It’s been three months since the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement hit the headlines following George Floyd’s death. With the hashtags now fading, Retail Week looks at what retailers are doing to continue the momentum.
2020 will forever be remembered for the fight against two pandemics: coronavirus and racism.
This year has shone an unflattering light on the inequalities within retail, with the BLM movement highlighting the ingrained discrimination for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.
This was illuminated in the Retail 100, RWRC’s annual ranking of the industry’s 100 most influential leaders, which was published in June and featured just one black retail executive among 10 people of colour.
“If ever there was a need for open and honest conversations about the UK’s relationship with race and power, the time is now”
Raj Tulsiani, Green Park
“Inequality in outcomes for BAME individuals have been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the BLM movement,” says executive search firm Green Park’s chief executive Raj Tulsiani.
“If ever there was a need for open and honest conversations about the UK’s relationship with race and power, the time is now.”
Green Park has been one of the leading voices in retail when it comes to the BLM movement, with its annual Leadership 10,000 report, which tracks ethnic diversity across businesses alongside its consultancy practices in diversity and leadership development, providing much-needed context.
Its latest research, The Colour of Power, revealed that just 52 out of the 1,099 most powerful roles at businesses across the country are filled by non-white individuals – just 4.7% of the total number, compared with the 13% proportion of the UK population that is non-white.
Tulsiani adds: “What is clear is that the diversity of retail employees of the lower level is not reflected further up the chain of command.”
Green Park’s 2019 report The Retail Leadership 700 found that white males dominate senior leadership positions at the 30 biggest retail brands in the UK, US and mainland Europe. Among almost 700 positions, white men hold 67% of the total roles in the US and 72% in both the UK and Europe.
Among senior retail leadership positions, white men hold 67% of the total roles in the US and 72% in both the UK and Europe
Well-known retailers pledged their solidarity with the BLM movement in June by signing an open letter, which was a mandate for change signed by 29 UK business leaders, including those from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.
All pledged to put an end to the repeating cycle of inaction and address the racial inequality that exists for hundreds of thousands within the UK workforce, confirming that they will report publicly on their progress.
Yet, despite this, Tulsiani says that realistically the picture is likely to get worse before it gets better.
“BAME network groups have no external support and we know that, historically, reductions in staff numbers disproportionately impact ethnic minority and female employees through restructures,” he says.
So how can businesses drive meaningful change and do more than pay lip service to tackling diversity? Here are some notable examples of retailers who are taking meaningful action to target diversity as a result of the BLM movement.
The BLM movement has really thrown Dixons Carphone’s inclusion and diversity efforts into focus, with the retailer currently looking at how to energise its efforts.
Sharon Murray, group head of culture and inclusion, is spearheading the development of the retailer’s updated inclusion and diversity strategy.
The strategy will be supported by a Leadership Inclusion Forum, which will help shape, guide and champion Dixons Carphone’s inclusion plans.
“We know there is always more to be done. We are talking to third-party specialists and advisers to further develop our approach to inclusion”
Sharon Murray, Dixons Carphone
This forum will be sponsored by two members of the electricals and mobile communications specialist’s board, chaired by a member of its executive committee and made up of leaders representing each area of the business.
“We know there is always more to be done,“ says Murray. “As part of this work, we are talking to third-party specialists and advisers to further develop our approach to inclusion.
“Alongside this, we will continue to listen to, work with and proactively engage and encourage dialogue with colleagues across a range of topics as we develop as a business.”
From LGBT History Month and Transgender Day of Visibility to International Women’s Day and Mental Health Awareness Week, BLM is among many topics the retailer has been proactively engaging with its colleagues about and encouraging dialogue around.
The UK’s biggest grocer has also stepped up its efforts to support black people and to target diversity more widely.
The business has active colleague networks to support, promote and raise awareness of inclusion within the company, as well as offering mentoring and career sponsorship, alongside seeking feedback from employees about their own experiences.
However, mirroring Dixons Carphone, a Tesco spokesperson told Retail Week: “We know there is more we can do.”
