Driving gender equality at work

Holly Branson wearing a microphone, sitting on a brown sofa, looking away from the camera
Image from BBC Sounds
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 11 March 2021

When it comes to gender inequality and gender bias in the workplace, what can you choose to challenge?

To mark International Women’s Day this year, I had the pleasure of joining Helen Page, Chief Brand Officer at Virgin Money, to discuss everything from calling out gender bias, empowering women in business, and celebrating the amazing women who have influenced our careers.

It’s concerning to realise gender parity is almost 100 years away, and there’s so much work that needs to be done in our own lifetimes to ensure we close this gap. As Virgin Money’s Executive Sponsor for Gender Inclusion and as a woman who has spent most of her career in the financial services sector, it was fascinating to learn more about Helen’s own experience and insights. You can watch the full session below.

Choose to Challenge: Holly Branson and Helen Page from Virgin Money

As I mentioned to Helen, we should never underestimate the importance of having open, honest and brave conversations. However, this is sometimes easier said than done. We need to create a workplace culture where people feel comfortable to speak honestly about the good, the bad, and the ugly; and can speak up when they see bias or inequality played out. As Helen and I discussed, it’s also critical to concentrate on diversity, inclusion and intersectional issues (the compounding of discrimination or privilege based on our race, gender, class and ability) if we want to empower all women. As the feminist writer and civil rights activist Audre Lord once said:

"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own."

We also discussed the disproportionate ways the global pandemic has challenged women across the world. According to a report by Mckinsey, women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Women are burned out with the increased burden of unpaid care and existing gender inequalities. With many women forced to choose between work and family, we’re in danger of losing the knowledge, skills and wisdom they bring to our businesses and industries. More than ever, businesses need to be as flexible, supportive and understanding as possible.

Holly Branson and Josh Bayliss speaking to two women at 100% Human at Work panel
Image from Virgin.com

We’ve embraced policies designed to better support women (such as shared parental leave, remote working and flexible working) at Virgin Management for many years now, and it has left such a positive impact on both our people and the business. Virgin Money also embraces a flexible working culture and offers family friendly policies, shared parental leave, and support for women returning to work to ensure they are really harnessing the talent of women in the financial services sector.

Helen and I also spoke about the amazing work Virgin StartUp is doing to address the different barriers women entrepreneurs face, and the work being done at Virgin companies around the world to tackle gender inequality. From Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Hyperloop and Virgin Orbit’s efforts to recruit more women in the aerospace, STEM and aviation industries; to Virgin Media recruiting an equal number of women/men in their engineering apprenticeship programmes; to Virgin Money target of equal women/men representation within senior management, which they are very close to achieving! It’s encouraging to see the work being done, but many challenges still remain and we still have a long way to go in bridging this century-wide gap.

Five Virgin Money employees pose for a photo
Image from Virgin Money

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that it is in everyone’s interest to empower women. What is good for gender equality is also good for the economy and for society, and speaking to amazing women like Helen really reminds us of that.