How to advance diversity at work

Richard Branson and the B Team
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Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 6 March 2015

This month, I am supporting LeanIn.Org’s efforts to counteract gender biases in the workforce, and in turn offer women the ongoing inspiration and support needed to help them achieve their goal of gender equality.

Richard Branson having a cup of tea at a Virgin Trains event in 2015
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Whether it’s sexism, racism or homophobia, business suffers where discrimination is present. Fostering divisions in any company, no matter what the size, is never a productive approach. More women in leadership roles will help you spot opportunities, anticipate problems and come up with original solutions. Lean in and support equality in the workplace – head over to to find out more about what men can do to support women at work and at home.

Here are my four suggestions for counteracting gender bias in the workplace:

Demonstrate commitment

Senior commitment to embracing diversity sets an important tone and echoes throughout an organisation, influencing its actions and priorities. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and B Team Leaders, has committed to building a gender-balanced organisation with a focus on management. 

This commitment is embedded throughout the organisation, including interviewing 50 per cent female and 50 per cent male candidates, and hiring according to merit, achievement and personality; not gender. A male boss who hires people who are just like him – with similar experiences – will find that he’s leading a team that is less creative and helpful to customers, and ultimately produces lower profits. 

Richad Branson shaking hands with an event with Virgin Money
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In a fascinating discussion on this topic in Davos recently, Facebook COO and Lean In author, Sheryl Sandberg explained that people often attribute the success of a woman to the fact that she got lucky or had help from others, while if a man succeeds it’s because of his performance. Then as men become more successful, they become better liked, while women are less liked. Highlight the great work of the women around you, and break the cycle of cynicism. As Sheryl added: “Lean in and speak up.”

Move beyond numbers & targets

Bold moves are needed to make a real difference in any field. Norway has a rule that stipulates that boardrooms must be made up of at least 40 per cent women, which I think is an interesting way of proactively promoting equality. Many women disagree with this point, believing that it exacerbates gender bias by awarding women roles simply to fill a ‘quota’. Whilst targets and goals do have a role to play in focusing minds on fair representation, identifying the root causes of the gender gap in your organisation through one-on-one interviews, surveys and focus groups will help identify opportunities for sustainable change. Francois Henri-Pinault, CEO of Kering and B Team Leader, successfully used this method to drive their women’s empowerment agenda. 

Richard Branson speaking to a woman in the Battleship
Image by Owen Billcliffe

Experimenting and Rewarding

Many women are put off striving for leadership roles due to thinking they will have to sacrifice family life to reach the top. This needs to stop. As a leader, you should think creatively about how to provide family-friendly benefits, and empower your employees to experiment. Not every intervention has to be obviously linked to closing the gender gap but may have this benefit in any event.

At Virgin Management, flexible working arrangements and unlimited leave benefit both men and women and enable work and family life to be balanced. These approaches, which recognise and value the contribution of your employees, will help your company attract and keep your talented people. 

So many men understand ​the benefits of equality and want to know want they can do. ​ provides tips and resources focused on practical, everyday steps that ​men can take to support ​their​ wives and children, and female coworkers. Are you for equality?#LeanInTogether.

For more on advancing diversity in your organisation, go to The B Team.