Organisations that conduct business on an international scale must consider the varying religious, political and social views across different countries and cultures. One example of this is LGBT+ in the workplace. Mihail Stoenescu, Global Head of Finance, Partner Markets at Vodafone, co-chairs their UK LGBT+ network. He joined Eoin Canty, BIE’s ED&I Lead and Research Director, to discuss how Vodafone strives to be the best from an inclusiveness perspective, encompassing LGBT+ representation.

What does Vodafone have in place around LGBT+?

As an international business, Vodafone has a global Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) team that collaborates with local D&I Leads across our markets. Several of the countries we operate in also have LGBT+ networks, with dedicated local sponsors. I co-chair the LGBT+ network in the UK.

All the LGBT+ networks talk to each other. We meet regularly to share best practices and review progress in each country.

You have an allyship programme. How does that work?

Vodafone has a global LGBT+ sponsor, Ninian Wilson who is the Supply Chain Director and CEO of Vodafone Procurement. He brings together the local market LGBT+ senior sponsors and networks and actively advocates on how to improve LGBT+ inclusion across our markets.

We have an online platform where you can sign up and become an ally. You get access to training and events, a newsletter and become a member of a workplace group of LGBT+ friends. You can also post on the platform: a story celebrating a colleague, for example, or news of legislation that affects LGBT+ people. We are trying to promote allyship and create a ripple effect. The last few years have sometimes been difficult for the LGBT+ community, so it’s really important.

Do initiatives vary in different countries?

Yes, they have to. Essentially at Vodafone we pursue equality of opportunity and inclusion for all employees. We don’t tolerate any form of discrimination related to age, gender, race, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, background or religion. However, some countries are more developed than others and there are countries with anti-LGBT+ legislation. We want to protect our employees everywhere, but it has to be done differently.

We use the so called ‘embassy model’. That means we aim to create an inclusive workplace internally for our LGBT+ employees while respecting local legislations. 

As an example, when an LGBT+ training or other resource is launched, we make the material available on a voluntary basis, or we often create different versions of the resource, corresponding to the different LGBT+ country zoning requirements. We will also provide confidential support to LGBT+ employees in such countries if they need it. Recently we added pronouns in Microsoft Teams to support our trans and non-binary community which is available on a voluntary basis.

How do you celebrate Pride?

Celebrating Pride Month across our markets and making it annually to Stonewall’s most LGBT+ inclusive employers Index, remains a big priority for us. At the same time, we continue to drive change and raise awareness throughout the year. For example, we have in-depth conversations on LGBT+ inclusion in smaller groups, concentrating on specific topics such as trans, non-binary and bisexuality; while also bringing in external speakers.

We look to celebrate intersectionality across the work that we do, as we all have more than one identity – for example, we support events like Black Pride. We believe the more people you bring together, the easier it is to drive the conversation and tackle unconscious bias of all kinds.

The other thing we’re trying to do is make a difference in our local community. For example, we now sponsor Newbury Pride, and we also work more actively with Stonewall to get feedback and share best practice. We want to do something that lasts, makes a real difference, and has an impact all year round.

You’re from Romania. What was it like moving to the UK?

Romania’s cultural heritage and religious beliefs have created a stigma around LGBT+. Same sex relationships are no longer a crime, but same sex marriages are not allowed.

I come from a traditional, religious family. When I was growing up, there were no books or role models, and I had no one to talk to about the emotions I was going through. I never knew a single gay person. I guessed a few people at work might be gay, but we never had a conversation. I couldn’t be my true self. I had to blend in to survive.

When I moved to the UK four years ago, it was like travelling 30 years into the future. I could be out in society, out at work. It’s taken for granted. I'm also out to my family and friends in Romania now, and they have all reacted positively. I’m incredibly proud because coming out has changed their perception of what it means to be LGBT+. I hope there’s a ripple effect on my friends and their families and society at large.

How did this experience affect you?

It really motivated me to take my present role as the co-chair of the UK LGBT+ Network. I want to drive further change.

We need to make sure companies create a safe space at work and make the workplace as inclusive as possible, so more LGBT+ people have the courage to step forward.

How do you think attitudes have changed in recent years?

In some ways, society is becoming more polarised, for example with an increased focus on the trans community. But for us in the workplace, it’s different as we are striving to be more inclusive. 

We have increased our presence and improved communication. We have ‘Count Me In’ campaigns where you can submit your diversity profile in many of our markets. With this, more colleagues are disclosing their LGBT+ data and we are having more conversations. The number of our allies is increasing every year.

I think the corporate world is keeping the balance, keeping the conversation going in a constructive and positive way.

What next?

All around the world, LGBT+ people want the same thing: to be accepted and part of a kinder society. That’s what people really want. We need to keep reinforcing that message.


Written by

Eoin Canty

Eoin is a qualified accountant (CIMA) and a Consultant within BIE’s finance team, with a particular focus on delivering executive search assignments.

He works across a range of industries, recruiting CFOs, FDs, Divisional FDs, FP&A Directors, Group Financial Controllers and COOs, for SMEs, international PLCs and private equity/VC backed organisations.

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