My top tips on how to break down barriers

I’m often asked why inclusion is so important to business and the best ways to foster a happy, inclusive, productive culture. In our latest Spotlight Series on Virgin.com, Breaking Barriers, we are looking at how people fulfil their work and career potential. We’re sharing how we’re trying to do things differently across the Virgin Group, and getting inspiration from what other companies are doing.

Here are my top tips on how to break down barriers at work:

1.            Include everyone

The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people. It is about giving equal access and opportunities, moving from tolerance to acceptance, overcoming biases and getting rid of discrimination. Essentially it is about letting everyone be themselves and valuing them. I’m proud of Virgin Holidays’ campaigns standing up for the LGBT+ community and Virgin Media’s Work With Me campaign which aims to help one million disabled people into work. Think about how you could be including more people, in how you do business and how you serve your customers.

2.            Be a part of the community, wherever you are

This is really important for us at Virgin, as we want our businesses to have a positive impact on the people we serve and the communities in which we operate. For example, at Kasbah Tamadot, Virgin Limited Edition’s property in Morocco, my mum set up the Eve Branson Foundation to teach young girls from the local Berber community craft skills, so they can make artisanal products to sell and make a living. Ulusaba, Virgin Limited Edition’s private game reserve, also has a charitable arm called Pride ‘n’ Purpose, which is committed to helping disadvantaged communities living near the reserve.

3.            Give second chances

No one is perfect, we all mess up. But we can all learn from our mistakes, turn over a new leaf and start again. Virgin Trains are a great example of how this can work for business – they give ex-offenders a second chance in the workplace. I’ve found that people lift their game when you put trust and hope in them. My life and career could have been very different if I hadn’t chosen to forgive one of my very first business partners. After finding a note outlining his plans to oust me as Student magazine’s publisher and editor, I felt incredibly betrayed and we decided to part ways. From Student came the idea for Virgin. But as the operation took off, I decided to let bygones be bygones and called up him and asked him to re-join the team. Forgiving him was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I retained a great friend, became happier at work and in life, and gained the confidence to grow Virgin. Forgiveness brought us both peace and success.

4.            Appreciate people’s differences and recognise individuality

Being flexible is the most effective way you can help people be the best they can be at work. This could mean anything from allowing people to work from home or creating quieter working spaces. Ask people what they need to make work easier and listen to them. We have invested in a great start-up called Auticon, an IT and compliance consulting business where all consultants are on the autism spectrum. They have found that having more different perspectives in a team will often significantly improve the work output – another wonderful example of how diversity and inclusion is beneficial for business.

5.            Encourage collaboration

A strong team that communicates effectively with each other breeds creativity and innovation. When I’m in meetings I often open with a joke to let people know it’s a safe space for ideas and we’re not so serious we can’t have a laugh. I listen to what people are saying by putting my phone away, taking notes and asking questions. The best ideas are usually brought to life by a huge team effort. In my experience, people will deliver their best work if they have the freedom to innovate and the support to deliver and if their work has purpose. 

6.            Empathy is everything

One of the key values at Virgin is insatiable curiosity which is about questioning, listening, discovering and uncovering and ultimately developing new ideas and ways of doing things. Listening to others’ life experiences is key to breaking barriers because it helps to increase empathy. How often do you read something that you didn’t already know, consider opinions that diverge from your own, or walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. The more open minded and empathetic we are, the more we can all achieve together.

What are your tips for breaking down barriers at work?

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