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Martha Lamola speaks to us about what it means to be an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community, whether as an individual or as a business.
Tell us about yourself and your career path, how did you land up at Vodacom and how long have you been with the company?
I am a simple girl hailing from Ga-Mokopane, Limpopo. My career started in the mining industry over 20 years ago, as the only black female engineer on Anglo American Processing Plants. I then moved to the energy industry working in various parts of Eskom from Technology Research, Power Stations, Transmission Grid Management and Finance. I then moved on to Altron as Finance Director for their cable manufacturing business. I joined Vodacom 4,5 years ago as the Managing Executive for Finance Business Par Technology as the company was looking for a finance person who also understands the technical environment. I later moved on to Vodacom Business under the same role to support the business to execute on their mandate of rotating towads a digitalised enterprise business.
What is an LBGTQIA+ ally?
An LGBTQIA+ ally is an individual who is heterosexual, cisgender and supportive of the rights of the community, believes in their right to exist fully as themselves as well as defends them against prejudice.
Why did you choose to be one?
I believe in Inclusion for all. As a black woman, I have experienced compounded marginalisation in society as well as the workplace because of my race and gender. I therefore understand what it feels like to be discriminated against because of who you are. I believe no one is free until we are all free including the freedom of the LGBTQIA+ community. I also believe feminism without inclusion of queer community is flawed.
What does your role as an ally at Vodacom include?
As a black woman who has been in male dominated environments since the beginning of my career, I not only stand for representation, but I also make sure that I uplift and empower members of my community and strive for equality. My biggest role is to be there as a support system for LGBTQIA+ employees within Vodacom. In addition, create awareness of our biases towards the LGBTQIA+ and how we can support the community in the work environment to enable them to achieve their full potential. I call out any discrimination/ prejudice that occurs irrespective of the setting. I proudly tell people about the movement, and why as Vodacom we need to embrace diversity and inclusion
You attended an LGBTQIA+ ally course with Vodafone in London last year. What can you tell us about your experience and key take outs?
This was a very useful intervention led by Vodafone and Google. It brought senior leaders within Vodafone and Google who are allies of the LGBTQIA+ community to share their experiences and learn what other people are doing that can be implemented in our work environment. The key take out for me was to be aware of unconscious biases, take a stand, take action and enable the environment. Inclusion is not complete until everyone is included.
What can heterosexual people do every day to become allies? In fact, what does being a good ally look like?
The first step to being an ally is to educate oneself about LGBTQIA+ issues and unlearning a lot of prejudices that you picked up during your upbringing.
Do not judge, we are all dealing with internal struggles and looking for a helping hand/ support.
Use every opportunity to raise awareness, and promote the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Challenge biases within the organisation.
Just be there.
What can corporates do to empower the LGBTQIA+ community every day, instead of going big once or twice a year at Pride Jo’burg and Cape Town?
Corporates must assume to know what LGBTQIA+ needs are. They must consult and listen.
Corporates need to assess their processes and policies and ensure they are inclusive. The recruitment process is very biased as decisions are made by individuals who will infer their own biases in the decision making process. A lot of LGBTQIA+ members miss opportunities for their dream job because they arrived at an interview dressed in a particular way, expressed themselves in a particular way.
Align your policies to support all employees (leave, etc).
Be aware of passive aggression in the workplace and take a tough stance against it.
Just adding a unisex toilet on each floor will go a long way in lifting the weight that some members carry every time they need to go to the bathroom.
Our products and offerings must reflect inclusion for all.