Day of Enlightenment: How M&S is taking action one year on
“In one sense, it would be easy to say that we’ve made good progress. But I feel restless. We are moving in the right direction, but we have a huge amount more to do in the coming year – not just for our Black colleagues but on being a more diverse and inclusive business”.
The following is an extract from a message shared with all M&S colleagues from M&S CEO, Steve Rowe, on 25th May 2021.
It is hard to believe I’m writing to you a full year since the horrific death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We’ll all be reflecting on what happened – and has happened since – in our own way. I know that, since then, I’ve been on my own personal journey of understanding my privilege as a white man, and the actions I need and want to take as an individual and as the CEO of M&S.
I think all of us have learned a huge amount along the way, and Louise, Deborah, Halford and Vinni from the Culture and Heritage Network have been brilliant partners to me, and to the business, over the past 12 months.
However, as well as reflecting, the question to ask is what have we done as M&S since then and what are we going to do looking ahead? I was clear with everyone a year ago that I wanted to see us:
• Take steps for our colleagues to recruit and retain diverse talent and create an inclusive culture where everyone can belong and get on.
• For our customers, that from the ranges we offer to the way we market them to the layout of our stores, inclusivity would be embedded into how we do business – and customers see it, feel it and recognise our brand as a leader.
• As a business with hundreds of shops in communities across the country (and world), we would support organisations which work on community inclusion issues that our colleagues and customers care about and contribute to a ‘national conversation’ on issues that impact and challenge us all.
So what have we done, what more can we do, and how can all of us play our part? Because it really is down to all of us.
To help ensure we recruit, retain and develop diverse talent, we have had targets for ethnic minorities and women in management for some time. We remain firmly committed to our target of having 50% women and 15% ethnic minority colleague representation in our senior management team by 2022. These are ambitious targets and, if we are to meet them, we need more change, with more pace, better hardwired into the business. However over the past year we have begun to take action through the following:
• To drive diversity from the bottom up we have become the first major retailer to support the 10,000 Black Interns initiative, which is seeking to address the massive under-representation of Black talent found in every sector across the UK.
• For the next graduate intake in September 2021, one fifth of the cohort are from an ethnic minority background, which is the highest figure we have achieved to date.
• We’re taking steps to put an end to any unconscious bias in our recruitment processes, with names and gender being removed.
• We’re also trialling new software to ensure we write more inclusive job adverts with the aim of increasing diversity in our talent pipeline.
To support our learning and development we’ve:
• Introduced a seven-module inclusion training programme for all colleagues across our business and 72% of our colleagues have participated in the first two modules to date, which is fantastic. Leadership is key here so I’ve completed all of them – and I expect the wider leadership team to have done the same by the end of Q2.
• In recognition that change starts at the top we’ve also developed a reverse mentoring pilot with black store colleagues and senior leaders.
• We’ve developed line manager guidance where it was lacking, for example a guide to supporting colleagues during Ramadan.
We’ve given our colleague networks more support:
• The Culture and Heritage Network has doubled in size over the past year. All of our networks are on TEAMS and I would urge everyone to get involved with the right network for them.
• The Network has a real dialogue with the leadership and is beginning to support the business on product development as well as providing peer support and a network for colleagues. You’ll see the first outputs of this next month in terms of product development and marketing in our upcoming ‘new neutrals’ lingerie campaign. This model of collaboration with our colleague networks and BIG reps is fantastic and one we should repeat going forwards.
• In conjunction with the Networks, we have reviewed which religious and cultural moments we recognise for colleagues and customers, and I’m delighted that everyone can now take celebration time to mark the day that matters to them
• We have reviewed our marketing principles so they are inclusive, and are consciously using more diverse model mix – including people of different races, ethnicities, shapes, sizes and disabilities.
• We have reviewed our product offer to make sure we’re offering a relevant product range for our customers - for example having a specific offer for Ramadan and Shavuot. We’re marking these events in stores with messaging, as well as email and social media marketing.
• Last year we added new inclusion causes to our Sparks charity programme – including The Black Curriculum and Blueprint For All Trust (formerly the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust) – so that we can continue donating to them every time customers shop with us.
• In addition we want to use our platform to amplify the important work they do, such as sharing their resources and conversations with their leaders, as well as use our platforms to highlight the work they do. That’s why we featured Lavinya, CEO of The Black Curriculum, as part of our Mother’s Day campaign this year.
All of these steps have been underpinned by strengthening our Inclusion and Diversity team including the appointment of our new Group Head of Inclusion & Diversity, Cleo Thompson, who is responsible for resetting how we address inclusion and diversity for our colleagues, customers and communities.
So, in one sense, it would be easy to say that we’ve made good progress. But I feel restless. We are moving in the right direction, but we have a huge amount more to do in the coming year – not just for our Black colleagues but on being a more diverse and inclusive business.
However, progress will only come if ALL of us feel restless. As a first step, get involved with our networks – we can all be allies – and make sure you’ve completed your I&D modules. Getting involved in the conversation and understanding the world from different perspectives and your impact on others – however unintentional – is the first step to us making M&S a better place to be for everyone.