At Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays our women in business network is called Scarlet. The network has grown organically since 2016, when someone had an idea to try something out and see what happened.
So - to personify Scarlet in the most obvious way - in early 2018 she was really still a toddler, finding her feet and working out her place in the organisation. Since then, a few interesting events, some external factors and some happy accidents have coincided to position Scarlet for a whole new phase.
The year did not start on a great note. In line with legislation, our gender pay gap results were published early on, and to be frank it was not a pretty sight. Of course there’s a rationale behind it, and while the numbers are only part of the story, nonetheless how distasteful the idea of becoming known as "that organisation" with one of the biggest gender pay gaps out there. In part prompted by that, we established a diversity and inclusion board which we call "Be Yourself", chaired by our CEO Craig Kreeger and put serious weight behind the often hidden issues of equality and diversity of all kinds across both organisations. Scarlet was invited to the table (happily for everyone she has impeccable manners).
When not planning how to help put diversity firmly at the top of everyone’s agenda, Scarlet was quietly taking action. Through some fantastic contacts, some assertive requests and a little bare-faced cheek, we managed to host some extraordinary external speakers. From award-winning diversity advocate Richard Robinson, to Nolli Waterman, international rugby union and rugby sevens player, via entrepreneur Charlie Bradshaw and podcaster and coach Sarah Ellis. Scarlet gave a platform to these external role models as well as to our own high-achievers from within the business, taking to heart the adage that if you can see it, you can be it, and creating opportunities for women across the organisation to think about their own aspirations and potential.
Another event external to the network was that the organisation embraced Workplace as its corporate social media platform. For two years Scarlet had operated through the best endeavours and commitment of a few individuals, working by word of mouth. Suddenly there was an open forum to share ideas, ask for help, suggest events, comment and contribute in myriad ways. This provided the perfect opportunity to firstly raise Scarlet’s profile generally, but also to engage with members in new ways, and to find out what they wanted specifically from the network. 250 opinions expressed through an online poll in the middle of the year provided sufficient information to organise the next set of changes for Scarlet.
Workplace also proved to be great for sharing recommendations and rallying people with a shared passion: at the end of the summer a group of members organised themselves to get together (in 3D and outside of office hours!) and attend a suitably feminist literary event: the promotional book tour of The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White; we figured over one million podcast downloaders can’t be wrong (they’re not).
Autumn term. The organisation shined its shoes and turned its thoughts to 2019 and a brand new three year business plan. Scarlet - who, it turns out, can be both the consummate business professional and enjoy shiny new shoes - did the same, and a plan for 2019 was created, focussed around the voices from the poll and what the ever-growing membership had expressed back in the summer. It turned out to be an unapologetically ambitious agenda, with some punchy KPIs to measure it. In order to do it justice it would no longer be feasible to work on best endeavours - this called for a new committee structure which could not only deliver what the members called for, but in and of itself create opportunities to gain or practice skills that will be useful in the workplace, and in that all-important application for the next role.
Workstreams have been defined, an exec sponsor identified, and in the few working days left of 2018 candidates are attending interviews for positions that will help them to take Scarlet forward. A quick aside: for anyone who perhaps doesn’t really understand or believe that women hold themselves back, about a third of the candidates for committee roles had to be chased up to complete their applications, because somehow they had questioned their own eligibility. Even for an unpaid role supporting women in the workplace. All of those candidates have proved to be fantastic, and this lack of self-belief illustrates beautifully why Scarlet is so valuable.
So here we stand at the end of the year and looking forward. We’re obviously expecting a little turbulence during the challenging adolescent stage ahead, but the new committee at the helm is poised and equipped to take Scarlet - and the women of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays - to a whole new level in 2019.
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