Find out what Virgin Media are doing to ensure they can attract and retain top talent into their team as well as increasing their profits

When Virgin Media and O2 announced they would be merging in a £31billion mega deal last summer (2021), the newly united firm’s Chief Executive, Lutz Schüler, promised to “connect more people to the things they love (and) support communities across the country.”

Nisha Marwaha is their Director, People Relations and Diversity, Equality and Inclusion. Marwaha explained that, at Virgin Media O2, there’s a compelling business case for diverse representation. She stated: “I think there’s a higher likelihood of outperformance (against the competition) with the more diversity you have and given that we do want to be representative of the communities we serve, we need to reflect that in our organisation, to be able to make products and services that are compelling for those communities. And that also give us that edge when it comes to innovation, so we absolutely buy into the real business drivers for diversity and inclusion, as well as the fact that clearly, we’re driven by doing the right thing and making societal change. So, it goes hand in hand for us.”

Virgin Media O2’s commitment to diversity is one that other firms should be encouraged to follow, for their own benefit as well as their employees’ – research from the Harvard Business Review in 2018 found that companies with ‘higher-than-average’ diversity had, on average, 19% higher revenue.

Marwaha set out by bringing together the company’s six separate diversity networks to discuss what they wanted for the future of Virgin Media O2’s workplace;

We Care – the company’s network of carers,

Proudly – the firm’s LGBT+ network,

Ultraviolet – their disabilities network,

Extra Ordinary – their neurodiversity group

Enrich – for underrepresented ethnic minorities and Gender Equality.

Marwaha and her team used these network consultations to build Virgin Media O2’s DE&I strategy, combining it with a data-driven approach which took in everything from attrition levels to hiring percentages, and creating some statistical ambitions for representation that would underpin the D&I strategy going forward. Marwaha explains: “(D&I) is hugely important to us. It’s backed by our executives. We have a DE&I team which has been given real backing and empowerment to move our strategy forward, which is fantastic.”

The data on D&I’s impact on employee attrition, would be of particular importance to business leaders. Amid the current ‘war for talent’, it’s worth noting 2021 Glassdoor data found that 67% of jobseekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities. The same survey found that 50% of workers want their employer to be doing more around diversity. So, the evidence suggests that Virgin Media O2’s DE&I strategy, if done right, could be a huge benefit in the firm’s fight to retain and recruit talent.

In order to generate the best positive impact on the business, Virgin Media O2 worked hard behind the scenes for months, using feedback from the company’s diversity networks, to develop a five-year project of bold ambitions to become a more inclusive and equitable company. In April 2022, the initiative called ‘All In’ was announced to the public, with progressive commitments to achieve gender parity and to increase employees from minority ethnic groups by 2027. As part of its ‘All In’ strategy, the company aims to remove bias and systemic barriers and will introduce new equitable policies so employees can be their whole selves at work. Virgin Media O2’s first step was a bold one – a commitment to fund gender transition treatment for transgender and non-binary employees.

The reaction from Virgin Media O2’s workforce on this announcement was “overwhelmingly positive”, according to Marwaha, and a testament to why these strategies are needed – more so than some might imagine. In fact, a 2021 YouGov survey, conducted on behalf of Totaljobs, questioned more than 400 UK workers who identify as trans, with 65% saying they have had to hide their trans status at work, compared to 52% who answered the same survey in 2016.

How can we help?

We want our clients and business owners to be creating a great place to work for their employees, and that includes having a forward thinking approach to EDI as well as implementing great policies like Virgin Media have done. But it’s not all plain sailing and there may be times when you get it wrong or have someone in your team who is not demonstrating an inclusive approach and is accused of discrimination, or you have made a genuine mistake – it happens.

Our next Meraki Academy Training session will be on EDI on the 7th October from 9:30am – 12 noon and will be led by Prisca Bradley; Meraki HR’s employment lawyer.

Whilst wanting to be fully inclusive workshop (!) this session is aimed at Business Owners, Managers and Team Leaders/Supervisors, to help them understand their business obligations surrounding EDI in the workplace. You can book your place here.

A recent tribunal case highlighted that “stale” EDI training (more than 12 months old) could not be relied on by the employer to give them a statutory defence to discrimination claims.

Under equality law, anything done by an employee in the course of their employment is treated as having also been done by the employer, regardless of whether the employee’s acts were done with the employer’s knowledge or approval.  Therefore, employers can be “vicariously liable” for discrimination, harassment or victimisation committed by their employees.

However, there is a defence to such claims if the employer can show that it took “all reasonable steps” to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory act or from doing anything of that description.

So – what are “all reasonable steps” and when should they be taken?

Reasonable steps will usually include:

  • Having and implementing an equal opportunities policy and an anti-harassment and bullying policy, and reviewing those policies as appropriate.
  • Making all employees aware of the policies and their implications.
  • Training managers and supervisors in equal opportunities and harassment issues.
  • Taking steps to deal effectively with complaints, including taking appropriate disciplinary action.

This training session will help you evidence three out of the four reasonable steps. Plus, there will also be an opportunity to sign up for a review of your related policies following the session. You can book your place here

The training will also contribute to the following and you may then wish to roll out this training to your internal teams via Prisca or Emma;

  • reducing the level and nature of complaints from clients or between staff members about discrimination or poor culture;
  • providing better EDI credentials when tendering for contracts as this is an increasing requirement from our clients;
  • furthering your commitment to Environmental, Social and Governance Issues, which are currently one of the biggest priorities for all organisations. These are a regulatory obligation for larger companies, but SMEs will eventually be brought into scope and may want to adhere to the standards early;
  • increasing productivity and staff morale;
  • retaining and attracting the best talent;
  • reducing turnover and staff absences;
  • limiting the financial and reputational costs associated with having to deal with complaints of discrimination.

Cost is £149 per person if booked before 31st August and £199 if booked from 1st September onwards. You can book your place here;