Vodafone is one of the world’s leading mobile communications providers, operating in 26 countries and in partnership with networks in over 55 more. Located in Newbury, they now employ over 13,000 people across the UK. 

In 2015 Vodafone became a HeForShe Champion for gender equality. This created a great platform to make important commitments that would have positive impacts for both their own employees and their customers and the communities they serve. Some examples of this included the launch of their ground-breaking global maternity policy in 2015, their 2017 Reconnect programme – helping women returners back into the workplace – and their proactive use of mobile technology to connect women (and particularly young refugee girls) in developing countries to essential services, including education, health, safety and jobs.

Vodafone’s commitment to gender equality has continued to build through the years and is reflected in the support provided through Vodafone Foundation. This provided a basis from which to understand the impact of domestic abuse in the workplace. 

Championing domestic abuse support externally with customers and communities

In 2010, Vodafone Foundation created an innovative tech solution – ‘TecSOS’ – for highrisk domestic abuse victims to connect to the emergency services. This is now used across all police forces in the UK as well as by police in Spain, Portugal, Germany and Ireland for use by high-risk victims. To provide support and information to a broader range of people affected by domestic abuse, in 2018 Vodafone launched its BrightSky app, in partnership with UK charity Hestia. The app helps people experiencing domestic abuse to collect evidence of perpetrator behaviour and connect them to local services. The app has been downloaded by thousands of people. 

A comprehensive framework of support for employees around domestic abuse

Internally, Vodafone have developed a comprehensive framework and policy to support their employees around domestic abuse. This includes the provision of ten days’ paid ‘safe leave’ for those experiencing abuse to use in a flexible way, potentially to spend with children, seek professional support or to give them some time to start to recover from their experiences.

Alongside the policy, specialist training is made available to HR and line managers to help them gain a better understanding of a complex area and to recognise some of the signs that someone might be experiencing domestic abuse and how best to respond.

They have developed a practical toolkit that managers and HR can refer to which supports the training.

Vodafone have thoroughly communicated their framework of support around domestic abuse to their employees and have made use of visual assets to help raise awareness, start conversations and build trust on this important area. They have also made their domestic abuse policy available to other companies and have also created specific guidance on this for other organisations, which is freely available.

In tandem with this work, and building on the success of Bright Sky, Vodafone Foundation has created its Apps Against Abuse programme with services or apps in many of Vodafone’s markets to support people affected by domestic abuse. 

Inclusion

While the organisation’s focus on domestic abuse was initially driven by the organisation’s commitment to gender equality, inclusion is very important to the organisation. Vodafone pay careful attention to the language they use when it comes to domestic abuse, recognising that men can also be affected by this issue and that domestic abuse can happen in same-sex relationships. As Sarah Kemp, senior communications manager, maintains: ‘Ultimately we want to make sure that all our employees can feel safe and are able to fulfil their potential at work.’ They recently ran a webinar as part of their PRIDE and LGBT+ activities looking at domestic abuse in same-sex partnerships. 

Impact of their work and future plans

Vodafone’s work on domestic abuse has been impactful. Other organisations have looked at the Vodafone policy as a blueprint for their own work in this area. Their work has also been picked up by the media and contributed to raising awareness and supporting open conversations on this important area.

Vodafone have also received lots of positive information anecdotally about the difference the policy has made to employees’ personal situations, which makes the work so worthwhile.

Looking to the future, Vodafone will continue to drive home the importance of this issue and encourage people to undertake the training for HR and managers. They will also continue to refresh their guidance and are planning further research exploring how domestic abuse workplace frameworks of support can help people.

Finally, Vodafone’s leaders continue to show great commitment to the issue, have contributed to a series of interviews and webinars on the topic and have spoken at the UN’s Shadow Pandemic Campaign Conference. 

Key learnings for other employers
  • Help people to understand that domestic abuse can be a workplace issue.
  • Use research to illustrate the business case around this and gain buy-in.
  • A framework of support and a policy are incredibly helpful, but they also need to be accompanied by awareness-raising (for those experiencing abuse, friends, families, colleagues) and building a supportive, open culture.
  • It’s really important to build trust with those experiencing domestic abuse – so that they feel able to talk about what has been happening and to let their organisations know what support would be most helpful.
  • Proactive participation from senior leaders is powerful – Vodafone’s CEO and head of HR continue to show vociferous support internally and externally on this topic. 
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