What does your role as Chief People Officer at Virgin Media involve?
I see myself as a business leader first and a People Director second. That’s important I guess, given my role on our Group Executive Committee (GEC). The people part encompasses a very broad range of activity. Things like thinking about the design and structure of our business; learning and development; management training, recruitment and reward.
If we turn to the subject of gender and gender equality, why is it important that companies like Virgin Media address equality and diversity within their business?
We have a very diverse set of customers and therefore when we’re making decisions about how we are going to support and provide services to them, it’s really important that we think about those decisions from many different perspectives. Having people from different backgrounds with different ideas helps us do that. Individuality is something to be cherished here at Virgin Media!
Aside from that, there is evidence to suggest that different people and different genders bring different skill sets into the organisation. Again, I think that’s important in making the right decisions and being the most innovative business we can be.
So, what are the biggest challenges facing a company like Virgin Media in terms of promoting gender equality and equality generally?
Historically, fewer women have worked in the world of engineering and telecommunications. As a result, the number of men in the organisation has always been much higher than the number of women. But that has actually changed quite considerably over the last ten or twenty years.
There are a lot of opportunities for people, no matter what their background, ethnicity or gender. This is something we’re starting to tackle.
What steps has Virgin Media taken to overcome these challenges and what further steps are we planning?
We’ve started at the top by talking to the Chairman of the Virgin Media Board and we are pleased that our next Board appointment was a female – because it was an all male board ahead of Dolores (Toben) joining. Neil (Berkett) is very keen to ensure that the teams reporting directly to our GEC have female representation and we’ve now achieved that, following a new hire in our Finance function.
We’ve also started conversations with our recruiters so that, particularly at a senior and managerial level, we are trying to get at least one or two candidates from diverse backgrounds. We believe that this will give us a greater opportunity to take positive action to address some of our diversity challenges.
More broadly, we’ve had some terrific success with hiring female apprentices. They go down really well with a lot of our female customers who are at home during the day and prefer to have a woman in their house rather than a man. It’s a real opportunity for us and Paul Buttery (Virgin Media’s Chief Customer & Networks Officer) and his team have been working hard to get students in schools excited about joining Virgin Media and attract young women to our apprentice scheme.
Talking more specifically about disability as part of the diversity agenda - why is it important?
We have to start with the very basics and ensure we meet the requirements of the legislation: have sites that are accessible, have tools and machinery that are practical for people with disabilities. And then beyond this, we have to recognise and value the skill sets and perspectives brought by people with a disability.
I’ve recently been talking to an organisation called Soldier On, which rehabilitates soldiers returning from warzones who have injuries that prevent them from leading a normal life, like deafness, blindness or loss of a limb. Just because these people have a disability, doesn’t mean that they aren’t able to bring some fantastic skill sets and learning.
We know that there's just one woman on the Virgin Media Board and one (that'll be you) on Virgin Media's Group Executive Committee (GEC). What's it like being the only woman working at this level?
For the most part, I don’t think about it. I do the job that I’m here to do and honestly, it doesn’t make a difference to me. If I need to I can always reach out to other senior women in the organisation. There are some great, strong, really capable senior women out there.
What do you think the Virgin Media boardroom and GEC will look like in 5 years time?
I strongly hope and believe that it will be more diverse. Certainly at GEC level it would be great if there could be at least another woman on the team. I would also like to see someone from a different ethnic background on the GEC. The chances are that could also be the case at a Board level.
Ultimately, having a more diverse workforce is about running a more commercially successful business, because if you’re able to really empathise with your customers then you’re able to deliver a better service to them. And being more customer centric is really what our People strategy is all about.