Over the last few years Vodafone, the British multinational telecommunications company with 9,400 employees, has developed a series of inclusive policies to support employees when they need it most. As part of this initiative, in April 2022 Vodafone UK introduced a new policy to provide the same support to people who experience pregnancy loss at any stage, as those who experience a stillbirth or death of a child under 18.

Vodafone is committed to driving an inclusive culture where everyone feels supported. It recognises that demonstrating strong commitment to its people is not only the right thing to do, but drives competitiveness through helping to attract and retain talent and demonstrate its brand values to customers. Over the last few years Vodafone has developed a series of progressive policies to support employees when they most need it, drive inclusion and achieve its goal for women to hold 45% of UK management and leadership roles by 2030.

Policy and provision

As part of this journey, in April 2022, Vodafone UK introduced a new policy to provide the same support to people who experience pregnancy loss at any stage, as to those who experience a stillbirth or death of a child under 18. The policy:

  • provides up to two contractual weeks of compassionate leave on full pay, which can be taken either as one block of two weeks or as two separate periods of one week. This leave is in addition to an employee’s right to take maternity or paternity leave if they lose a baby during or after the 24th week of pregnancy, or during a period of maternity or paternity leave
  • clarifies that the leave is available to all parents or expected parents irrespective of gender, including adopters, foster parents, and guardians and parents of a child born or due to be born to a surrogate.

Additional support is provided through Vodafone’s mental health and wellbeing policies and initiatives, including access to a 24/7 remote GP and a dedicated internal service providing free, professional and confidential counselling.

These policies and services are complemented by Vodafone’s peer-led support and employee networks, including a Women’s network, Parents and Carers’ network and mental health first aiders, which offer practical help, policy signposting, wellbeing support and buddying opportunities to those experiencing pregnancy loss, or knowing someone who has. 

Process

Listening to employees

Vodafone’s peer-led employee networks play a pivotal role in informing and shaping policy change. Each has a senior HR sponsor and an executive sponsor and regular meetings to ensure effective two-way communications and feedback on gaps in support and what changes have impact. The Women’s network and Parents and Carers’ network helped draw attention to the need for additional support for people experiencing pregnancy loss and shared their insights and research, which included drawing attention to new bereavement leave legislation in New Zealand for employees who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Focus on inclusion

Careful consideration was given to ensuring the policy was truly inclusive. Lucy Unwin, Head of Culture and Engagement, says: "We didn’t want people not to take the leave they needed because of financial concerns so it was important that the leave we offered was fully paid. We also recognised the very personal and sensitive nature of these circumstances and, incorporating feedback from our employee network, decided to record leave taken as a result of pregnancy loss simply as “compassionate leave” – as we would record the loss of any loved one. We were also careful to make clear that the policy applies to both partners regardless of gender or sexual orientation and in cases of surrogacy."

Being clear on the benefits

The Diversity and Inclusion and Policy team documented the benefits of the proposed changes for employees and the business, drawing on research and their experience of the demand for people-centric policies from job applicants. This document was a starting point for discussion with the senior HR leadership team and then the senior executive team. Lucy says, "It was obviously the right thing to do for employee wellbeing and inclusion, but we also know that people are more interested now in working for organisations with good wellbeing provision – it comes up repeatedly in interviews – and demonstrating this through our policies makes a significant impact on recruitment and retention."

Assessing the business impact

The team calculated the projected uptake, how it would be managed within teams, and the potential cost to the business. This provided transparency about cost so that teams could plan properly and ensure that people are able to use the policy when needed. 

Engaging senior leaders

The full support of the UK Board and senior leaders was essential to ensure that they were not only aware of and on board with the policy, but that they would actively encourage it within their areas. Lucy reports that leaders were very quick to see the benefits of the policy and offer their full support. 

Communicating the policy

The policy was shared internally through Vodafone’s communication and information hub and externally through Vodafone’s news centre and via its HR Lead on LinkedIn to encourage other organisations to review their own policies. The executive sponsors and employee networks are helping to ensure all employees are aware of the support available through ongoing communications, including at key events, such as Women’s network events, and through Vodafone’s internal social channels. It is also part of the information that is shared during recruitment and onboarding.

Mandated line manager training

Vodafone is rolling out a new training programme to drive an inclusive and people centric culture, including upskilling people managers on how to provide the support needed in significant life events and how to apply policies. Progress will be monitored through the organisation’s biannual Culture and People Survey, which includes questions on how people view their managers and how well supported they feel, as well as through ongoing communications with the employee networks.

Outcomes and next steps

Response to the policy changes has been extremely positive. Lucy says, "We’re proud of our policies and the progress we’ve made but it’s an ongoing journey. Ultimately, we want to build empowerment and trust so that we don’t need to list and have policies for all the varied and complex issues and challenges employees may face, but instead people are able to take the time they need, when they need it, without necessarily having to explain why. We’re trying to build this in to our culture – through our policies, more flexible working practices, line manager training and awareness-raising events. Our employee networks are key in helping us make this shift, through their feedback, support and guidance."

Recommendations:

  • Make sure people understand the broader organisational benefits of supportive policies, in terms of recruitment, retention, engagement and brand attractiveness. 
  • Upskill and support line managers, as they are critical to facilitate uptake of the available support.
  • Make your framework as inclusive as possible and available to everyone, including through ensuring support is easy and straightforward to access.

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