Today is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This significant day recognises visible and invisible disabilities and promotes the importance of inclusion in life and the workplace. It does that by encouraging business leaders across the globe to value the unique contributions of disabled people. Here’s Estelle Hollingsworth, our Chief People Officer talking about this important issue.


I am Estelle Hollingsworth, Chief People Officer here at Virgin Atlantic. I’m also the sponsor of our internal Disability Engagement Network (DEN). The personal stories and passion of our DEN network have opened my eyes, educated me and enabled me to get inside their lives and start to understand what they have been through and what we can do to support them. That’s a real privilege for me because it allows me to work with, listen to and be humbled by the DEN network members. DEN’s quest is to raise awareness of people’s disabilities so together, we can build understanding. From there, we can start to change policy and bring about the required change to ensure that we are an employer of choice for people with disabilities where everyone can be themselves and add value to our company. That comes down to what we believe in and how we value the different perspectives of the people who work for us across all company areas.


Our deep belief is that we value the whole person, and we want every colleague to feel they can be at their best. By understanding and celebrating difference and introducing it through our recruitment, our teams will become more innovative. It also brings things we value like energy, laughter, and creativity to our teams, which creates the environment that makes us so special.


Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion encompass people with a disability of any nature, including physical, cognitive, sensory, intellectual, or emotional/mental health. The World Bank estimates that more than one billion people worldwide – around 15% of the population – live with a disability. Every one of us will be touched by disability at some point in our lives. I know I have.  It has made me a stronger person and ally as a result and that is something that I feel very proud of.


Ultimately, we need to demonstrate how we attract, recruit, and retain people with any disability to be truly inclusive. My personal passion is to go beyond inclusion and create a sense of belonging for every person who works with us. If you feel a sense of belonging, you are safe, you are trusted, and you trust. That is when all of our incredible people are indeed at their best, and every single colleague makes a valued contribution to our company’s vision.


This year and beyond, we will be working with DEN and the other networks to understand what changes to policy and adjustments to our recruitment process we will make and what stories we can share to show that we are all in this together. Virgin Atlantic is the most inclusive company that I have worked for across my career, and that isn’t down to luck. It’s who we are, and I know that because of that there is still so much more to come. I can’t wait to see how we progress.

Estelle with members of our DEN network and our allies

Charlotte Shiel

Leanne Toombs

Frances Wilburn

Getting things right and supporting our disabled colleagues is something we believe deeply. To help us achieve that, we've signed up to the Valuable 500, a global movement to ensure that workforces are creating a more inclusive workplace for those with disabilities. We are currently Disability Confident committed, but we're in the process of putting an action plan together to achieve the next disability confident level. This is a government-backed scheme to encourage employers to improve how we attract, recruit & retain candidates with disabilities. The DEN network recently facilitated a careers panel event as part of Access All Areas week, a nationwide event to support students with special education needs to get ready for the world of work. And earlier this week, to celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Estelle took part in one of our internal 'Red Talks' streamed across the whole company. She was joined by Shani Dhanda, an award-winning disability specialist who has worked with businesses, the government and wider society to influence change around disability inclusion. Also joining Estelle and Shani on the talk was Joanne L Reynolds, a member of our cabin crew and Chair of the DEN network.

We're an employer that promotes equality of opportunity for all our people in an environment free from discrimination. By marking International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we acknowledge that this is still work in progress. With Estelle as their executive ally, the DEN regularly consults with the business on our recruitment process and company policies to ensure they are inclusive for all. As you'll read in Charlotte, Frances and Leanne's profiles, we're not there yet. But we'll never stop working towards making this world a place where everyone can be themselves, live their best lives and fulfil their potential