As 2023 kicks in, one thing that’s clear is the people focus that has come to the fore in the last two years is going to stay in company crosshairs. And, if this is the case, many organizations will need to re-appraise their benefits strategy to compete with the best. Virgin Media O2 are setting the bar pretty high, as Nisha Marwaha, head of people relations and D,E&I at the company, demonstrates in this exclusive conversation with UNLEASH.
Nisha Marwaha: We want to drive gender parity across the organization over five years. And we also want to attract talent from minoritized ethnic communities. And we’ve also got an inclusion agenda, which is taking a real equity-based approach to our offerings. And that’s really where our policy work kicks in.
Jon Kennard: And you haven’t stopped there have you? As well as this you’ve also made some changes, real positive changes to maternity, adoption and paternity policies; let’s get into the detail of these. Where were you and where are you now? What do these revised policies entail?
NM: So we’ve done a lot of work on these policies and really connected with our employee networks, that was important to us, because I’ve mentioned this equity based-approach.
And for us, it’s trying to understand – how are people disproportionately impacted from different groups? What are the barriers that some of those individuals might face that are present in our policies that we might not even be aware of?
We’ve got seven employee networks, they represent a number of different groups. There’s some that you’d expect; your LGBTQ+ community minoritized ethnic groups, but we’ve also got a group that represents carers. We’ve got a disability community network, and we’ve got some neurodiversity groups too.
So we just said to them, look, what’s working well about our policies, and what could be better and what’s presenting some challenges?
So through that consultation and that discussion, we’ve now come up with what I think are some really forward-thinking, best-in-class policies, but with the maternity/paternity adoption leave that you just referenced, we’re now offering employees 26 weeks paid maternity leave, and 14 weeks paid paternity leave (26 weeks paid maternity leave also applies to adoption leave).
On those policies themselves, we’ve had some amazing feedback. I had an employee reach out to me only recently, actually, he said, I was only expecting to go away for two weeks when my baby was born; I’ve only now realized how inadequate two weeks would have been because I’ve really bonded with my child. I’ve been able to be there for my partner. But actually for them, they had quite a traumatic birth, and they needed some time just to process what happened in that experience.
And so he said to me, I’ve come back just feeling so much more energized and happy to be here because you’ve supported me and given me that time. So for me, that was a real signal that these policies are making a difference.
JK: I could have done with that. My first daughter, I took three weeks. And then my second daughter, I was freelance and I think I worked a 60 hour week the week she was born, so I’m glad times are changing. What do you think this is going to do to the wider industry? Do you think other companies are going to follow suit? It seems like they should.
NM: I think it would be great for companies to do whatever they can do to support their employees. Even a discussion that effects some kind of positive change for people, I think that’s great.
And ultimately, the more each of us do in our companies, then that’s going to create an impact in society. And that’s what I think most D,E&I are working towards, right, is that real societal change? So yeah, I think that would be it would be awesome.
JK: So after this, it’s obviously wildly successful and much needed. What can we expect to see you do next?
NM: I should have mentioned as well, we’ve actually got some other iconic policies that we’ve just launched. And it’ll be interesting to see how those play out next year, but we’ve introduced five days leave for unpaid carers, and it’s paid leave. And again, what we wanted to do is work with our networks, because in our business we found out that one in 10 employees have actually got caring responsibilities. That’s not insignificant.
And we’ve got a partnership with Carers UK. And we said to them, what does ‘good’ look like in this space? We’ve offered five days of paid leave, they said, that’s really a gold standard. And our employee network said, for carers, it’s just really important for them to know that the time is there for them to use, if they need it. They might, they might not.
But, if they do need to take time, whether that’s to support someone with a medical appointment, or maybe more serious, caring responsibilities, which by the way doesn’t just extend to your dependents or your immediate family; ‘family’ means different things to different people, so we’ve taken a really broad view of ‘family’ in our policies for that reason. And I think that’s an another amazing offering that we’ve been able to give people, which is to say, if you are caring for someone, you’ve got five days to support you, you don’t need to request leave in a different way, and you can take that up.
I was talking to a colleague of mine about this last week, and she said when her father died, her life changed as a result of the bereavement. But it changed again, because she then became the carer for her mother in place of her father, and just having the policy, it gets a signal from the company that ‘it’s okay, we want to support you, we recognize this can happen’, and it facilitated a really good conversation with her line manager.
JK: And in an environment where talent retention is more important than ever. These things are gonna make a huge, huge difference. So for now, thank you so much for talking to UNLEASHcast. I’m going to be looking to Virgin Media O2 next year to see how it’s all going.
NM: It’s been lovely to be here. And yes, watch this space. Hopefully I’ll be coming back next year to tell you about more exciting things.
Listen to the audio beneath.
Our agenda has launched – get all the latest speaker and session info for UNLEASH America 2023 here.