This is the first in a series of articles where we speak with genuine Change Makers — people who are working to make meaningful change both within their organisations and Australian society. The featured Change Makers are selected from our suite of clients for extraordinary work they’re doing that transcends business and makes people’s lives better.
We met Alex McMahon working with Ampol on its Customer Experience Campaign in 2021. Ampol’s Rainbow Alliance initiative plays a key role in the growing culture of inclusion at the company, supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
There’s no better time to celebrate Ampol’s commitment to diversity and inclusion than on the eve of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Here’s how Alex is making real change.
Why is a culture of inclusion so important to Ampol?
Everyone should feel comfortable bringing their true self to work, and when people are comfortable bringing their true selves, employees are more engaged and achieve better results. You want people to be comfortable in their work environment, simply because it’s just the right thing to do in the world we live in.
There needs to be acknowledgement we are all different and that’s a good thing. It’s also important because people of different backgrounds and experiences bring new ideas to the table, which adds to the diversity of what we do every day. Diversity and inclusion just make workplaces better for people.
What does it mean to you personally, to be the Co-Chair of the Rainbow Alliance at Ampol?
When I first started at Ampol I was looking around for other people from the LGBTQ+ community. And while they existed, it wasn’t clear who they were or what Ampol stood for in terms of LGBTQ+ support.
So, myself and my co-chair of the Rainbow Alliance, our B2B Communications Manager, Lachy Brticevich, got together because we believed something should be done. We thought the best outcomes happen when they’re employee-driven, rather than getting pushed from the top down. When employees create the culture, you simply get more cut-through.
I would have loved to have had an employee group or support group like this when I was at school and when I was in my first job, but it didn’t exist so for me. While this work is good for me and I enjoy it, it’s also incumbent on me, and my colleagues in the community who have similar thoughts, to make the workplace a better place for everybody.
Is Ampol management fully supportive of the initiative?
Absolutely. Senior management is very engaged with the committee and supports the things we’re trying to achieve. We have an Executive Sponsor, who sits on the Ampol leadership team and helps drive the culture and initiatives we’re trying to achieve. He coaches us and helps remove barriers, provides funding, resources and counsel when we need it. That filters down to the rest of the organisation and helps to shift culture.
For me, a big part of the future is the engagement of leaders in this discussion, and building out a visible, robust and engaging ally program. If all leaders are having honest, supportive and encouraging discussions, everyone would be engaged and feeling good about their work – no matter who they love.
How has the Rainbow Alliance grown within Ampol since it launched more than two years ago?
We started small, just a few people getting together nutting out some ideas, knowing we wanted to do something, but we didn’t necessarily know what or how, so it was important to get the leadership team involved and engaged.
It was also important to talk to people from other organisations who have been doing this effectively and successfully for a long time. We spoke to a lot of diversity and inclusion leaders in other retail organisations similar to us. We were lucky to have those people to talk to about the steps you should take, and the sequence in which you should take them.
There were certain things we thought would be cool ideas, but we weren’t mature enough to execute them at that time. We made some mistakes along the way, but we learned from them quickly.
To what extent is the work of the Rainbow Alliance public facing?
We do post the work that we do and the events that we hold, and some of the initiatives we’ve implemented on our socials. We are also a part of Pride in Diversity, which is a partner organisation that coaches businesses like ours on how to implement the right initiatives in an organisation and champion all things LGBTQ+.
We’ve recently joined forces with some other progressive retailers to start a group called InterRetail. The idea is that collectively, we have a large network of retail sites, meaning that we also have a large group of retail employees.
Sometimes it’s more challenging to reach those retail employees than it is corporate employees, because if your head office is in Sydney, it’s easier to connect with those employees who might live nearby than it is with those who might work in the outback, or in rural Western Australia, for example.
When it comes to the inclusion and diversity of our employees, we’re not in competition, so we share ideas and best practice and pool tools and resources, even though we might be competitors from a retail perspective.
Has your role in the Rainbow Alliance been driven by personal experiences?
My experience wasn’t horrific, but it wasn’t great either. It was kind of nothing. You can’t be what you can’t see. I grew up in a country town in regional Victoria and went to a Catholic all-boys school, so I never had any people in my life who were part of the community. It just wasn’t a topic of conversation.
So, you become conditioned that all your friends are going out with girls and there’s no positive influences in your life, so you just conform. I didn’t accept my identity and become okay with it until later in life – I’m 35 now and I was 28 when I started to accept myself a little bit more.
If I’d had community groups and support, and more visible signs that this is okay, my personal story would have been very different. That’s part of what drives me to do this work.
What’s been the feedback about the Rainbow Alliance?
It’s been incredibly positive. We’ve just seen engagement with the group grow and grow. More and more people have joined, and we’ve been able to achieve more and more. At events, and in surveys, we get a lot of commentary that this is a really good thing, not just for the LGBTQ+ community but for diversity in general. It’s about being able to be your true self at work, accepting everyone is different, and welcoming different backgrounds, thoughts and experiences.
Are there any specific initiatives you’re excited about and proud of?
We are developing an Active Ally Program, because we accept and understand that the community doesn’t exist without allies and people who might not identify as LGBTQ+ but are part of our community. That’s what diversity is all about. We offer training to individuals, we offer merchandise, like key tags or t-shirts, or having the Rainbow Alliance logo on an Ampol shirt. That’s a big-ticket item for us in 2022. It will give us more of a physical presence in our offices and stores.
The majority of senior Ampol leaders have been to the LGBTQ+ awareness training, which is really good for their own development.
It helps them to be better leaders and support employees in their own teams who might be going through personal issues, like someone coming out and identifying, or perhaps someone transitioning, or someone with challenges at home because of how they identify. We need to support them.
For the last two years we have participated in the AWEI — Australian Workplace Equality Index — which checks how individuals in your organisation are feeling around LGBTQ+ topics, which gives you a sense of how well you’re doing with your initiatives.
Do you think Australian corporate culture has a long way to go in accepting the LGBTQ+ community?
I think there’s a long way to go but I think that’s okay as well. If someone comes up to me and says they don’t know what it means to be part of the LGBTQ+ community, or asks about the right terminology, or whatever it might be, I’m always very open to have a conversation with someone who is interested and wants to teach themselves more about something they might not fully understand.
I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved in two and a half years and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve in the future. Of course, it’s good for the Ampol business but it’s also wonderfully rewarding to know our work is having a genuine positive impact.
The Being Group – Enabling Human Endeavour by celebrating exceptional agents of change.