Freedom to be who you are at Vodafone is key and James enjoys the company's inclusive and authentic culture supporting its LGBT people

Vodafone changed my life for the better and I can be who I am

Vodafone changed my life for the better and I can be who I am

When James joined Vodafone in 2011, it changed both her career and her entire life. It made James realise that you should never underestimate the impact you have on others at work and that kindness, open discussion and encouragement can change the course of a person’s life.

"It enables us to grow and say “Yes” and be fearless," says James.

Being creative

After doing a two year make up course, James worked in retail management and then as a freelance make-up artist and on-counter in a major retailer for three months.

"I wanted to do something creative, and the make-up artistry world was very much on the cusp of a revolution with YouTube and Instagram bloggers changing the face and accessibility of the industry," explains James.

James had worked in the video games world for almost eight years and found it a challenging and very male dominated sales environment where she faced sexism and harassment. James therefore had to learn to adapt her management style when she moved from this male environment to a predominantly female one. However, one similarity was that both businesses had a traditional outlook in terms of stereotypical gender roles. 

An open, accepting and supportive environment

"Being LGBT+, sometimes these gender roles and ‘traditional’ heterosexual values can be even more of a jarring experience, and like many new employees, I went from being ‘out’ to ‘back in the closet’. There were no “out” LGBT people in my new workplace, and in my previous job, my line manager was very vocal about having challenges accepting and understanding LBGT+ relationships," says James.

"Of course, he wasn't the only one. Being bisexual, I was ‘lucky’ in the aspect it was easy for me to hide my sexuality. I was in an opposite-sex relationship, and had been for many years. There was no reason for anyone to assume I wasn't straight, and LGBT+ issues weren't really discussed, save for one of the supervisors saying she’d conducted an interview for a potential new colleague, stating 'He’s gay… but he’s alright.'"

"To this day, I’m not entirely sure what that means – these days I wouldn't think twice about challenging that statement, but that shows what having an open, accepting and supportive environment does for you."

James explains that in the beauty industry, employees tend not to receive training for a new role because of the high turnover. When James was coming to the end of her three month probation period, she discovered how unhappy and isolated she was. Although she felt like she'd put work into the job and tried her best, it wasn't right for her. She didn't fit in, and she wasn't able to be true to herself. 

A great mix of people in the team

Directly across the road from her job was a small mobile phone store, Vodafone, and they had a vacancy. James felt comfortable in the tech world, so she went into the shop and had a conversation with the Assistant Manager and offered her C.V. Only an hour later, the Store Manager rung James wanting to interview her as soon as possible.

"To this day, I truly believe engaging your potential employer face to face makes a huge difference to your interview chances," adds James.

At the time, the only vacancies were 25 hour a week Sales Adviser roles, the store was expanding and due a refit, and the store manager assured James there were plenty of extra hours available.

"Being a retail veteran, I knew this was a risk, but after being interviewed and offered the job, it just felt like a risk worth taking. I never worked those 25 hours a week – I became full-time almost immediately," explains James. "We had a great mix of people in the team. I never once had to be in the closet at Vodafone - or in fact, come out. I just was. Being a top 10 (elite) store, we had a huge volume of customers in that tiny space, and during the refit I got to really bond with my new team through training days and a very memorable (and muddy) afternoon spent paintballing."

A fast-paced and changing environment

James found that Vodafone had, and always has had, an ease about it; she was never scared of speaking up or getting involved. With the encouragement of my store manager, within six months James was promoted to Assistant Manager of that elite store in charge of a team of over 25 people at peak season. Running the store in her manager’s absence have James the chance to visit Vodafone's headquarters in Newbury and the Stoke contact centre and make contacts throughout the business.

"No matter what level people within Vodafone are, they are personable and easy to engage. In such a fast-paced and changing environment, you bond with your colleagues very quickly – after all, we were spending upwards of 45+ hours a week together," says James.

