Vodafone not only won this year’s overall Top Employer Award at workingmums.co.uk annual awards, but also Best for Returners and shared the Family Support Award.
Vodafone has set itself an ambitious target: to be the world’s best employer for women by 2025. That mission is backed by an equally ambitious set of policies and initiatives, many of which have been rolled out globally, and by a wider commitment to social change in an industry which is struggling with female representation.
All of this makes it a deserved winner of workingmums.co.uk’s Overall Top Employer Award this year. Vodafone also won the Best for Returners award for its global returner programme and shared the award for Family Support for its ground-breaking work on domestic violence and abuse.
For more than 10 years, the Vodafone Foundation has been developing technologies to support people affected by domestic abuse in the UK and across Europe, connecting them to the information, advice and help they need. A KPMG study commissioned by Vodafone, published in the autumn of 2019, showed how domestic violence and abuse affects people in their working lives. It found that around 15% of the female workforce in 107 countries have experienced domestic violence and abuse in the past 12 months and that more than one third (38%) of victims said they suffered from reduced productivity at work while 22% said they sometimes stopped going to work and/or would take days off.
It also calculated that in the nine countries studied – UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, India and Kenya – an estimated $2.1 billion in economic output is lost each year as a result of work absences related to abuse. It says four million women also missed out on a promotion as a result of domestic violence and abuse – suffering a related annual average salary loss of $2,900 per woman. This equates to approximately $13 billion in total potential earnings lost each year across those nine countries.
Understanding the extent of the problem, the Vodafone Foundation has developed the Bright Sky app in partnership with domestic violence charity Hestia, which provides advice and guidance for people affected by domestic abuse so that they can get help. The app enables them to log incidents securely using either text, video, audio or photos. Evidence collated can enable police to intervene and can help secure prosecutions. A short questionnaire helps users assess the safety of a relationship and there is information about different forms of abuse, the types of support available, steps to consider if leaving an abusive relationship and how to help a friend affected by domestic abuse.
The app, which is available in multiple languages, has been downloaded over 25,000 times in the UK since its launch in 2018. It is being scaled and adapted to reflect local laws in a growing number of different countries in collaboration with organisations on the ground. It is now available in Ireland and will soon be available in the Czech Republic and South Africa. Italy, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Egypt, Hungary and Albania will follow by the end of 2020. “It feels like we are doing something significant,” says Anna Tomkins, Head of Talent and Resourcing at Vodafone UK.
Building on this work, Vodafone has developed a Global Domestic Violence and Abuse Policy, which it launched on International Women’s Day 2019. Employees globally now have access to support and specialist counselling, as well as up to 10 days additional paid leave. The extra ‘safe leave’ gives employees who have faced abuse time to manage their situation, such as seeking professional help and counselling, attending police or court appointments, making arrangements to move house and supporting their children. The process for taking leave is deliberately anonymised and is noted down as generic leave.
Vodafone also offers line manager training and has developed an HR toolkit with domestic abuse expert Dr Jane Pillinger. “It’s a really difficult subject to get people to talk openly about,” says Anna. “By having this policy we hope that it gives people more confidence to come forward and seek help.”
Managers are taught to spot the signs that someone may be affected by domestic violence and abuse through case studies which bring the issues to life and make them think what might be going on under the surface, for instance, if their performance at work is dipping. In addition to awareness raising, they are also taught how to ask open questions which enable people to talk about what is happening to them if they want to and without feeling any assumptions are being made. Managers are also encouraged to signpost people to expert support. And they are encouraged to think about any practical things they can do to support individuals while they are on the premises, for instance, giving them access to secure parking or ensuring their desk is not near a window.
Vodafone is currently rolling out training for HR and line managers across the world and says it is committed to continue to provide education and support in this area.
Because some aspects of the support are anonymised the policy is mainly monitored through line manager attendance on training webinars or downloads of the recording. “We are not measuring the uptake of the policy. The most important thing is that individuals trust us to access support,” says Anna.
The work that Vodafone does on domestic abuse has been shared with other employers. Vodafone leads the Employers Initiative Against Domestic Violence network and its HR toolkit is available for other employers to download on its website.
