On Tuesday night, Dame Carolyn McCall, chief executive of ITV, gave the second annual Helen Alexander Memorial Lecture – supported by the CBI, the Economist, Informa and the University of Southampton.
The overarching theme for the lecture is Women on Business, rather than Women in Business, and McCall chose to pick up on the topic of trust in business – something Helen spent a lot of time working on as the first female president of the CBI.
“Trust has to start with purpose,” she said. “This has to be authentic and really 'lived' by the management and people in the organisation. It informs how companies behave with their people and customers. It helps staff understand why the company exists and why that matters and it helps them understand why they make the decisions they do.”
Emphasising the importance of leaders, like Helen, being strong, open and honest, she continued: “They have to create an organisation that reflects their customers – therefore one that is inclusive and diverse. They have to create a culture that cares for the people in it, while contributing positively to the communities in which it operates.”
She added that trust comes from actively listening to everyone, and involving them in solving your business problems. “It’s one of the most powerful things in business.”
Moving away from the theory of trust in business, McCall was keen to highlight how this can be applied in the real world – using her own experience.
She was working at the Guardian when she met Helen, who then worked at the Economist Group – two editorial organisations that shared similar values. “Helen believed that acting with values and purpose is essential for business success and we had many cups of coffee discussing the fine balance of purpose and profit.”
From there, McCall went to easyJet, where she oversaw the long haul of rebuilding a reputation, which she said was achieved through “engaging with staff and putting the customer at the core of everything”.
Among the examples of the changes made was the launch of a Special Assistance Advisory Group chaired by David Blunkett to reflect the priorities of those passengers with special assistance needs and to challenge the airline to improve what it did and how.
Another was The Amy Johnson initiative – named after the pioneering female pilot of the 1930s – to address the massive inequality in the pilot profession.
“The inequality wasn’t one of pay but the overwhelmingly male nature of the pilot profession with just 6% of female commercial pilots being female,” she explained. “The initiative set a target that 20% of easyJet’s new entrant pilots should be female by 2020 and I am pleased to say that the airline is on track to achieve that goal.”
Now at ITV, McCall talked about the uncertainty that can be created by change – as the media company adapts to technology and changing audience habits – and the continued importance of involving everybody in the process.
Part of that has been the creation of ITV’s first Social Purpose strategy.
“We asked ourselves how we could use the power of our creativity and scale to create positive change in society and within ITV,” McCall explained.
“The issue of mental health is one that many young people discuss a lot. It affects everyone. So we decided that this would be our main focus internally and with viewers, and we’re working on this in partnership with Mind and Young Minds.
"Our aim is to make conversations about mental health and wellbeing as comfortable and common as those about physical wellbeing.”
As an employer it’s led to ITV signing up to the Time to Change pledge, which is designed to change how we all think and act around mental health. On-screen initiatives include Good Morning Britain’s One Million Minutes campaign, aimed at tackling loneliness.
“We also know that Diversity and Inclusion is critical to our people and we have an important role in shaping this for viewers,” McCall added.
“Bringing together and amplifying our social purpose both on screen and off, is all about doing the right thing for the long term, being proud of how we do that and building trust within ITV and with our consumers.”
Trust builds effective partnerships
McCall ended with a call for businesses to work together on critical issues affecting society – as in doing so, they stand a much greater chance of success.
“One of Helen’s greatest strengths was how she collaborated. When she got to the CBI, I remember how hard she worked to foster cross industry links. She did that by being who she was - an extremely decent, unflappable and kind woman whose integrity was never questioned. And by being a brilliant networker and by listening.
“This combined with her open and direct style, meant people trusted her.
"Collaboration and partnerships depend on trust.”