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Marks & Spencer pledges action on diversity and racism

Lauretta Roberts
19 June 2020

Marks & Spencer CEO Steve Rowe has promised the retailer will be taking a "much overdue review of our approach to diversity and inclusion".

The retailer acknowledged on "Black Out" Tuesday that it had work do do to "truly understand and tackle racism and the stymying impact it has on the life chances of black people".

In a communication to staff that has been released to the media, Rowe outlined what he believed a truly inclusive business should be and how Marks & Spencer was taking steps towards achieving that aim.

Rowe said a truly inclusive business means:

  • As an employer, we attract, support and develop diverse talent and create an inclusive culture where everyone feels they can belong and get on. This includes looking at how and where we recruit, the partners who support us, the training we offer and, importantly, the data we track and the systems we have in place.
  • As a retailer, from the ranges we offer to the way we market them to the layout of our stores, inclusivity is 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 support organisations which work on community inclusion issues that our colleagues and customers care about. We use the power and platform of our brand to amplify their work and contribute to a ‘national conversation’ on issues that impact and challenge us all.

The steps he outlined the retailer had take were:

  • As an employer, we have targets on female and BAME leadership representation which are currently to have 50% women and 15% BAME colleagues in senior management roles by 2022, and we are at 41% and 8%.
  • Our new colleague survey has been designed so that we can look at data according to different anonymised groups to spot trends and take action. In the last year we moved from 220 to 123 in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index and we are a Times Top 50 Employer for Women. We have signed the Race at Work charter, but we must up the pace on taking action to deliver it.
  • Last year we became the first UK retailer to introduce sunflower lanyards into all stores, which helps identify customers and colleagues with hidden disabilities. We also created our Adapted for Easy Dressing Kidswear range for children with sensory or physical disabilities.
  • To play an active role in our communities, I am pleased to tell you that we have expanded the charities that we will donate to on behalf of our customers through Sparks. What matters most to me, though, is that we were doing this as part of the long-term re-set of Sparks and in collaboration with colleagues.
  • We are broadening our focus on Community & Inclusion charities and we will be supporting the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, which aims to transform the life chances of young people, and The Black Curriculum, which is working to address the lack of black British history in the UK Curriculum. As we have done with akt, another new Sparks charity that supports the LGBTQ+ community, we are kick-starting the partnerships with a direct donation.

But Rowe said that, despite the positive progress, it wasn't enough. "To make sure we make progress on addressing racism as part of an ambitious diversity and inclusion action plan, I will be putting my personal weight behind this," he said.

He added: "Over the past few weeks the whole world has been horrified by the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It is remarkable to see protests taking place from Brazil to Indonesia, Australia to the UK, and I can only hope that the senselessness of his death is a catalyst for the world to face into the challenge of systemic racism and take meaningful action.

"Of course, I am not just a commentator on this issue. As a privileged white man, and as the CEO of a business of 78,000 colleagues—with different backgrounds, beliefs and ambitions—I’ve been reflecting a lot on what has happened, and what we need to do at M&S." 

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