Telstra has joined the ranks of Australian companies with a GLBT employee network, bringing a trend from the US and Europe Down Under.

The telecom giant launched a Spectrum networking group for its gay employees and their supporters in each of the major capital cities last week, following a two-year-long consultation.

Holly Kramer, from Telstra’s in-house diversity council, said 153 employees had already signed up.

What each group does will be up to them. We know the groups are interested in formal and informal networking and opportunities in their area, she said.

Some of the groups, I expect, will become engaged with the community because we get community groups coming to Telstra looking for support, so it’s an opportunity for them to be involved with the GLBT community on a volunteer basis.

In recent years a number of large US-based companies, including Merrill Lynch and IBM, have brought their GLBT employee networks to Australia. But until now, few Australian-based companies have followed suit.

Kramer said Telstra wasn’t feeling pressure to compete, but did see it as an opportunity to build their appeal as an employer.

We hope this example will encourage other Australian companies. It is still early days in Australia, so we sought out companies like IBM that have a good track record on supporting GLBT communities, and British Telecom.

Next year the National GLBT Health Alliance (comprised of AIDS Councils and related community groups) plans to release its first survey of Australian companies’ GLBT-friendly employment policies.

The survey is modelled on rankings and leader boards published in the US by the Human Rights Campaign and in the UK by Stonewall, where GLBT workers can see which companies will support their families and lifestyle.

The recognition that corporations are doing these sorts of things is important to encourage more corporations to do them, Kramer said.

In the last six months Telstra’s diversity council has rectified 171 instances of discrimination in its employment policies that excluded same-sex couples.

A few areas of discrimination remain in areas like Commonwealth workers compensation and superannuation which require regulation changes by the federal government beyond the recent legislative same-sex equality changes.

Have your say: Would you join a GLBT employee network?

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