Virgin Atlantic’s Chief People Officer, Estelle Hollingsworth, will be joining us at this year’s MADWorld Summit on 21st October as a panel member for the closing keynote panel: “What if your job was good for you?” MADWorld stands for Make A Difference. In this profile interview, Estelle explains how the airline’s “Be Yourself” manifesto is helping to drive change – blending diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging with workplace mental health and wellbeing initiatives.
First can you tell us a bit about your role at Virgin Atlantic?
In my role as Chief People Officer, I am responsible for ensuring Virgin Atlantic’s people can thrive at work, by creating daily inclusive experiences that energise our teams and drive our company vision to be the most loved travel company. I feel hugely privileged to be in this role, to steer the impact that we have, each day, on our people and to see how that, in turn, positively impacts our customer experience. The link between our people and our customers is critical at Virgin Atlantic because our people are what sets us apart from other airlines and are what make our customer experience ‘most loved’.
Virgin Atlantic’s Be Yourself manifesto is being relaunched this year. Can you tell us why it is such an integral part of the company’s mission to be “the most loved travel company”?
It’s never been more important to drive real change. Our purpose – everybody can take on the world – and our vision – to become the most loved travel company – remain integral, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. These missions can only be realised through the power of human connection, both between our people and with our customers. Therefore, it’s crucial we have a diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) strategy in place, focused on enabling our people to feel included and supported, so that they can thrive and ultimately, feel pride in being part of Virgin Atlantic. We call this “Be Yourself”, and it’s through this plan that we create an environment where everyone feels they belong without needing to conform, and that their contribution matters regardless of their background, identity, or circumstances.
How has Be Yourself helped Virgin Atlantic to support the mental health and wellbeing of colleagues during the pandemic?
Whilst we’ve always been aware of how important wellbeing is, the crisis hit home just how critical it is, within the workplace and beyond. It was no longer an abstract concept but very real and tangible. We sadly had to say goodbye to 47% of our workforce as a result of the impact of the pandemic, which was devastating. The way we handled that process and recognition of how it has impacted who we are as an airline today, was vital.
The actions and commitments underlying our Be Yourself philosophy helped to create an environment of trust, care, compassion, empathy and vulnerability across all levels of the business. This environment then allowed us to instigate conversations around wellbeing, to check in with our people and ask how they were doing. As for so many other workplaces, wellbeing became a core focus for us.
What’s different about the relaunch of Be Yourself?
We originally launched Be Yourself in 2019 and started a campaign to encourage our people to share inspirational stories about why inclusion was important to them. Thousands of our people contributed and helped to shape the behaviours we need to consistently demonstrate and to create an inclusive environment. What’s different now is that we are reaching beyond an environment where everyone can be themselves, to a place where all of our people feel a sense of belonging.
And of course, 2021 looks very different to 2019. We’ve seen the devastating impact of the pandemic, as well as Black Lives Matter casting a spotlight on inequity, racism, and the need for actionable change. Our purpose is Everyone can take on the world; but some need more support to really feel that is achievable. With this in mind, we’ve introduced equity into the conversation, because we recognise we don’t all start on a level playing field.
What are you hoping to achieve with the relaunch?
Our aim is to cultivate an environment of conscious inclusion across the company. It’s important to point out the difference between conscious inclusion and unconscious bias. The latter is the recognition or awareness of certain preconceptions you may have of a person or group of people. Recognising you display an unconscious bias is one thing, but positively choosing to take action to change it, is another.
Adopting conscious inclusion or a new way of thinking doesn’t happen overnight, but through the relaunch of Be Yourself, we are starting the journey. My role is to ensure our people can be at their best and that is an accountability and commitment that I take with the utmost seriousness. At Virgin Atlantic, our ‘Be Yourself’ manifesto is at the heart of everything we do, strengthening our connections with each other, our customers, our partners, and the communities we fly to.
We are delighted to be able to include your perspective at this year’s MADWorld Summit as part of our closing keynote panel discussion “What if your job was good for you”. What are you looking forward to most about the event?
I referenced earlier, the ‘power of human connection’ and the MADWorld Summit is a perfect example of being able to come together in person to share in the energy, insights and wisdom of so many talented and experienced individuals. I feel honoured to be able to share Virgin Atlantic’s story and look forward to taking back my insights and learnings from this day, to our leadership team, to inject fresh inspiration in to how we may continue our important work on wellbeing and ensuring that every single colleague at Virgin Atlantic feels supported and able to be at their best.
The MAD World Summit is on Thursday 21st October, in-person at 133 Houndsditch in Central London. The Summit is the go-to event for employers who want to Make A Difference to workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing. For more information visit the event agenda or to book visit the booking page.