I’m Toni Barzey-François and I work for Co-op Food in our Manchester support centre. October is Black History Month, so it seems like the perfect opportunity to talk about how our Co-op supports Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) colleagues like me.

A new colleague network

I’m working with the diversity team to set up a new network for BAME colleagues. This will be a place where we can share experiences and help each other overcome barriers. It’s a very Co-op thing to do and fits perfectly with our Ways of Being Co-op, as well as our Group Purpose.

The new group will sit alongside Co-op’s existing colleague networks, making sure that all colleagues feel supported and able to succeed. It’s still early days, but I’m really excited about it. If you’re interested in getting involved, email

Why do BHM and the new network matter?

Black History Month is important as it’s the only time of year where we focus on British BAME culture and its history. This month groups like our new network help bring BAME issues into the spotlight and give us much needed role models. Ideally we’d all live in a world where everyone was equal, but the reality is that we’re not there yet. A recent study showed that out of the UK’s 1,000 most powerful people, only 36 come from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Celebrating Black History Month and getting involved with colleague networks, are for everyone. We all have a role to play in making our Co-op a great place to work, and these are just two ways we can.

Toni Barzey-François

Join the conversation! 24 Comments

  1. What welcome news! It’s great that there are now an increasing variety of platforms for different people to be seen and heard – BAME are using these avenues to correct the historical erasure of our consistent contributions to civilisations around the world. Companies benefit from our skills and varied perspectives and it is their responsibility to create an inclusive environment and remove barriers to opportunities. This is a good start, well done Toni!

    Generations of BAME have been speaking up about the reality of dealing with discrimination and bias at work and in life. There are news channels that reach areas outside of Manchester and London showing that ‘statistically’ bias isn’t limited to systematically overlooking people of colour for development opportunities in the workplace, it kills (hence #BLM). In 2017 allies have the responsibility to actively help re-structure the systems put in place to maintain unfair disadvantages that others face. At times it will feel uncomfortable for those who these systems were designed to benefit. Frankly, choosing to play devil’s advocate isn’t productive, and often implies distrust that the people who are regularly affected by these specific issues, have the ability to critically assess them.

    For those who have reached adulthood existing in a homogenous environment this may seem like an overwhelming shift away from the status quo, but you would be welcome to come along and participate in BAME network sessions to learn and continue this dialogue with I’m assuming the aim towards better understanding. We are inclusive after all.

  2. This is an important step in the promotion of diversity within the Co-op and the wider society.
    I completely agree that as this is a ‘knowledge’ and ‘awareness’ event which is celebrated globally, it would be nice to have this communicated in advance of the start of BHM so as not to devalue the importance of what it stands for.
    Nevertheless, well done Toni for your efforts in setting up the BAME group, I look forward to hearing more about it!

  3. This is so amazing and important! I feel very fortunate to be part of an Organisation who are actively acknowledging and addressing this, especially when the Media (BBC etc.) fail to acknowledge such an important annual celebration.
    I do however believe that this should have communicated at least 3 weeks in advance of the actual BHM date, as we wouldn’t communicate Easter, Halloween, Christmas news after it has past.

    @Mark, Black History Month (BHM) has been celebrated Globally since 1926, just like other celebrations such as Christmas, Eid, Halloween, LGBT, Diwali events etc. BHM recognises historical events which have paved the way for people today i.e. equality.
    To say that this could create more segregation is a misconception, as BHM is celebrated by everyone, not just people of “colour”. It acknowledges people from all backgrounds (@shadow) who stood by, spoke out and supported a movement to ensure continuous equality for those who were oppressed, segregated and alienated. The only reason you may perceive it this way is because its not as celebrated as it should be within the UK, Why well that’s something I don’t know. But little changes/groups like this one, as the small changes which need to take place in order for it to reach a wider UK audience.

  4. Well done Toni, all the best with setting up the group. Please keep us updated on what you and the group are working on 🙂

  5. I really struggle with this, and I try not to.
    I just can’t help thinking that things like this make ‘us’ more segregated. Does bringing a topic like this to the forefront make those included feel like they are listened to or does it make those outside it feel neglected?
    Can we try too hard?
    Where does it end? Should we have one for every country of origin?
    Why can’t we just have a U.K. celebration of history?

