Evolving the conversation on inclusive businesses

At Virgin we know diversity and inclusion is crucial for the future of our business.

It’s an opportunity we’re committed to, not only because we're now clearer than ever on what we could be missing out on commercially by not embracing diversity, but also because we recognise the opportunity to address fundamental inequalities in our society. 

For me, the conversation on gender has evolved rapidly over recent months. The business case for inclusion is increasingly well understood and I believe that patience for any debate on that aspect is wearing thin. Now, the focus has shifted to action. Another welcome change has been greater consideration of intersectionality and increased emphasis on marginalised voices, as well as focusing on the role of men in the challenge and the recognition of gender itself as a fluid concept. These are all developments that we welcome at Virgin, and ones we’re doing our best to integrate into the everyday. 

I believe it will be inclusive businesses that thrive in the future. At Virgin we want to support a culture that attracts and nurtures diverse talent and customers alike. I’m so proud of the initiatives already running across Virgin Group and am delighted to be able to showcase some of the brilliant women leading the charge across our content series this week. However, there is no rule book to follow at this stage, and it is and will continue to be a steep learning curve, even with the best intentions and efforts to include everyone. 

While Virgin Media has an ambitious inclusion goal of achieving a gender mix of 50:50 by 2025, they continue to monitor and review progress against this target and recognise that a continued focus on frontline roles in sales and technical areas of the business is key to driving the agenda forward. They have also reduced the median Gender Pay Gap (GPG) from 17.4 per cent in 2017 to 13.8 per cent in 2018.

And every sector has its own challenges. In aviation, only five per cent of the world’s commercial pilots are currently women, so for Virgin Atlantic there are long-term challenges to tackle. That can’t be addressed overnight, but at Virgin we never shy away from a challenge and don’t want to be held back by fear of failure. This is new territory in many ways and we recognise that trial and error is inevitably part of that mix. 

As part of tackling the challenge, I’m excited that Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays have launched the Scarlet Women network, which creates opportunities for women across the organisation to think about their own aspirations and potential. They have also introduced Springboard, a three month personal and professional development programme, which has been designed by women for women. It features a variety of workshops, including sessions to help women become more assertive and establish clear goals. Virgin Holidays has already seen some immediate impacts with a reduction in GPG from 30 per cent in 2017 to 23 per cent in 2017, but there is still more to do. And not all of the changes need about creating new initiatives.

There has also been some impactful and simple updating of policy, including introduction of trousers as part of female uniform options and scrapping the guidelines for female airline crew to wear make-up whilst working. Now airline staff of all genders can make their own decisions on whether to wear makeup, or not. It’s a simple and welcome change to an outdated policy that was previously prevalent across the industry. Virgin Voyages’ "Scarlet Squad" programme is supporting female shipboard talent and growing opportunities to access leadership roles in onboard areas such as marine, technical and hotel management.

I believe that representation at a leadership level has an important role to play. Alongside my role at Virgin, I’m proud to be Vice-President of WACL, an organisation that exists to accelerate gender equality in the marketing, media and communications industries. In 2018, we published a research piece in partnership with LinkedIn called Deeds not Words because we felt that having a benchmark of where we are and how far we have to go was critical in our mission. No big surprise, the report concluded that women do not have equal leadership status. Currently just 36 per cent of leadership roles in the industries are held by women. Thankfully this is changing and demand for women on boards is rising, but there is significant work to be done. As part of our ongoing content, you’ll hear from Virgin Care Board member Caroline Ng, on how gender is discussed at the most senior level of the company and which aspects of the gender equality challenge she is most passionate about. 

To help mark International Women’s Day 2019, all week you’ll only see female or non-binary voices across our channels, and we’ve worked to significantly increase the number of BAME contributors too. We’re using our channels to share stories about people including Girls Who Grind, two mums who started their own coffee business, and Jane Evans, founder of The Uninvisibility Project, whose goal is to boost the profile of older woman in communications. We’ll also be focusing on how some of the Virgin businesses are striving to ensure better gender balance and equality in their businesses, and on some of the incredible individuals making it happen. You’ll hear from some of our incredible female talent, including Molly Dillon from Virgin Unite, who this week published her book profiling 10 women in the Obama-era White House. 

An inclusive business is about more than just ticking boxes. It’s about ensuring that the status quo is challenged, new ideas flourish and that diverse ideas and opinions are listened to, valued and acted upon. Consumers rightly expect women to have played a major role in designing and developing products, services and experiences and in leading and shaping the businesses that are selling them. 

This article is part of Virgin's International Women's Day series

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