“When everyone, regardless of their identity, is able to contribute and achieve their full potential – that’s when we know we’ve created a truly inclusive workplace”
Olivia McEvoy, the Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Booking.com, spoke to myGwork about her remarkable journey as a DEI practitioner and her insights on creating a workplace where everyone can be wholly themselves.
Growing up in rural Ireland during a time when LGBTQIA rights were not even on the agenda, Olivia witnessed many challenges faced by her community. Despite growing up in a culture that portrayed queer life in a less-than-positive light, her experiences did not discourage her but rather moulded her into a passionate advocate for change, including during the successful marriage equality referendum in 2015.
“Those formative years shape your world,” Olivia reflects. “I was really struck by a couple of insights at the recent Out & Equal global summit including how we live our lives at the intersection of who we are and how and where we grew up. There is no doubt that the abject shame that was and is imposed on so many LGBTQIA people growing up can be a limiting factor in confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing.”
That being said, Olivia also feels incredibly privileged: born to a loving family, living in a country with accessible educational opportunities and now with protective legislation to live in dignity as a lesbian woman in a loving partnership for 23 years, privileges many of our global LGBTQIA community cannot count on. She also sees being a part of the LGBTQIA community as a gift, with the “community” element a particular highlight. Her involvement in LGBTQIA activism, particularly in Ireland, was pivotal in her journey towards becoming a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practitioner. She served as the Chair of the National LGBT Federation, playing a significant role in the campaign for LGBTQIA equality and helping to secure civil marriage rights in Ireland through a popular vote.
“My ultimate motivation is the possibility of helping to create meaningful and impactful change in society,” Olivia explains. “And I really do believe DEI in organisations, corporate or otherwise, is a vital element of ensuring progressive societal change. So, I would say DEI is in my blood and bones.”
Before Olivia’s role at Booking.com, she kickstarted and led a DEI consultancy practice at a Big 4 company and also ran her own consultancy practice, focusing on inclusive participatory practice and citizen engagement for young people. Upon joining the team at Booking.com as the Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Olivia’s goal is to consciously create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment where everyone can reach their full potential and contribute to Booking.com’s mission to make it easier for everyone to experience the world.
The importance of psychological and physical safety is also an important factor for Olivia. She strongly believes in the importance of equity and inclusion of underrepresented identities, coupled with showcasing the benefits of DEI for all employees, are key elements of a successful strategy. On top of this, she adds that active engagement and ownership from colleagues at all levels are crucial to driving DEI.
“When everyone, regardless of identity characteristics, is able to contribute and achieve their full potential – that’s when we know we’ve created a truly inclusive workplace.”
Olivia also highlights the role of the company’s Employee Resource Groups (ERG), providing support for historically underrepresented communities, and promoting education and awareness across the organisation. The company’s Wellbeing Programme is rooted in intersectionality, recognising the impact of discrimination and bias on overall well-being and mental health. Booking.com’s other DEI-related initiatives encompass a range of topics including talent management, talent marketing, compensation and benefits, inclusive hiring, mentorship and sponsorship, inclusive leadership training and more.
One of Booking.com’s most significant external initiatives is the Travel Proud programme. In collaboration with inclusivity expert HospitableMe, this programme allows property partners to become “Proud Certified,” which means LGBTQIA travellers can rest assured that they are booking an inclusive stay.
Beyond the culture at Booking.com, Olivia sees the need for the wider hospitality industry to eliminate discriminatory behaviour. This includes addressing microaggressions, misunderstandings and uncomfortable situations that LGBTQIA guests may encounter. She advocates for a greater understanding of LGBTQIA needs and removes barriers to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable stay for all travellers. Leaders also play a crucial role in breaking down these barriers, and we need allies across the business, she adds.
“Words and good intentions are the easy part; we are judged on our actions,” Olivia says. “The values and behaviours that leaders hold themselves to are what shape the culture and environment of any organisation. From there, it’s up to leaders to make DEI a strategic priority for their organisation and hold themselves and others accountable for embedding DEI into the business. This means working closely with the DEI team and collaborating on delivering a DEI strategy.”
Reflecting on the changing attitudes towards DEI throughout her career, Olivia notes that DEI is an evolving space, requiring a learner mindset, openness to new learnings and adapting to cultural developments. She feels that the future of workplace equality should focus on safeguarding equity and maintaining a sustained commitment to DEI.
With a firm commitment to and resourcing of DEI and programmes like Travel Proud in place, Booking.com continues to actively work towards nurturing a more inclusive and accepting platform for LGBTQIA guests and staff. By constantly addressing challenges, fostering understanding and championing DEI principles, Booking.com is a place where everyone can feel welcome and represented.
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