On a recent trip to Virgin Trains HQ in Crewe, I had a wonderful time catching up with the special people who work there. I was particuarly touched by the story of Vic Whitehouse, who led their inclusion initiatives and has been part of the Virgin Family for 22 years!
Vic has so much passion for the brand and so much wisdom about workplace inclusion that I wanted to bottle up every word she said. Here’s what 22 years of working for Virgin looks like, in Vic’s own words.
When did you join the Virgin Family and where has the journey taken you?
I joined the Virgin Family straight after finishing my last A level exam – I literally sat my exam in the morning and joined that afternoon! It was August 1997 and I began working part-time at a Virgin Megastore in the West Midlands. I quickly moved to a full-time position and was trained up as a ‘mobile phone expert’ ahead of the Virgin Mobile network launch. By chance, I ended up selling the very first Virgin Mobile in the UK – on the day before the official launch!
I moved to Virgin Trains in 2001 as a customer service assistant at Birmingham. Nine months later, I became a Train Manager working across the entire network and quickly realised there was a lot more we could be doing for our people and customers. I knew that to make an impact, I needed to become a leader. I eventually moved into the role of Customer Service Manager where I was responsible for a large team of catering staff and Train Managers operating out of Birmingham. The role took me all across the country but when we lost the Virgin CrossCountry franchise I found myself working for a non-Virgin franchise. While it was a great opportunity, I longed to be back with the Virgin Family and before long I was back with Virgin Trains as a manager of West Coast train crew. It was great to be home.
In 2013, I was given a fantastic opportunity to join the People Team as the human resources business partner support. Within nine months, my role expanded to cover the entire London to Midlands route. I was so proud and knew I had to make the role my own. In 2015, I really started to ask questions and push forward the Diversity and Inclusion agenda on top of my day-to-day tasks. It was great to get involved with our first ever Pride events.
In 2018, I was honoured to become the first ever inclusion lead in the entire UK railway industry. I was fortunate to have the backing of the leadership team to develop some industry-first initiative that really left a legacy for the Virgin Trains era and changed the industry for good. I’d found myself in my dream job!
In April this year, we received the sad news that Virgin trains had lost the West Coast Mainline franchise As luck would have it, I had already done a lot of collaboration with Virgin Media and moved into the role of inclusion lead with the company in August.
What are some of your fondest memories and funniest stories from your time with Virgin?
Working for a friendly and warm family like Virgin has led to so many wonderful stories. I’ve loved the fun that I’ve had with our frontline teams especially with the Virgin Trains IncREDiballparty and the many different Pride events.
I remember one Christmas at Virgin Megastore, we were about to close for the day when the team got up onto the counter and performed a brilliant rendition of ‘Making Your Mind Up’!
I really have too many memories to mention here. It’s been such an awesome ride and I’m excited for the stories to come!
Virgin Trains is leaving behind an incredible legacy. What initiatives are your most proud of?
I am proud of our people and their determination to do the best for our customers and each other, even when the odds are stacked against them. The hardest thing to leave at Virgin Trains is definitely the people.
It’s hard to narrow down but some of the initiatives I’m most proud of are:
• The #RideWithPride trains and all of our Pride events supporting the LGBTQIA community.
• Implementing Amazon Alexa Skill to make JourneyCare assistance easier for visually impaired customers.
• Introducing the JAM (Just a Minute) card to support those with hidden disabilities.
• Opening The Calm Corner as the UK’s first neurodivergent-friendly waiting room at Crewe Station and providing hidden disability training for our people.
We really used our ‘Screw Average’ ethos to shape the railway of the future and I believe that legacy will push other train operators to do more and to be more.
What advice would you give to a business in the early stages of implementing an inclusion strategy?
Firstly, you need to understand the business strategy and ensure the inclusion strategy is aligned. Everyone at all levels of the organisation understand the value of being truly inclusive as this isn’t obvious. Include statistics in your presentations that show how creating an inclusive culture is a financial investment.
Next, develop an understanding of the culture you are trying to create - how will an inclusive culture ‘feel’ at your company? What will the colleague and customer experience be? What do you need to do to get there? For example, would it be effective to invest in inclusion training?
Understanding your demographic is essential and diversity data disclosure will help you understand this. However, people need to be assured that this will be used in the right way, so communications and purpose is essential.
Finally, define how you will measure (and celebrate) success. This will help your inclusion narrative to grow.
Most of all, make it fun!
What are three simple ways we, as individuals, can we more inclusive at work?
- It’s about everyday Inclusion and talking to people on a level and being 100 per cent human. Have a conversation with someone who is different to you and try to learn something new.
- Don’t make assumptions based on appearance or accents - everyone has something unique to bring to the table and each of us have a lived experience to tell.
- Be authentic. Just be you and let others be them. After all, everyone else is taken!
What are you most looking forward to in your new role at Virgin Media?
I’ve joined at such an exciting time with a great opportunity to work within the People Experience team. I want us to be disruptive in the inclusion conversation and bring innovation to create a true sense of inclusion and belonging at Virgin Media.
If you had to name one person that sum up everything great about Virgin, who would it be?
There are far, far too many inspiring, enthusiastic and influential people to list here but if I really had to break to down, I’d say Natasha Grice - executive director of people & responsible business at Virgin Trains. Natasha moved up from a grassroots position to a senior leadership role but has never forgotten the support of the people who helped get her there. She’s created so many opportunities for so many others, including me.
Would you say red is your favourite colour?
Red has always been my favourite colour and always will be... which is just as well really!
It’s passionate and purpose-driven people like Vic that have made Virgin the brand (and the family) that it is. Vic’s journey goes to show what happens when you invest in great people and create a culture that allows them to flourish.
Thank you Vic!