Its domestic violence policy is just one of a raft of global HR policies developed by Vodafone – which is also known for its flexible working policies. They include a global maternity policy [launched in 2015] and ReConnect, its global returners programme, which launched in 2017 and which now spans 25 countries.
ReConnect is a global programme aimed at recruiting people back into the workplace after career breaks. It offers a local induction programme, a network of mentors and “buddies” and a global capability programme, which covers everything from confidence building to work life balance and brings together the ReConnect community online and supports them with transitioning back to work. Returners have the option of reduced hours for the first six months with the ultimate goal being to provide support for talented individuals to return to the workforce. Since the programme launched it has helped hundreds of people restart their careers, finding jobs with Vodafone across the globe.
The company’s most recent global policy is around parental leave and that will be rolled out by 2021 across Vodafone’s global markets. Anna says it is important that the policies are global where possible [some markets have very specific legislation that needs to be taken into account]. That not only simplifies things for the company as they don’t have to create hundreds of different country-specific policies, but it also provides a strong sense of a Vodafone identity. “What we provide is minimum standards wherever we can, a framework of broad principles and consistency. We want our employees to be treated as equals. That is the right thing to do and I am really proud about that. It makes me want to keep working for Vodafone,” says Anna.
In most cases, she says, the minimum standards tend to be above the minimum norms in any given country. She admits that some policies are more challenging to globalise, for instance, those regarding LGBTQ+ employees [given homosexuality is illegal in some countries in which Vodafone operates] and says they have to be handled sensitively in order not to place anyone at risk of harm.
Globalising policies is not easy, says Anna. It requires a lot of planning and looking at practical issues to ensure that they work for every country where they are implemented.
The global policies have brought a lot of media attention around the world which has driven a positive agenda in many countries. The ReConnect programme, for instance, raised the profile of returners and the value they add to businesses by gaining coverage in top tier media which reached over 150 different countries. “It had a really significant impact,” says Anna. “In the first five days we had 2,400 applications from across the globe.”
She says that kind of response shows that many of the policies relating to families and women in the workplace are relevant across the world.
Vodafone is continually monitoring its policies and working on how it needs to continue to evolve.
The global policies are part of Vodafone’s overall mission to promote inclusion and gender equality. It is making strong progress. For instance, as part of the HeForShe campaign, Vodafone committed to increasing the representation of women in management and leadership positions to 30% by 2020. Having reached that goal in 2019 – 30% of managers are now female – it has set a revised target for women to hold 40% of management and leadership roles by 2030.
They are supported by a raft of other initiatives such as the Women@Vodafone network, a designated training day for women to focus on themselves, unconscious bias training and a week-long celebration of women’s achievements as part of International Women’s Day, backed by senior leaders. There is also a parent and carer network and programmes aimed at encouraging women in digital industries, for instance, its #Codelikeagirl programme for 14-18 year old girls has reached over 3,000 girls in 23 markets. It is proud that its graduate intake has a 50/50 gender split. “All our programmes are about building sustainability for the future. They are not one-off initiatives,” says Anna.
She stresses that Vodafone regularly consults employees on what they want from the company and analyses their answers to surveys vigorously as well as holding informal forums and using its many network groups as sounding boards. “We are continually looking at what we do and how we can improve and asking our employees what is important to them,” says Anna.
The company is keen to have a wider social impact on the world. To this end, in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Vodafone Foundation is working on the innovative Instant Network Schools programme in refugee camps, which has given over 86,500 young refugee girls access to a quality digital education. Vodafone is now UNHCR’s largest corporate partner for Connected Education with the expansion of INS to reach more than 500,000 refugee students.
Vodafone is also providing women in emerging markets with basic technology so they can access the advice, support, health information and education they need. It aims to connect an additional 50 million women by 2025 as a way of addressing the gender equality gap. Women are much less likely to have a phone in these countries than men.
Anna says feedback from the company’s graduate assessment centres shows that this kind of approach is something that draws them to Vodafone. She states: “We ask them why they want to work for Vodafone and this is what they often say differentiates us. People want to work for an organisation where everyone can be themselves and which they are proud of.”