British Airways is a proud supporter of their LGBTQ+ employees and have regularly supported LGBTQ+ causes across Pride events throughout the UK.
Ahead of Pride in London, we caught up with Claire O’Toole and Tom Hostick who are both part of British Airways’ internal LGBTQ+ network, Flying Proud. “We have a long and proud history of building an inclusive workplace, and recently made changes to our uniform guidelines, allowing colleagues to express more of themselves through new hair and make-up options,” they explain, telling us more about the new policies that have recently been introduced at BA.
From launching an Allyship Scheme, to championing individuality, Claire and Tom talk about the positive changes that have happened in recent years – as well as revealing their favourite LGBTQ+ destinations.
What does Pride Month look like at British Airways?
With colleagues from across the whole business in for the ride, we are holding the biggest Pride celebration we’ve ever had here at British Airways. The atmosphere is in full swing with competitions, events and special flights, while our colleagues share their messages of love, acceptance and inclusion for our LGBTQ+ colleagues
British Airways’ engagement with Flying Proud this year is unprecedented, and it’s not just colleagues who will be noticing the difference. On the ground, our customers will be able to sample LGBTQ+ themed cocktails in our lounges and at 30,000ft they can sink into our own Flying Proud channel on our inflight Highlife Entertainment.
We’re also travelling further than our home at Heathrow Airport and sharing our values across London. We’re incredibly excited to be sponsoring the Rainbow Stage at American Express presents BST Festival this year, bringing our unique hospitality to the capital. The culmination of our most fabulous Pride Month will be our appearance at Pride In London, which is a colleague favourite as we march in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.
How long have you been at BA and part of the Flying Proud committee?
Tom: During the pandemic I decided I’d like to play more of an active part in continuing to influence the culture at British Airways. The committee underwent some changes, which meant a new team was required to bring back some much-needed LGBTQ+ fabulousness. My passion and creativity led me to take the helm as co-chair in March 2021.
Claire: I became a member of the committee in early 2022, and during the summer an opportunity came up to be co-chair. It was an all-male committee and as a bi woman, I brought representation and diversity to the team. Today we have a committee covering a broad mix of L, G, B and T.
Why is the Flying Proud committee so important to you?
Tom: After nearly eight years working at British Airways, I have grown into a proud gay man at work, within an incredibly supportive team. The reality is that I know that my journey and my experience is uniquely mine and not everyone’s. It’s not uncommon for people to feel anxious about coming out to their team, or about telling their manager that they’re ready to begin their gender transition, so Flying Proud exists to support colleagues and champion everyone’s individuality in their place of work. We’re on a journey to ensure every colleague’s true self can shine from the moment they join British Airways.
Claire: After being a part of Flying Proud I have become a lot more confident to be myself at work, and I think working with like-minded people who want to make British Airways a better place to work for everyone has been a major part of that. If we make even a few people feel more comfortable and confident to be themselves whilst at work, then it makes everything we do worth it.
How are you making a change internally and externally?
As co-chairs of an LGBTQ+ network we are fortunate to have the ability to continue to inspire a more inclusive culture at British Airways. It is no secret that queer people can face challenges both inside and outside of work, which is why we created our Allyship Scheme. The scheme has been designed to take colleagues further than workplace training by inspiring them to make small changes to their day-to-day lives in the interest of inclusivity. For example, rather than watching the latest blockbuster film in the comfort of their home, we have provided resources for colleagues to find films with a queer narrative. These changes help to grow peoples understanding and in turn, develop empathy to support marginalised groups such as the trans community.
We have a long and proud history of building an inclusive workplace, and recently made changes to our uniform guidelines, allowing colleagues to express more of themselves through new hair and make-up options. By fostering an environment where our crew can be true to themselves, we want our LGBTQ+ customers to feel safe and empowered to be themselves when they choose to travel with us.
What is the one event/policy/team update you have put in place? Or do you have something coming up that you want to shout about?
Later this month, we’ll be sending LGBTQ+ crewed flights from Gatwick to New York and Heathrow to San Francisco. The purpose of the flights is to celebrate our LGBTQ+ colleagues and be proud that we can have a successful career in aviation regardless of our sexuality or gender identities. Our pride in organising this occasion speaks volumes as to where we’re heading as airline. A flight like this is no easy feat, requiring many areas of the business to devote their time and energy to deliver this show of acceptance and solidarity.
Our customers are coming along for the ride too, with specially designed Pride-themed desserts and activities in our lounges. Our colleagues and customers can also continue with the celebrations down route if they wish, with Pride parades being held in New York and San Francisco.
What can other internal resource groups learn from Flying Proud?
Tom: Make sure your voices are heard and you can challenge the status quo. One of main ways British Airways supports Flying Proud is by recognising the network as a friend worth listening to.
Claire: Listen to your members and learn from what they are telling you. We all have different experiences and needs, and it is key to create activities that are enjoyable and accessible for everyone. We’re lucky to have a diverse committee to help with this, but we also repeatedly ask ourselves if everything we do is as inclusive as we can make it.
What would your one piece of advice be if someone was looking to join an internal LGBTQ+ network?
Tom: My advice would be to join an LGBTQ+ network for some soul nurturing. When I first joined the airline I lived, worked, and socialised with an almost exclusively straight crowd. Through attending social events with Flying Proud and reaching out to my gay friends, I surprised myself with how good it felt to share, relate, and laugh with queer people like me. I’m grateful for the way Flying Proud has helped me embrace my sexuality and fostered personal growth. Today, I strive to keep this in mind when organising activities for the network.
Claire: If anyone is thinking of joining a network then I say to go ahead and do it! I have never once regretted becoming a part of Flying Proud. I get to work and socialise with people who are different to my day-to-day social circle and give me a chance to talk about subjects that are important to me with people who understand. I also get to share my experiences as well as learn from other people’s experiences and use it all to influence how we can continue to make a difference at BA.
Finally – what’s your favourite destination to visit as an LGBTQ+ person and why?
Tom: San Francisco stole my heart and it’s an unbelievable privilege to be returning on our LGBTQ+ crewed Pride Flight this June. The variety of gay venues within the historic Castro district means there’s something for every type of queer person, from gamers and jocks, to bears who like musicals! At age 31, I’m still finding new parts of the LGBTQ+ community to fall in love with.
Claire: I’m going to have to say my home city of London! Even though it is technically not a destination for me, it is for many people and one that my family love to come and visit. I am lucky to be born and raised in London and within the last few years I’ve had the chance to explore what the queer scene has to offer. As a woman I struggle to find LGBTQ+ spaces that are not always male-centric, but in London, there are more bars and club nights popping up that are catering to be fun and safe spaces for different members of the LGBTQ+ community.