When Teina Stowers, who is bisexual and has worked in the product/brand teams at Optus for 20+ years, discovered she’d been allotted a spot on the company’s float for the Mardi Gras parade, she was “absolutely thrilled.”

Teina is a member of Optus’s LGBTQIA+ employee network group, Express Yourself, which invited its members to participate.

Only the second time she has participated in the parade since 2013, Teina says this year marching with Optus was another opportunity to celebrate inclusiveness, acceptance, love and unity: “The energy from the huge crowd was exhilarating,” she says. “To see everyone cheer us on as we danced and waved, I felt a real sense of pride to be part of this community.”

She says that she feels encouraged and engaged at work because of Optus’s membership of Pride in Diversity, a workplace program designed to assist Australian employers with the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ employees. “What that signals to an employee like me is that Optus is a safe workplace to be your individual self, and the people are supportive and accepting,” she says.

Furthermore, Optus’s support of many WorldPride events – from Queer Screen to the iconic Bondi Beach Party – showcases that it’s a legit organisation with which to spend your pink dollar: “Other than great value and service, Optus is a company with integrity and values to do right by their customers as well as employees,” she says.

Being an ally is also encouraged and supported at Optus – something Kalia D’angelo, who works in their customer marketing team, is very enthusiastic about.

“I’m an ally – I’m all about diversity and inclusivity and ensuring everyone feels welcome and open and comfortable at work,” she says.

“I’ve been super grateful to be involved. We’ve had a lot of fun, exciting and informative pride events taking place around the office, which has been great to participate in and I even got to be on the Optus Mardi Gras float!” she says.

Showing it’s an organisation that knows inclusivity means involving its allies, Kalia says the opportunity has enabled her to make new friendships across the company. “I joined six months ago, and it has been really great to join somewhere so open and inclusive which celebrates everyone’s unique differences and cares about everyone, no matter who you are.”

There’s a good reason to make these cross-company friendships, she says – people perform better when they can be themselves. “I think that’s what makes you more productive at work. All those diverse opinions and differences are what enables and encourages better collaboration.”

As the parade march returned this year to its original iconic Oxford Street route, Optus increased its troupe on the march – it quadrupled from 20 to 80 participants when compared with the Covid-restricted march around the Sydney Cricket Ground last year. This means it has been able to include more of its staff in the excitement of being on the float in the parade – including its staff allies like Kalia.

The parade – Kalia’s first – consolidated these feelings. “The term ‘lights, camera, action!’ captures it for me – I’ve never felt so on stage but in such a good way, knowing I’m helping represent these LGBTQIA+ colleagues I’ve befriended. That made me feel really proud. The adrenaline that runs through your body, the smiles – over a week later, I’m still buzzing from it!” she says. “I already cannot wait to do it again.”

She says being a good ally includes listening, supporting and discovering where to remove any inherent bias you may have. “I just think that my personal beliefs align with everybody being able to be treated equally and be able to be themselves and be respected. And I think that’s extremely important. Not only just for relationships and life but also in work,” she says.

In addition to its support of WorldPride and Mardi Gras, Optus provides year-round support for the LGBTQIA+  community through its backing of initiatives like Wear It Purple Day and donations to charities like Minus18 and the Bobby Goldsmiths Foundation.

This year-round support of both internal LGBTQIA+ employees and external causes is what has contributed to Kalia’s sense of pride. But she says, she feels more than pride.

“I just want to be able to contribute to people’s happiness. Whether that means making further opportunities or being able to stand up if I notice things aren’t right. And I also just want to be able to be there and support and celebrate because this community has shown that it can be just so fun,” she says.

“That’s part of being an ally: you get to enjoy it with the community you’re supporting and celebrating. It’s about bringing everyone together, which is exactly what Optus is about as a company.”