Addressing systemic racism
Systemic racism and the injustice and suffering it inflicts on millions of Black people has been sharply brought into focus by the heartbreaking murder of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25th 2020. To bring about real change we need to recognise, as a global community, that racism is not confined to America, it affects every nation on our planet.
Some of my very earliest (and fondest) memories took place around our kitchen table. My mum and dad never believed that children should be ‘seen and not heard’. They encouraged us to be part of the conversation, no matter who happened to be visiting that day, and to not only listen and learn, but to be participants and form our own opinions.
We grew up listening to the stories of men and women who had refused to remain silent in the face of injustice. Whether protesting against the Vietnam War, calling for an end to the travesty that was apartheid in South Africa, joining Nelson Mandela’s ‘walk to freedom’ to herald a new South Africa and more recently to mass movements against the Iraq War. The one truth that motivated these incredible men and women, from every race, to continue to stand up for what was right – to continue to participate – was a simple truth: we are all human.
I’m beyond grateful for this lesson as I was growing up and, in turn, believe passionately that we all have a responsibility to promote our shared humanity, not only at home and in our communities, but in our companies and our places of work.
It is this simple truth that drives me as I lead on ethnicity matters at Virgin Management. We passionately believe that all of our people should feel they can be 100 per cent themselves at work. That can only occur when we achieve a truly diverse work force. At every level of the company, this is a goal we are all striving for and working together to achieve.
In the last few weeks millions of global citizens have stood together, marched together and at times, cried together – humans from all races, religions and age groups visibly sharing, and committing to be active allies to their Black neighbours in the fight for racial equality. The world has come together to show empathy, support and a desire to listen, learn and move together to bring about change. Individuals, families, communities and cities across the world have pledged to make 2020 the year that we take real steps to eradicate racism once and for all.
Businesses around the world also need to step up. We know we are not perfect and have a long way to go, but we are committed to do the hard work and help others to do the same. Just as any widespread change requires inspirational community leaders and political leaders – it also requires business coming together and work towards a common goal. Three years ago at Virgin Management, every member of our Senior Leadership Team pledged to champion equality across all areas – ethnicity, gender, disability, LGBTQ, social inclusion, and life stage. Many people throughout the company have joined these groups to openly and honestly discuss these issues and to come up with a blueprint for the future.
I’m deeply humbled to be leading the equality efforts across the Group. Through this part, we are determined to be a company where everyone belongs and feels valued. I am learning so much from my colleagues and I am passionate that this will not just be a forum to talk, but a forum that brings about action and real change. I encourage all business leaders - including ours - to foster, facilitate and promote open dialogue within their companies. You will learn so much in just one day by listening to the life experiences of your people.
As businesses we cannot and shall not remain on the sidelines. Last week, Virgin Management signed the Business in the Community Race at Work Charter. We know that this is a small step, but one that helps articulate our ambition and hold us accountable. I really hope other businesses will support the Charter too.
A commitment to equality and justice has always been at the heart of the Virgin brand. We will also revisit the reverse mentoring and unconscious bias training we have already done and will continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment. There is so much more to do and we will ensure we measure our progress on areas such as leadership, culture and engagement. I’m looking forward to continuing to lead this work at Virgin and take many more steps to ensure we are doing our part for racial justice and equality.
In the coming weeks we will highlight – across all of our online platforms – some of the incredible organisations and extraordinary leaders that we support and work with. This includes organisations such as the Equal Justice Initiative led by Bryan Stevenson.
Please share the above details with your companies and management teams to start the conversation and to create lasting change.