At Virgin we pride ourselves on trusting our people. Our people are our best asset and we have implemented world-class people policies to ensure they know how much we value them. But as a business there is always more to learn, more to try and more that can be done. No matter the size of your business, it is always worth asking the simple question: can your people be 100% themselves at work? You will never be a truly purposeful business if you are not INCLUSIVE.
Yesterday, I spent a wonderful day exploring ‘inclusive initiatives’ from the teams at Virgin Media, Virgin Unite, the B Team, Unilever and EY, at a 100% Human at Work gathering. It was a fascinating learning experience.
A little background: in 2013, the team at Virgin Unite called together some of the most forward-thinking businesses in the world, with the hope that these responsible companies would help drive the same value systems in thousands of businesses worldwide. Shortly thereafter, the B Team was born. One of their goals during the next decade is to promote 100% Human at Work, based on the premise that the time has come for businesses to start thinking of people as human beings and not as resources.
We are embracing that goal at Virgin wholeheartedly - on first (second and third look!) it can be daunting though – it is a truly ambitious goal. No surprise given the complexity of the issues, in the fast paced and every changing world, we all live in. But when you take a step back the best approach to getting started is usually the simplest... If you are the CEO (or a member of the Leadership team) admit you don’t have all the answers and need help.
At Virgin Management Limited - through our purpose work - we discovered that the most innovative and impactful ideas come from the many rather than the few. We are taking those learnings and applying them to our drive to become one of the most inclusive companies in the UK.
At the very outset though buy-in across the leadership team is crucial. We have always taken this approach at Virgin with purpose sitting firmly on the desk of the CEOs. This year, we have evolved our approach even further when it comes to developing innovative Inclusive people policies, with each of our V Team members being assigned responsibility for an area of Inclusion and Diversity (D&I).
The six members of the senior team (including Josh Bayliss, our CEO) have taken a lead on one of the following areas: age, gender, LGBT+, ethnicity, disability and social mobility. They have invited volunteers to join their group from right across the business. No one is forced to participate; if you have a genuine interest or experience to share in one area, you put yourself forward. The groups meet regularly - both on calls and in person - to share ideas in the hope they will develop innovative strategies within each area.
The feedback from our people has been great. They love the fact that it’s voluntary, not forced, and that it feels organic and inclusive. It is flat in structure with no hierarchy in the meetings. They see it as a space to share experiences, knowledge, put forward suggestions and be listened to.
For the members of the V Team, the responsibility of using these forums to drive our Inclusion goals is included in their annual performance objectives. It’s always good to have a little incentive to drive results and a little competition! What has been so interesting is the amount of enquiries we have had from leadership teams of other companies who want to implement the same team-driven approach to I&D.
I’m proud of the approach we are taking and love the fact that everyone has been invited to get involved. But I am under no illusion that our journey will (and must) continue. We have much to learn but we are on that learning curve together. All companies have the ability to be inclusive employers and become companies that are respected, valued and supported by ALL of their people. All it takes is dedicating time, listening, learning and, being open to different ideas by sharing experiences and innovative approaches - with your whole company. It doesn’t get much more inclusive than that.