Watch our interview with Centrica's Group Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Devi Virdi, here:
Q: Could you tell me a bit about yourself and your role at Centrica?
A: My name is Devi Virdi, and I'm the Group Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Centrica. I grew up in Hong Kong as the oldest of four siblings. Our family mantra growing up was: “where there's a will, there's a way”. This was led from the front by a fiercely proud Indian mother who really encouraged her four children and all of us to be independent, strong-willed, and leave the world a better place. That's guided me through my decisions, both small and large.
Today, as a mother of two, I live in London and, working as a Group Head of Diversity and Inclusion for an FTSE100, I'm using my experience and passion to help drive positive change, with inclusion at the heart of everything that we do, for our colleagues and our customers.
I've spent the last 20 years working for some of the biggest corporations on the planet.
I've sat in many senior exec meetings and realised that I was the only one that looked like me around the table. That really empowered me to step up my game, to learn, to listen and to lean in.
I've built, led and driven global commercial teams, as well as being a regional managing director for a tier one global travel tech firm. So, I've sat in many senior exec meetings and realised that I was the only one that looked like me around the table. Sometimes I was the only woman and sometimes I was the only Asian, and that really empowered me to step up my game, to learn, to listen and to lean in.
I have had to be bold, resilient and agile in my career to really allow me to compete at that same level as others and being tenacious and innovative in my thinking. I've always found a way and that's something that my mum taught me as a young girl.
So, today I realise that I am in a very fortunate position, and, in fact, I feel very privileged in the role that I'm in and I have an obligation to use my platform to make a difference.
I'm incredibly passionate about mentoring. My love for mentoring other women from underrepresented groups gives me the opportunity to pay it forward, to share and to learn.
Q: What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you and Centrica?
A: For me, diversity means many things, because everyone isn't one thing. I don't come to work just as a woman; I carry various identities and so do each of us. Diversity is those multiple layers of identities that each individual has within an organisation.
I think it's important to remember that no one person is defined by that one ‘singular dimension’ of diversity. Whether it’s that you’re female, whether you're bisexual, whether you're black, whether you're disabled; all these different elements create that unique identity and therefore, I think the most important thing is to start exploring it beyond that whole ‘singular dimension’.
If we stick to single dimensions within a workplace, we're not seeing the whole picture of diversity. At most companies, diversity is based on those visible characteristics, and the problem with that is that you're not truly understanding what matters to that person and what will make them feel truly included in the workplace.
Without a workplace of inclusion, diversity is doomed to fail.
Inclusion is considering how to create an environment where people can be their authentic self and celebrate their unique identities. It's about behaviours, values, and about how those values really manifest themselves through leadership. That's from top down and then from bottom up. I'm a believer that without a workplace of inclusion, diversity is doomed to fail.
When it comes to creating an environment of inclusion in any organisation, you're either leading the way or, frankly, you're getting in the way, because neutral doesn't exist. Everyone wants to belong in a workplace where they feel valued and respected.
We know inclusion and diversity have the legal requirements behind them, and there's the moral case, but the business case is there. I think organisations now see the value in how diversity drives better business performance and better output, innovation, and greater productivity.
The ‘E’ stands for equity, and I think there's still many people who have a common misconception that equity is the same as equality. The truth is they are very different. Equity is about treating individuals fairly based on their needs and requirements.
With equity, people have access based on their unique needs. Another way to think about it is that equity is the process, while equality is the outcome. This distinction is so incredibly important when you think about having fair systems and processes within the workplace, such as promotion or hiring, for instance.
Q: What does a diverse workforce look like?
A: Centrica, as it currently stands, has an overall representation of females at 29% across our entire business. Across our extended leadership team, we have a representation of 31% of females. At the top of the organisation, it's about visible leadership commitment. I would say being in the energy sector, gender diversity remains a challenge area for us as a company and as a sector.
We've been able to shift the dial within Centrica, with roles outside of engineering now, in leadership positions, where we do have a 50/50 split. We have put our commitment into practice. Fifty percent of our exec directors are females and 50% of our boards are women.
Back in 2021, we started aiming at adopting the 40/40/20 rule for every rule, making sure we had a shortlist of 40% females, 40% males and 20% from underrepresented groups.
Diversity is about how we represent our customers, and the communities that we serve.
We are still some way off reflecting the full diversity of the communities that we live in, and we serve. This is especially true in roles like engineering, where we don’t traditionally see many women or people from different ethnicities taking up opportunities – but this is also a deep-rooted societal issue. So, it's going to take some time to see the changes that we all want, and we all need. Centrica has an important role that we can, and we must play.
In 2021, we joined forces with the alliances such as the Energy Leaders Coalition to tackle the issue as a sector. We've also committed to hiring an apprentice nearly every day over the next decade. That means we're going to be recruiting over 3,000 apprentices by 2030.
The ambition is that 50% will be women, and 14% from different ethnicities; we're actively targeting people looking for a career change and we're off to a pretty good start.
Diversity is about how we represent our customers, and the communities that we serve. This is one of our key pillars on our diversity and inclusion plan at Centrica. It's now critical for organisations to mirror this because we know it creates higher customer satisfaction. It improves our company's reputation, and it also increases our colleagues’ feelings of empowerment and pride. That also in turn supports wellbeing.
Q: What changes have you seen in the last two years?
A: Real change has happened over the last two years. Conversations around diversity and inclusion have tripled in the last year and in every sphere; the topics of racial equality, diversity, gender balance, LGBTQ rights, you know, it's been discussed from media, to politics, in the living room, right around the country, classrooms and in organisations. The challenge is to sustain that momentum and really build on it with irreversible action. I truly believe that this can be achieved when the collective come together.
I predict that there will be environments that are truly inclusive in the future, and technology will help create that inclusion by removing human error and biases from interviews, recruitment, assessment, performance, promotions – and that's all possible. However, the technology is only as good as the people who design it. If you haven't built diversity into your company, or the design, or into the team that's working on it, you're going to end up with products and solutions that are biased.
This is more of a hope than a prediction but in 10-15 years from now, with the right steps and leadership, you won't even need people like me anymore. My role would merge into the role of every single leader in an organisation; it becomes business as usual.
For more support and insight into building a diverse workforce, contact your nearest Reed office today.