQ+ events and occasions. This helps the company adapt its marketing and communications strategy to be inclusive in its social media campaigns and marketing.
Sadly, this client-facing LGBTIQ+ inclusion is not always well received by everyone. A recent online Vodacom advert that featured a queer-representing model, for example, was met with a flood of homophobic and transphobic comments from some members of the public.
Vodacom was undaunted by the hate and threats and responded that it would continue to stand by its values as an ally, asserting that “we are pleased to represent the LGBTQIA+ community in our campaigns and creative work and will continue to do so”.
The #PrideAtWork campaign aims to create safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ professionals
Vodacom’s recently launched #PrideAtWork campaign is another call to action, both for Vodacom employees and for the corporate world and society at large. It aim to promote the mindset that everyone can live together safely and freely without being excluded or discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression.
Mabe says, “It is a journey for those who are impacted and for allies who feel the need to contribute to a future that is not shaped by gender bias and boundaries, but by humility. The #PrideAtWork campaign is also about creating a safe space for businesses and their allies to contribute.”
As a result of these initiatives, Vodacom was one of the five companies to receive gold status for its LGBTIQ+ diversity and inclusion policies, such as equal parental leave regardless of sexuality or gender, in the most recent South African Workplace Equality Index (SAWEI).
Mabe acknowledges there is still much work to be done in challenging prejudice, not only for the LGBTIQ+ community, but also for other marginalised or previously disadvantaged groups.
“We need to work together as allies for all previously disadvantaged communities to create safe spaces for all, regardless of gender, sexuality, changeability/disability, race, visibility, and representation,” says Mabe. “There is still a lot of education to be done. We need to recognise and use the intersections between all the equity gaps to create balance, because if we take this approach, no one will be left behind.”
This article was made possible with the support of the Other Foundation and is part of a series addressing LGBTIQ+ Economic Empowerment in South Africa and the region. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Other Foundation. www.theotherfoundation.org.
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