At Virgin we have always believed that we should stand as an active ally to anyone facing racial discrimination and provide much needed support to underrepresented groups. Over the last few months, the positive impact of the Black Lives Matter movement has made us all step back and ensure that we are absolutely doing all that we can to be truly diverse and inclusive businesses and to make sure all of our people feel they can be 100% themselves at work.
Virgin has a long history or creating a culture of belonging, inclusivity and equality – but we acknowledge there is always more to learn and understand about systemic racism, not just at work but also in our communities. I’ve also set about listening and learning as much as I can and sharing my learnings with you all. In turn, many of you have recommended some fantastic resources for me to read, watch and tune in to.
I was honoured to join an extremely informative panel during one our Virgin Belonging Sessions which have been created for our 70,000 people from all across the Virgin Group. Any of our team members can log in and learn from experts across many sectors including well-being, mental health, diversity and inclusion and the future of work – to name just a few of the topics. The session I joined discussed how we can become more active allies and acknowledge that equality is everyone’s responsibility. It was such an insightful and eye-opening discussion, so I thought I would share a few key things I learnt -
4 behaviours of a supportive ally:
1. Consider others' lived experiences – it’s more important to seek to understand than it is to be understood. By considering others’ lived experiences we can better acknowledge our privilege. From seeing the job you want go to someone with half your experience, being followed around in a shop or constantly stopped by the police – many people’s lived experiences include daily acts of injustice and discrimination. If you don't experience these things, it is important that you are open and receptive to learning from your colleagues who do.
2. Be generous with your time – acknowledge your responsibility to open up and learn, to face your unconscious biases, to sit in the discomfort and to identify areas you can give back.
3. Don't stand for microaggressions – we all have a responsibility to call out inappropriate behaviour at work, while making time to praise positive examples and share good practice.
4. Use your voice to amplify – listen and learn as much as you can and use whatever platform you have to bring more voices to the table. Hearing from someone with a totally different lived experience is a powerful step toward understanding.
3 ways to build a culture of allyship:
1. Create space for difficult conversations – all workplaces should always create spaces for people to be involved in important discussions. At Virgin Management, we have six different Diversity & Inclusion Groups that all employees can join and that cover ethnicity, gender, disability, LGBTQ, social inclusion, and life-stage. I’m so proud to be leading the ethnicity group and use it as a forum that inspires action and real change.
2. Get the whole company on the same page – Education is the key here. All employees should be educated on their own biases, and how to stand up to harassment and bullying. Everyone must know what to do to stamp out inequality. Furthermore, the company’s policies and commitments to equality should always be front and centre and not buried within the organisation’s intranet.
3. Sign up for the Race at Work Charter – Virgin Management has signed the charter and will take on five key actions to improve ethnic minority employees’ representation at all levels in our organisation. It’s a great way to turn thoughts into actions and I would encourage any UK businesses to sign up too.
Thanks to everyone on the panel for teaching us so much about what it means and what it takes to be an active ally. I hope you all found these key points useful.