Pride isn’t just about jazzing up your logo. It’s about recognising the contributions the LGBTQ+ community makes to your company and championing equality. Here, we speak to six members of Starling’s LGBTQ+ network and share the actions and aims that underpin our rainbow logo this June.

Starling’s LGBTQ+ group began in March 2018 as a channel on Slack, the communication and collaboration platform. Software engineer Lee Stewart was part of channels to #BuildTheBank and #RunTheBank. He made one to #BendTheBank. “I believed that LGBTQ+ people at Starling would benefit from a place we could find one another, express ourselves freely and share ideas for how things could be better. ” says Lee. “Pride is a protest. And creating #BendTheBank became the crack in the door that allowed us to grow into a full-fledged network.”

#BendTheBank was formalised as a network in August 2019, co-founded by operations recruitment lead Ewan and Thomas Robinson, part of our card payments team. “While we felt very comfortable being out and proud, we didn’t want to be complacent,” says Thomas. “We wanted to use our position of being our own authentic selves to make sure that everyone else could be too.”

Nate, Wilson Lou and Thomas Robinson

#BendTheBank has three clear aims:

  • Ensuring Starling continues to be a workplace where everyone feels comfortable to be themselves
  • Advocating LGBTQ+ rights across Starling Bank
  • Championing Starling externally as an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace and brand

Standing together

“We’re very aware that as two white, gay men, we don’t experience discrimination around other elements of identity, such as race or disability,” says Ewan.

Last year, a group of Starling employees arranged talks, quizzes, a food tasting and a concert to celebrate Black history. “My hope is that we evolve to have equivalent networks, like #BendTheBank, for different intersections of identity. The team that worked on Black History Month was really amazing.”

This year, our Starling Pride logo incorporates extra colours, as promoted by LGBTQ+ rights activist Daniel Quasar. “In the traditional Pride flag, each colour has a symbolic meaning for the LGBTQ+ community,“ says Thomas. “The inclusive Pride flag we’re using this year takes different intersections into consideration and includes colours for trans and non-binary people and people of colour.“

Actions speak louder than words

#BendTheBank members with a more active role in the network meet fortnightly. “The meetings have a dual purpose: one to talk about plans for action. And two as a space for us to bond and feel comfortable with like minded colleagues.“

Kendra Orandi and Lily Edwards

Recent actions include hosting a company-wide event for World AIDS day, led by Roland Chesters from the Terrence Higgins Trust, and a quiz night for LGBTQ+ History Month. The next event was supposed to be London Pride 2020, which had to be cancelled due to lockdown.

“In our last meeting we talked about the reallocation of our Pride entry fee and the importance of showing that we stand with the Black Lives Matter Movement,“ says web developer Sarah Deakin. “As a community, we owe a lot of our history and progress to Black trans activists such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.“

Ongoing projects include distributing rainbow laces for Team Starling sports matches and setting up volunteer days with Just Like Us, a charity that supports LGBTQ+ positive role models for young people. Every Starling employee receives two days off per year to volunteer with a charity of their choice.

“I look forward to the #BendTheBank meetings because I know that we’ll get a lot of stuff done and have a laugh,“ says software engineer Malin Litwinski.

One thing that they’re working hard to improve is the reach of the network. “We really want to include allies. Even if you don’t fall into an identity that we’re campaigning for, you’re more than welcome to come to a meeting and get involved,“ says Malin. “We’re not doing this only for the LGBTQ+ community, we’re doing this so that everyone can get psyched about making our workplace as inclusive as it can be.“

Creating conversation starters

When it comes to being LGBTQ+ in the workplace, some people struggle to introduce that element of their identity to colleagues. To tackle this difficulty, #BendTheBank created badges with the Starling Pride logo and encouraged current employees to add their pronouns to their email signature and status on Slack. New employees receive information about #BendTheBank as part of their Induction Day. “I’ve found some good friends through the Slack channel,“ says Sarah. “What I really like is that you have a shared experience and it makes for a less formal introduction.“

The badges are especially helpful for those working in the office as Customer Service agents, who often meet new colleagues every week. “When you have a small team that you interact with, these chats happen naturally,“ says Steve, who works in Customer Service. “But sometimes it’s difficult to communicate, especially if you have shifts and meet new colleagues all the time. The t-shirts and the icons on Slack were good ways of notifying people.“

Oscar and Steve

Our t-shirts were designed for London Pride 2019. “I was part of the Starling Pride march last year,” he says. “I enjoy dancing so it was a time for me to express myself. My partner was there and I got to meet quite a few people from different places in the office - the atmosphere was really fun.”

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