The sponsor of many major WorldPride events, three Optus employees reflect on what that has meant for them.
Whichever letter within the LGBTQIA+ initialism represents you, one thing you want to know is that you’ll be safe and supported at work.
Three employees – one gay man, one bisexual woman, one ally – reflect on what Optus’s support of WorldPride has meant for them.
For Matt Smith, who works in the People and Culture team at Optus, this year was one of the most exciting of his career so far.
“That feeling as our Optus float rounded the corner from College Street onto Oxford Street was just phenomenal,” he says.
“People are high-fiving you and dancing – I looked around to my colleagues to see them all just beaming.”
As the parade march returned this year to its original iconic Oxford Street route, Optus increased its troupe on the march – it quadrupled from 20 to 80 participants when compared with the Covid-restricted march around the Sydney Cricket Ground last year.
“I’d never join an organisation that’s not supportive in the first place,” Matt says.
“But Optus really is next level. When I joined I knew it had a reputation as a very supportive LGBTQIA+ employer, and I instantly realised that the organisation not only talked the talked but also walked the walked.
The organisation relaunched its LGBTQIA+ employee network, Express Yourself, last year.
“We’re here to support our colleagues, suppliers and customers to be who they are so they can bring their best selves to every interaction,” Matt says.
Proof that this message particularly resonated came from a straight colleague who recently approached members of the Express Yourself committee for advice.
“They suspected their child might be gay – and saw us as an open community to ask for advice about how to best support them and create the right environment for them to feel they can come out when they’re ready,” Matt says.
A one on one conversation was set up, pointing that employee to resources, contacts and professional support, but also to answer any questions they may have.
It was such a successful experience for that employee, word has clearly got around; it has since happened several other times, including from a parent who thinks their child may be trans.
“I’m really proud of the fact people feel they can reach out to us in this way – it shows they trust us enough to be open,” Matt says.
In addition to its support of WorldPride and Mardi Gras, Optus provides year-round support of the LGBTQIA+ community through its backing of initiatives like Wear It Purple Day and donations to charities like Minus18 and the Bobby Goldsmiths Foundation.
When Teina Stowers, a member of employee network Express Yourself who is bisexual and has worked in the product/brand teams at Optus for 20+ years, discovered she’d been allotted a spot on the company’s float for the Mardi Gras parade, she was “absolutely thrilled.”
Teina says this year marching with Optus was another opportunity to celebrate inclusiveness, love and unity: “The energy from the huge crowd was exhilarating,” she says.
“To see everyone cheer us on as we danced and waved, I felt a real sense of pride to be part of this community.”
She says that she feels encouraged and engaged at work because of Optus’s membership of Pride in Diversity, a workplace program designed to assist Australian employers with the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ employees.
“It proves Optus is a safe workplace to be your individual self, and the people are supportive and accepting,” she says.
Showing it’s an organisation that knows inclusivity means involving its allies, Kalia D’angelo says the opportunity to be on the Mardi Gras float enabled her to make new friendships across the company.
“I joined six months ago, and it has been really great to join somewhere so open and inclusive which celebrates everyone’s unique differences and cares about everyone, no matter who you are.”
There’s a good reason to make these cross-company friendships, she says – people perform better when they can be themselves.
“That’s what makes you more productive at work. All those diverse opinions and differences are what enables and encourages better collaboration.”
The parade – Kalia’s first – consolidated these feelings. “I felt proud knowing I’m helping represent these LGBTQIA+ colleagues I’ve befriended. The adrenaline that runs through your body, the smiles – I’m still buzzing!” she says.
She says being a good ally includes listening, supporting and discovering where to remove any inherent bias you may have.
“That’s extremely important. Not only just for relationships and life but also in work,” she says.
“Part of being an ally is that you get to enjoy it with the community you’re supporting and celebrating. It’s about bringing everyone together, which is exactly what Optus is about as a company.”
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