When I asked a group of colleagues from our Respect and Aspire groups ‘what would you do if you were CEO?’ I was bowled over by how passionately they spoke about improving how diverse and inclusive we are.
Their challenges got me thinking about how we come across to people with disabilities. Do we think about what it’s like for a disabled person when they come into store (eg, how our aisles are wide enough to meet legal requirements but then we put off-shelf displays in the way)?
Do we provide the practical things to help colleagues with mental illness (eg, is there a quiet space where someone having an anxiety attack could go and sit)?
Think for a moment about your area – is it a good space for people who have physical disabilities or a mental illness?
Are we flexible enough?
I’m going to chat with Helen Webb, our Chief HR Officer, about whether we’re doing enough around flexible working – and if the reality matches what we set out to do. There are great positive stories like the store manager who wanted to leave because of his family commitments, but now works as a job share manager.
But there are those stories where flexibility is seen as a weakness. I say it isn’t a weakness. Yes, we have particular challenges in a convenience store where you might have only 10 people working, but if we just talk with each other, we should be able to match up what the business needs with what our colleagues need too.
It’s all about colleagues
We’re a people business. If we look after our colleagues, they’ll be supporters of our brand. Our leaders and managers have a massive role to play in making this happen. When we get it right we’re better – our customers can feel it and see it, which means they’re likely to spend more with us. And the more they spend, the more good we can do both in the community and through our campaigning.
Our colleagues feel prouder too about working for a business that can make good things happen. Then the circle continues.
We also talked about supporting LGBT rights in Northern Ireland, overcoming homophobia in traditionally male environments and how we could do more to support different causes.
Diversity and inclusion are massively important to me. And I want every leader and manager to support the fantastic work these groups are doing. We’re making progress with gender diversity – 60% of our Exec and 25% of Enterprise Leaders are female – but we should do more. And I’m determined that we also need to do more on ethnic diversity to truly represent the communities we serve.
I hope we have a culture where if anything isn’t right, people can talk openly with their manager about it to try and work things out. And if that’s not happening, I want to know about it.
This session meant a lot to me and I want to thank everyone who came and talked so openly – sometimes sharing very personal stories. It’s something I’m going to be doing with different teams and groups so I get to know what’s really on your minds. That way we can make sure we’re doing the right things to support our colleagues.
CEO, Co-op Group