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Did you know that in Bangladesh clothing factories, 80% of the colleagues making our clothes are women, despite 95% of the supervisors being men? It means 90% of the managerial talent in factories comes from just 20% of the workforce

As the UK’s biggest clothing retailer, we know we have our part to play in changing that, and more widely our part to play in promoting gender equality in our global supply chain. 

Our efforts come in a number of forms, but one project I’m particularly proud we’re involved in is the Gender Equality and Returns programme (GEAR). Covering technical skills, soft skills, managerial skills and team building, it aims to reverse those statistics I quoted – helping amazing women become amazing leaders. In partnership with our suppliers we enrolled 106 trainees from 12 factories (that supply M&S a range of products across womenswear, menswear and kidswear) to the GEAR programme; a six month on the job training course, including 10 days of critical face-to-face support.

I could reel off more about this incredible programme, but instead I’ll let the amazing 37-year-old Josna explain the impact. She was supported by her supervisor, her co-workers, her family and the factory management to progress from sewing line quality checker to sewing line supervisor. This International Women’s Day we’re proud to celebrate her achievement.

 “I was married at a very early age. I was only in class 7 that time. But my husband was very supportive and with his support I restarted my education and passed the Higher Secondary Certificate examination. 

"Unfortunately, my husband died eight years ago in a road accident. My in-laws were not very supportive. I started working and my mom supported me to run my home and bring up my sons. I was struggling to keep my sons well. 

"One day we were informed that there would be a new project where 10 workers would be trained and promoted to supervisor. I showed my interest to management, took the written exam and got selected. We got 10 days of classroom training including soft skills and technical skills development, and for six months we worked as trainee supervisors. Initially I was very nervous: I had never had the idea that I, as a woman, could become a supervisor. I tried my best and after completing the training I was promoted to supervisor. 

"I learnt many useful topics from the training. All my family members are so happy about my promotion. My elder son is studying a Diploma Engineering in Computer Science and my younger son is studying in grade 4. My elder son is now dreaming of doing his BSc Engineering after my promotion, and I can take care of my mother as she is elderly. 

"I feel really empowered after getting the promotion. I now lead my team in the factory as a woman and make decisions for my family. Everyone at the factory respects me and now I can inspire other girls to be a supervisor and have respect like I do.”

We’re proud to support Josna and thousands of other women in our supply chain. To find out more about what M&S does in Bangladesh, read my colleague Fiona's blog about the five-year anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza fire in which she reflects on what’s been done and what more we can do. 

Other gender equality projects M&S works on in Bangladesh are HerFinance and Halow+ (Health Access and Linkage Opportunities for Workers Plus).

Also read:

Photo credit: IFC/Gender Equality and Returns