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In 2014, I launched our first women’s network, which was set up to promote the progress of women, provide informal mentoring and networking opportunities, give access to a range of role models and create a forum for discussion to explore and address the career challenges women face. 

At M&S we recognise the importance of having a diverse workforce and are committed to creating equal opportunities for everyone. This begins with our recruitment and selection procedures and runs through the core of what we do, including learning and development, appraisals and promotion opportunities. 

We aim to ensure everyone is offered the opportunity to achieve their full potential, realising that our differences make us stronger, thus encouraging everyone to be whoever they want to be. Not only are we responsive to the needs of our employees and customers, we also take pride in the role we play in the community through our employability programmes such as Marks and Start and Make Your Mark. 

We place a lot of emphasis on developing initiatives and procedures that enhance opportunity, creativity, innovation and personal development. The case for driving a culture that is inclusive of varied talent is well established and it is generally accepted that a diverse leadership team is a strategic enabler ensuring competitive advantage that helps place us as an employer of choice, something that is very important to us. 

I am currently working on a number of things to drive the business to work inclusively and maximise the benefits of having a diverse workforce. We are proud that we have a diverse range of employees across our business, but we want to continue increasing diversity at senior levels. We are supporting the development of women to ensure that diversity remains a central feature for our senior positions. 

Our women’s network has been a huge success with colleagues across our offices and stores, with over 1000 colleagues now a member. I am delighted we have also attracted a few men to join too! Each month we invite an inspirational speaker from outside the organisation to come along and share their story with our network. We’ve heard from some fantastic speakers that have left us all feeling truly inspired. 

We’ve invested in a number of pilot schemes that we hope to progress this year, including cross business mentoring, run by the Government backed 30% Club, which aims to increase the number of women in FTSE 100 Boards. We’ve also partnered with a local school to provide 1:1 mentoring support for around 50 female students between the ages of 15 and 17, which has received incredibly positive feedback. Providing support for our local communities and raising awareness of the opportunities a career in retail can provide is hugely important.  

We’ve piloted our first development programme just for women; I don’t want to generalise but research does show that often there are commonalities across the development needs of females so we’ve focused on building confidence and self-belief.  We are keen to support in any way we can with this, so we are currently gathering feedback from our pilot to understand if this should be part of our permanent learning and development offer. 

We’ve been one of the Times Top 50 Employers for Women for the last few years which is a fantastic achievement. Our aim is to employ a workforce that reflects the diverse community we serve and maximise both personal and commercial opportunities.   

Each month we will be posting blogs, sharing our activity and highlighting some of the key messages from our Inspiring Women Network events.

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