“In addition to signing the Race at Work Charter, we recently pledged to set targets for diverse candidate shortlists for every position in Tesco, investigate and address the specific barriers faced by black talent in our business, track and report ethnicity data, and elevate black voices in our organisation.”
“We recently pledged to set targets for diverse candidate shortlists for every position in Tesco”
Furthermore, the grocer will this year launch new inclusion training to aid its managers in supporting an inclusive culture within their teams.
In September, Tesco will open applications for its Diverse Business Internship, aimed at giving BAME, disabled, LGBTQ+ or socio-economically disadvantaged individuals a route into business.
“We remain absolutely committed to ensuring that Tesco is a place where everybody is welcome,” added the spokesperson.
H&M has confronted diversity head on and is setting up a taskforce of black leaders to help the retailer establish what actions it should take in the long term.
“We must change the way we do things, in order to get to where we want to be as a company,” says a spokesperson.
“That’s why we first want to hear from more black perspectives to guide our next steps in addressing these complex issues.”
By the end of 2020, the retailer plans to publish specific targets for improved representation alongside a clear timetable and action plan to achieve them for its major markets, including the UK.
“As a company present in more than 70 markets, we are aware that we need to improve our own internal reflection of that global diversity”
H&M will also identify diversity gaps within its headquarters and set goals to increase the diversity of its management teams and the board of directors.
“As a company present in more than 70 markets, we are aware that we need to improve our own internal reflection of that global diversity,” continues the spokesperson.
“We have been actively working to change that and will continue to do so.”
The retailer is attempting to educate staff around implicit bias by providing additional resources.
The group is also donating $500,000 to various groups in the US to help in the fight for justice, economic rights and empowerment for the black community.
Marks & Spencer has said it will take “urgent action” to address racism and diversity as part of its response to the BLM movement.
Chief executive Steve Rowe recently sent a message to staff in which he said the actions taken by the retailer so far were not good enough, and that the issues would be considered as part of a “much overdue review of our approach to diversity and inclusion”.
Rowe added: “I will be putting my personal weight behind this.”
As part of the drive, M&S has brought new inclusion charities under the umbrella of its Sparks loyalty scheme, through which customers can donate.
The high street stalwart is planning to adapt how and where it recruits, and take a closer look at the ranges it offers and how it markets them, as well as the training it offers staff.
M&S has also introduced targets on BAME leadership representation. The targets include 15% BAME colleagues in senior management roles by 2022 – a percentage that currently stands at 8%.
“Being an inclusive company isn’t optional; it’s a business imperative,” said Gap in an email to employees in June.
“We must ensure that the commitments we make today are the beginning of a movement, not just a moment in time.”
That same month, Gap pledged to double the representation of its black and Latin American employees at all levels in its US head offices by 2025 to mirror its customers.
The retailer is putting a particular focus on functions that both make and market its products to ensure it is “creating for all, with all”.
Furthermore, Gap invited inclusion strategist Amber Cabral, former diversity strategist at Walmart, to facilitate six ‘Real Talk’ sessions on race and inclusion for its employees; five sessions are open for all employees, while one is specifically designed for its leadership.
“Being an inclusive company isn’t optional, it’s a business imperative”
Staff from all over the globe have now viewed these sessions and, in the UK, Gap employees are putting them into practice by holding their own listening sessions with their teams.
The company is also re-disseminating its inclusion and unconscious bias training to employees, which includes conversations around how to drive belonging, anti-racist support resources and guides on a variety of topics, including microagressions.
Time to act
These five retailers are just a handful of the businesses taking proactive steps to stamp out inherent racism in retail.
Many more boardrooms across the country are hosting discussions on how to tackle this problem.
Whether it’s diversifying product offerings and marketing campaigns, changing recruitment processes or reporting publicly on progress, each small step is worthwhile – simply entering into a conversation around diversity is a big leap forward.
Be Inspired to make a change
RWRC’s Be Inspired programme promotes diversity at all levels of retail and encourages everyone, whoever they are and whatever their background, to fulfil their career aspirations.
Learn more about how you can benefit from the programme and get involved here.