Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 6th 2014 Contents our love of great music. Thinking back, I m also
reminded of a charity we launched in 1967 called the
Student Advisory Centre, which offered help and
information to young people on issues like sexuality,
abortion, adoption, contraception, drugs and more.
Our tagline was "Give us your headaches."
The empathy, compassion and sharing involved
helped to shape our organisation. Those experiences
taught everyone on our team to connect with a more
diverse group of people, and in the long run this
turned out to be an advantage. We became aware of
business opportunities that we wouldn t have otherwise
known about, and as we ventured into new industries
and markets, we celebrated differences, embraced
change and encouraged innovation.
Research shows that companies that have a diverse
workforce have a distinct advantage. For instance,
according to the Center for Talent Innovation s report
"The Power of Out, " the LGBT community s buying
power added up to $700 billion in the United States
alone in 2011, and many people in this group prefer
to buy from gay-friendly businesses. Discriminating
against potential customers just makes no sense from
an economic, or any, viewpoint.
The report also revealed some of the internal costs
to discriminatory policies: LGBT people working in
unfriendly environments reported feeling depressed
(34 per cent), distracted (27 per cent) and exhausted
(23 per cent), while those who reported feeling isolated
at work were 73 per cent more likely to say they were
planning to leave their companies within three years.
A company s best assets are its people, and if a sig-
nificant portion of them are getting ready to leave,
that s an emergency that needs your attention.
On the larger scale, our team at Virgin has noticed
that business suffers in nations where discrimination
is sanctioned. One country I have watched with
increasing concern is Russia. In the years following
the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia liberalised
some of its laws targeting gays---it decriminalised
homosexual relationships in 1993---and the country
appeared to be on the road to equality. But now new
laws have been introduced to intimidate and persecute
gay people. Russian authorities have been denying
permits for gay pride parades, and violence and crimes
against LGBT Russians are on the rise. Activists have
been arrested, and many are leaving the country.
Russia is now ranked 49th on a list of 49 countries
for LGBT protections.
Such backward changes are not only morally wrong,
but will ultimately hurt even those who put them in
place. When people work toward a common goal,
they are driven, passionate and purposeful. This trans-
lates into harder work and more innovation. Fostering
divisions in any group, no matter what the size, is
never a productive policy.
To build bonds between your employees, make sure
that you offer them plenty of opportunities, like parties
and outings and other events, where they can get to
know each other outside the office environment, and
without the pressures of the workday. Building empathy
and understanding will help them to resolve any dif-
ferences and come up with new solutions.
The same could be said for governments. Nations
with discriminatory civil rights policies should recognise
their mistakes, address the problems they have caused,
and move on. They will likely be far more prosperous
if they do so.
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin
Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin
America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He main-
tains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog.
You can follow him on Twitter at
twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more about
the Virgin Group: http://www.virgin.com/.)
MARCH 2014 • WEEK ONE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
Diversity is an advantage for
any company, and can be
an important factor in its
success. Over more than
40 years of building our
businesses at the Virgin
Group, my colleagues and I have seen time
and time again that employing people from
different backgrounds and who have various
skills, viewpoints and personalities will help
you to spot opportunities, anticipate problems
and come up with original solutions before
your competitors do.
Jacqueline, regardless of the position you
hold or the industry you work in, the key
is to lead by example: Embrace diversity,
starting with the choices you make for your
first hires. An entrepreneur who hires a lot
of people who are just like her and have had
the same experiences will find that she s
leading a team that is less creative and helpful
to customers, and ultimately produces lower
profits. Plus you d have a lot less fun!
At Virgin, our company s rock n roll roots
certainly helped us to start building a diverse
team early on - all sorts of people shared
Foster diversity, not division
Q: How do you merge the cultural diversity of individuals into a prof-
itable brand? Jacqueline Ferrell
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