Building confidence and growing

Through Vodafone retail, James made friends for life. In her professional life, James was managing a very busy retail store and coping with all the challenges and triumphs that come with it; in her private life, James was struggling. Looking back, James realises she was picking up extra hours at work to avoid going home. James was able to effectively lead her team at work and be attentive to personal problems, but her own personal life was difficult. Before coming to Vodafone, James had no friends. She had people with whom she remained connected with via social media, but she didn't meet many of them face-to-face. 

For James, there was a lot of loneliness and isolation, and only after joining Vodafone and starting to make friends at work and start going to social events again, James realised that in reality, her home life was not normal.

"The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates that 7.7% of women and 4.4% of men experienced any type of domestic abuse in the last year (2016-2017). This is equivalent to an estimated 1.3 million female victims and 716,000 male victims. That’s over a million people with families, friends, careers and co-workers. Living in fear of your partner is strange, because at the time you don’t realise that you’re afraid. Walking on eggshells at home is just the norm. Sharing your home with a person with a volatile temper who swung between fits of rage and hours of angry silence – it’s a slow thing," explains James.

"There’s an old metaphor – if you put a frog in boiling water, he’ll jump out. If you slowly heat the water, the frog is boiled alive. I’ve always thought this is a perfect explanation for domestic abuse. Eventually, it’s easier to cut off friends and colleagues than fight about wanting to go out, or dealing with the consequences later."

"Thankfully, my partner was never able to cut me off from my family, who are, and always have been, incredible and supportive. assume everything is fine – and somehow, like that slowly boiling frog, you think that everything is normal, which is why you never say anything to the contrary. That’s certainly what had happened to me over the last few years; however, I had been granted a chance to build my confidence, which had been slowly eroded over seven years. "

Thanks to James's managers and colleagues at Vodafone, she was given the opportunity to be successful. James was never worried to take on a difficult customer challenge or listen to and give advice to my team members when they faced professional and personal problems. However, it took her six months of confidence building, conversations with her manager and friends to one day go home in the middle of the day and pack away everything she didn'' want to lose forever.

"Thanks to my manager understanding the situation, having been through something similar, I was able to leave whilst he wasn't there. Eventually, I had to do something even tougher and face him and tell him I was leaving. To date, this is the hardest thing I have ever done. Afterwards, I found myself holding on to the hallway wall for support due to a mix relief and regret for staying so long - something that you would think only happens in melodramatic TV- however I can attest, it happens," says James. "Your entire torso crumples up like tissue paper. This isn’t a sob story. Experience can either make you or break you – I’m certainly not unbreakable, but it made me stronger. It makes you sure of what you don’t want in life. It does make you tougher, but also more compassionate – everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about."

Representing Vodafone at Amsterdam Pride

Of course, it took James time. Since that day, James has represented Vodafone retail at the company's first ever Amsterdam Pride with one of her best friends. 

"When I close my eyes I can still see the red and white confetti pouring down in the blazing sun. I will never take for granted the countless nights spent having a takeaway and a bottle of wine with my friends, who are loud and full of life and laughter, even without the wine," adds James.

This year, James has been inspired to make her year the year of the “Yes” after joining Vodafone Corporate Security at Newbury HQ. James has vowed she would say yes to as many opportunities presented by Vodafone, which is how she became involved in the “Ready?” rebrand, with her face and voice, plus many of her colleagues appearing on internal and external branding.

"It’s my way of showing that Vodafone has become an integral part of me, and without its people and its values, I would not be the person I am today. I’ve taken part in several people campaigns, become a Stonewall LGBT+ Role Model and led several large LGBT + Friends Networks sessions on site at Newbury; the me from 2011 simply couldn't have done that," says James.

"Never underestimate the impact you have on others at work. Kindness, open discussion and encouragement can change the course of a person’s life. It enables us to grow and say “Yes” and be fearless. Nothing I will ever have to face at work will be as terrifying as that day I left. I have left my fear behind with my self-doubt. Public speaking? Easy. Making a quick decision? No problem. Saying yes instead of ending up in regret for saying no? Of course. I’ve got this. The future is exciting. Ready?"

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