What I have learned

Empowering LGBTQIA+ colleagues to bring their authentic selves to work

OT  learns how Specsavers’ Prism network promotes inclusive language, policies and education to create a supportive working environment

rainbow ballon
Getty/ kelly bowden

Marc Barton-Farmer, co-chair of the Prism network


When was the Prism network set up, and what were its aims?

Prism was set up in 2019 and launched in February 2020, to coincide with LGBT History Month. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we relaunched in May 2021. I joined as co-chair from a store background, creating a balanced perspective for the community to establish itself and grow.

The mission has been consistent throughout: to empower LGBTQIA+ colleagues to bring their authentic selves to work, while creating a positive and supportive working environment for all. We do this through inclusive language, policies, and education.

How many members do you have currently?

We have dozens of members in the UK, but Prism’s work goes beyond membership numbers. It is about that supportive working environment for all, with our 100 members and wider supporters playing a key role in meeting that goal. It has been great to see our networks in Northern European as well as Australia and New Zealand establishing themselves – making our community global.

What practical changes has the network brought about?

1000+ patients

have used Specsavers’ gender-neutral ‘mx’ title so far

One example where Prism has made a practical difference is ensuring that our gender non-conforming customers and colleagues are fully supported within all operating systems in the UK. This change has been adopted in Ireland and Spain as well. The gender-neutral title ‘mx’ has been used by more than 1000 of our patients, and counting.

We have also reviewed literature to address language that may potentially exclude some colleagues – for example using ‘parental leave’ over ‘maternity leave’ in handbooks, with the former being universally inclusive.

What practical support has the network given Specsavers staff?

The biggest practical support Prism provides is a confidential email where team members can speak to us about concerns, seek advice, and make suggestions regarding the workplace. This gives us the opportunity to work with stores and partners to get the most out of their colleagues, and to ensure positivity is achieved for everyone whenever it is needed.

We have worked closely with the HR department regarding frequently asked questions and recorded a podcast for store partners to support any questions they may have regarding supporting the LGBTQIA+ community.

More recently we have worked with the divisional chairs within Specsavers, raising awareness of Prism as well as our other diversity and inclusion groups. Raising awareness enables us to reach and support as many people as possible. Attending meetings to introduce ourselves has provided us with a stronger network and support from across the business.

What learning and/or development resources does Prism offer?

We have developed a lot of training regarding the LGBTQIA+ community. Resources cover the origins of Pride, the meaning behind flags that represent different identities within our community, gender, HIV, understanding sexuality, and gender and inclusive language. Our network is also invited to join external LGBTQIA+ meetings.

It has been great to see our networks in Northern European as well as Australia and New Zealand establishing themselves – making our community global

Marc Barton-Farmer

Carina Hummel, general manager – audiology and chair of the Specsavers UK Diversity & Inclusion Forum

Carina Hummel

Prism has inspired other networks within Specsavers – what lessons have other groups taken from it?

As well as inspiring colleagues to establish other networks, the Prism chair and co-chair provided practical help by sharing information about how they set up Prism. That included creating goals, writing terms of reference, recruiting board sponsors, and launching to the wider business for others to join. Now all the groups share the activities and communications they are working on, giving advice and guidance to each other. Caring for each other and working as a team are Specsavers values, and our networks are part of how these are lived every day. Seeing that in action is an ongoing lesson for us all to take inspiration from.

Groups feed into the UK Diversity and Inclusion Forum, but aside from that what other work does the forum do to support its aims?

Through the forum we coordinate communications so that activities land with maximum impact to our colleagues across the business. We do this by bringing together networks with senior leaders from Specsavers through regular meetings.

Network chairs and co-chairs share feedback, priorities and upcoming events, including those being celebrated, training being planned and what support they need. In turn, the forum is attended by our group lead for wellbeing and inclusion, myself, and our HR director for UK and Ireland.

Caring for each other and working as a team are Specsavers values, and our networks are part of how these are lived every day

Carina Hummel

The forum also recognises the value of working with others. This has seen colleague networks work with external organisations to introduce relevant training into Specsavers. Our Menotalk network introduced menopause training after working with the women’s organisation Henpecked. Prism worked to create an LGBTQI+ awareness training module, in conjunction with Learning Pool, that was promoted to stores and support office colleagues. This was picked up by other organisations nationally. We are also bringing in external insight, for example, to provide forum members with development on how to lead others in a network to support the forum’s objectives.

How do you ensure that feedback presented by Prism or other networks is taken on board and incorporated into policy?

We value feedback from our colleagues throughout Specsavers because we are always looking to improve the way we do things. The UK Diversity and Inclusion Forum is one platform for feedback from colleague networks, which also each have a sponsor from our senior executive committee. The project to introduce 'mx' as a gender option for customers is one example of where feedback has delivered change is Prism’s involvement. A new global steering group will enable colleague networks from all our territories internationally to collaborate and feed into a new global diversity and inclusion strategy.

Prism will also support work to review our policies with an LGBTQI+ lens, to ensure our policies continue to be inclusive for all as part of that global strategy.