Giving people the freedom to be themselves

Holly Branson speaking on stage at the 2019 Fast Track 100 event in Oxford
Fast Track 100
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 3 November 2021
The things that make you ‘you’ are the things business leaders and managers should care about the most.

From day one at Virgin, we’ve known that our people are our greatest asset, so it doesn’t make sense to stifle their individuality. Corporate culture and stiff codes of conduct do not exactly encourage creativity, and they don’t make for a diverse workforce either.

Richard, Sam and Holly Branson with the Virgin Stars of the Year winner
Image from Kami White

As Chief Purpose and Vision Officer at Virgin, one of my biggest passions is making sure everyone can be 100% themselves at work, and feel respected, valued and trusted to express who they are each and every day.

The third chapter in Virgin By Design looks at how we’ve been doing this for 50 years now, and it brilliantly explains how celebrating your people and giving them the freedom to be themselves is actually really good for business. As Charlotte Goodman, our Director of Impact at Virgin, says in the book: “The key is not to think about culture fit, but culture add – what new perspectives and experiences can diverse individuals bring to your team?”  

Double spread from Virgin By Design that reads 'Changing Business for Good'
Image by

Creating a culture of belonging and an emphasis on ‘culture add’ takes an active effort. It takes policy implementation, transparency, accountability and buy-in from all levels of an organisation, and I’m proud of the way our Virgin companies are doing exactly that. One great example is the VALUED network at Virgin Atlantic. The network was named by cabin service supervisor Otis Dublin, who is such an energetic, unique and invaluable member of the Virgin Family. Anyone at the airline can join the network and help to champion people from underrepresented communities, challenge the status quo and create meaningful change at the company and in the community. Reading the stories from some of their Black members during Black History Month has been truly moving.

A similar example is Virgin Media O2’s ENRICH Network, which is a group of brilliant employees on a mission to support underrepresented ethnic groups. The network recently spearheaded the company's new two year partnership with the youth empowerment programme 20/20 Change.

(L-R) Marc Nicoue and Leanna Edwards - co-chairs of Virgin Media O2’s Enrich employee network, and Duro Oye, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at 20/20 Change
Virgin Media O2

I’m so proud of the way we always have and continue to celebrate individuality and give our people the freedom to be themselves at Virgin. As Nathan Rosenberg, Chief Marketing Officer at Virgin Voyages and a passionate champion of our extended Virgin Family puts it in the book:

“If you always think about the people that are impacted by your decisions, you won’t make a bad one.”

For a deeper dive on how to bring out the best in your people, earmark the People Powered chapter in Virgin By Design.