Meet the Virgin Family: Charmaine Clarke
Charmaine Clarke has worked at Virgin for 17 years. She started out as a receptionist and is now an executive assistant working with the External Relations team. Her role has taken her around the world, working on events with Richard Branson, helping out behind the scenes at V Festival and dealing with requests from the media. Outside of work, she and her fiancé Ian are parents to a young son, and she recently completed a fundraising challenge for Great Ormond Street Hospital. We caught up with her to find out more about her time at Virgin and her experiences as a mixed-race woman in the workplace.
Why did you choose to work at Virgin?
As a child I would visit Barbados with my dad during the summer holidays and we'd fly with Virgin. I remember those flights, I remember Dad always talking about Virgin and Richard Branson. It’s a brand I grew up with.
When I applied for the job I didn't actually know it was with Virgin, I was at a PR company doing reception and wanted a change. So I sent my CV to an agency and got a call to say that there was a company in Notting Hill that wanted to speak to me. Notting Hill had connections with Carnival for me with my dad's Caribbean background. When I went to the interview, I saw the big logo on the door and I rang my dad and told him I had an interview with Virgin. He asked if I was going to be a pilot as that was my childhood dream job!
When I went into the interview I just knew it was somewhere I wanted to work. I walked into the reception, it was bright and funky. I just remember thinking it was brilliant, the culture just seemed to really come through straightaway.
What do you love about your current role in External Relations?
It's the variety. Obviously, we work with the media, we work with Richard but it's just the wide scope of projects and tasks that we could be asked to get involved with. It could be a case of finding images from the archives, arranging travel for our team worldwide, sorting out schedules for our senior team members or helping out journalists with a request. It's not a set role, every day looks a bit different.
Over the years we've done some really fun events. I'm normally the first person that a client or company will see. I'm not just the person booking taxis for my team, I'm there helping organise events.
The first event I did after my maternity leave was a Made By Dyslexia event. I went along to the venue, made sure everything was set up properly, that everything was ready for Richard to arrive. I met everyone, made sure everyone was comfortable and politely declined the hundreds of requests for photos with Richard.
I've been super lucky over the years, I've travelled to New York and worked on Virgin Galactic events, I've travelled to LA, to Mojave. I've been to Virgin Active Italy's launch, I flew to Edinburgh when Virgin Atlantic launched Little Red. I love that I get to travel with my job, my voice gets heard and I've always felt like a valued member of the team.
How does that compare to previous jobs that you've had?
It's really hard to compare Virgin to other places, to be honest. I've been here so long, I just feel like it's my home. The one thing I always come back to is the amount of freedom we have.
We have an unparalleled amount of freedom in our jobs. About how we do our jobs, where we do our jobs. And the longer that you're at Virgin, you start to take that for granted. My previous job definitely wasn't like that, it was regimented. You were told what to do and when to do it. That’s definitely not the case at Virgin.
Have you ever had any negative experiences in the workplace as a mixed-race woman?
No. I've really tried to rack my brain to think if I've ever been made to feel 'less' in any way. But it hasn't happened. And I don't know if part of that is because of what I'm like as a person, that I always feel like I deserve to be in the room. The colour of my skin isn't something I intentionally think about, I wasn't brought up for it to hold me back. I was brought up in a house where both of my cultures were celebrated. But I think most importantly I've always had bosses who, if they had picked up on any negativity towards me for any reason - the colour of my skin or otherwise - they would have called it out. My bosses have always had my back and they would not allow their team to be disrespected.
In fact, my bosses have always made it easy for me to celebrate my culture and mark events that are important to me. For instance, something that is always really important to me is the Notting Hill Carnival. It’s something that has always been super important to my culture, the music, it is part of the Caribbean. And my dad was this crazy little party animal. I'd always find him down there dancing with a Barbados flag and I would be with him and his friends.
In work, it’s become an unspoken rule that the Tuesday after that bank holiday weekend is my holiday day. It’s a lovely thing. And then I'll come in on the Wednesday and we'll have a chat and a catch up about Carnival. It’s something I was super proud to share with my team - I always talk about Barbados and how amazing the island is and what it means to me. That's something that I've never felt like I had to hide at Virgin. It’s always a major talking point.
You're part of the ethnicity group at Virgin Management. Could you tell us a little more about that?
I'm part of the diversity and inclusion group that's focusing on issues around ethnicity. I joined up from the moment the group was set up. I wanted to join because I wanted to give my perspective as someone who has worked at Virgin for so long, is mixed-race and has had overwhelmingly positive experiences here. I think it's important that we keep that up and reading Rachel's interview recently showed me that we're still getting it right. She’s had the same positive experience as me at Virgin, even though we joined 17 years apart. This tells me that our family morals and what we do as Virgin is right.
Our diversity pool and where we recruit is a slight issue. But I don't think that's holding us back. And I think it's something that can and will be changed. I know that we're looking at that but I think we should focus on the positives. For 17 years it has been and still is a fantastic place to work.