Listen, Learn and Act: Meet Donnie
Every day, we strive to do better, to be better and to better serve our teammates, our cities and our community of travelers. Virgin Hotels was built with a commitment to diversity and inclusivity as a core social mission, and we’ve pledged to make lasting change—starting from within. There is always more that we can do, and over the last several months we’ve been listening and learning. That means ensuring that we live up to the values we were founded on. Today, we are sharing the next step in this journey.
Amongst many of the commitments that we made to keep us moving in the right direction is engaging inclusion strategist, Donnie N. Belcher from Work With Donnie. The partnership has started with conducting a comprehensive review of our practices and will provide guidance on all anti-racist efforts as we deepen our own education.
Donnie was first introduced to Virgin Hotels while working with Art of Culture Inc. in Chicago as the founding Executive Director. During that time, Donnie and Virgin Hotels’ partnered on multiple initiatives that positively impacted the lives of young creatives in Chicago. In this Virgin Voice blog, we meet Donnie and chat about coming together in unity as we work towards ensuring that all our hotels, teammates and leaders reflect the world around us.
Q: In reading your About Me section on your site you’re extremely passionate about coaching non-profits, mentoring and teaching students to learn through unique experiences. Share why diversity and inclusion within the hospitality workplace is important to you.
Donnie: I believe that intentionality around diversity, equity and inclusion is important not only within the hospitality workplace but within all spaces. When people show up to work – they bring their whole selves and should be able to work in environments that encourage and empower the unique perspective that each individual brings. In those environments—empathy, creativity, innovation and collaboration thrive; which is not only good for people, but good for business. I also believe in intentional collaboration. In my career, I have witnessed impact amplified when the public and private sectors work toward shared outcomes. At my core—I am a lifetime educator, and that supports my work as a consultant, problem-solver and thought partner.
Q: What sparked your interest in teaching and art?
Donnie: My interest in teaching was sparked by the amazing teachers I was fortunate to have in my life. In high school, I had a teacher named Ms. Borgmann who helped me to discover the power of my voice through poetry and creative writing. She also introduced me to literature that affirmed and empowered me including my favorite book, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. When I was younger, I also used to love to play school, and always wanted to be the teacher. I would actually assign homework to my cousins and everything. I was introduced to art through poetry and loved that I could use poetry to express my emotions. Shortly after poetry, I fell in love with scrapbooking and continue to practice that art today. Also, I feel like art is an accessible way to explore and have conversations about difficult topics like racism, sexism, inequity, etc.
Q: With the intention of expanding our diversity program at Virgin Hotels, can you share why now more than ever our leaders and teammates need further education.
Donnie: Our society is not in the best place right now when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. Hatred, prejudice and biases are institutionalized and built into the very structures of our legal system, our media, our schools, and our corporate cultures. Awareness is the first step to changing or improving anything. I am excited about the opportunity to assist Virgin Hotels in expanding the diversity program because that intentionality, structured approach and commitment to improvement will only enhance the culture at Virgin Hotels—which is already pretty amazing!
Q: What steps will Virgin Hotels take or have taken when forming diversity programs and policies?
Donnie: Virgin Hotels already has great practices and a pretty diverse leadership team. The first step that was taken was the public commitment made on June 9th. The company has already accomplished the first step which was to bring me on board, and to start checking in with teammates about their experiences. We are now working through policies and practices with an equity lens and making the necessary changes and updates. As the demographics of community and our society change, Virgin Hotels will always need to keep diversity, equity and inclusion top of mind. We are doing meaningful and important work together and will continue to share updates as we go along.
Q: Do you have a mantra you would like to share with us?
Donnie: My personal mantra is a quote by Maya Angelou, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” In terms of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work one of my favorite mantras is, “Inclusivity means not ‘just we’re allowed to be there,’ but we are valued. I’ve always said: smart teams will do amazing things, but truly diverse teams will do impossible things.” -Claudia Brind-Woody.
I am interested in helping companies create environments where every single person no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion etc. feels valued, because when that happens, everyone wins.