    • Hi Mark, I understand your frustrations, and in an ideal world these groups shouldn’t be needed, however we don’t live in that world (yet).
      These groups aren’t meant to segregate us, but to enable people in that group a safe and secure place to ask questions and share lessons learned. They are also there to help other people (who aren’t part of that group) understand more about the differences that make us unique, and how to bring them together in a more cohesive whole (this is my opinion of course).
      I am a member of Respect, and the work they do is invaluable to me and other people in the LGBT+ community. That is to say, there are things I have experienced in my working and personal life that a heterosexual person would not have (e.g. myself and my husband were targeted and abused in Manchester for walking down the street holding hands). I am not looking for sympathy, but the lessons we learned in that could then be shared with others to help stop that kind of thing happening in the future.
      I do not have the same experiences as people from a BAME background would, but I could envisage things they have witnessed or been exposed to would also be quite distressing, and so somewhere to talk about these things, and try to understand more can only be a good thing.
      You are obviously well intentioned, and as someone who would not discriminate against minorities, you struggle to understand why these groups are needed. However not everyone is like you, and these groups are meant to spread understanding and acceptance across people who aren’t like you.

      This is just my opinion, and I am just casting my thoughts on why these groups are needed, and hope (like you) that one day they aren’t needed as we become a truly inclusive society where these barriers (that do exist at the moment) disappear.

      • Good insight Tom, thank you for sharing. Lets hope that the World will one day get to that place.

  6. Why has it taken the web authors until 23rd October to let us know it’s Black History Month ?
    Tardy, very tardy.
    Next thing will be telling us on 29th December that Christmas Day is on 25th.

    • LOL

    • Oh, come on.
      How about a thank you to the web authors for putting content out there?
      “Flash” – maybe next year you can set yourself a reminder to notify the web authors a week before the start of BHM?
      Plus a lot of this article is about the new group they are setting up – which may not have been in place before October.
      Put a smile on your face and cheer up.

      • Thanks Grump. 🙂
        Remind me to remind them if you can.
        Even my black brother-in-law didn’t know it was BHM, go figure.

  7. I got distracted by your statistic and then Steve’s comment – but wanted to say I think this is a great idea and hope it is really successful.

  8. It can be difficult to use a statistic like “A recent study showed that out of the UK’s 1,000 most powerful people, only 36 come from ethnic minority backgrounds” to assess equality and opportunity.

    For a start, we need to assume that both groups of people have a similar ambition to be one of the “UK’s most powerful people”.

    Even then, if everything was equal, then we would expect a proportional representation from each group in society. Based on wikipedia and “Ethnic groups in the UK” based on the 2011 census – ethnic minorities accounted for 13% of the UK population, so we may expect around 130 from the UK’s 1,000 most powerful people.

    But then you need to think about age groups – with the 1,000 most powerful people likely to be middle aged – and the proportion of ethnic minorities in the middle aged may be lower. additionally, if a proportion of the ethnic minorities have only moved to the UK in the last 25 years, they would be less likely to be in the UK’s 1,000 most powerful people – as it takes time to build a business empire / political career / professional network.

    There is also an element of randomness – even if we had perfect equality in the UK, with population over 60 million, when you come to look at a sample of 1000 – you are never going to get exactly 13% representation of the overall population – it could be 6% or 20%, but still represent perfect equality.

  9. @Steve
    Please explain what you mean.

    The UKs population is 82% white British & 18% ethnic minorities, Manchester’s population of White British people is 59%, 41% ethnic minorities. 96.4% of UKs most powerful people are white British – therefore this is not an ethnically diverse representation. Diversity benefits everyone.

  10. Am sorry but how can Black History Month also include Asians, when I last checked Asians are not classed as Black, maybe have a separate history month for them.

    • Hi Shadow. Asian people are mentioned in reference to the new colleague network Toni talks about. It’s open to all BAME colleagues and people who want to support them.

  11. “Ideally we’d all live in a world where everyone was equal, but the reality is that we’re not there yet. A recent study showed that out of the UK’s 1,000 most powerful people, only 36 come from ethnic minority backgrounds.”

    Now I hope my post doesn’t come across as anything but an observation, but that quote makes it sound like you expect that at some point in the future, we’ll have 500 out of 1000 of the UK’s most powerful people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Would that represent equality? Exactly how far do we take this? What is the aim? Don’t forget there’s a world outside of Manchester and London, where the population isn’t as diverse.

    • I don’t read Toni’s comment like that. She’s just saying that with 13% of the population being white British (2011 census) just 36 people on the list shows that there is still inequality in the UK.

    • Hi Steve,
      I think the aim for the future is for people from ethnic minorities to be fairly represented at all levels in the workplace. If roughly 15% of the UK population is BAME, on an even playing field you would expect to see 15% of the most powerful people coming from ethnic minority backgrounds.

    • Steve, equality would be proportional. 36 out of 1,000 is not. 500 out of 1,000 also isn’t.

    • I believe the quote is to highlight that 36 does not account for even 0.5% of the most powerful people and this is “ACROSS” the UK.

      People of ‘BAME’ origin probably account for at least 14% of the “UK” population, so this is as far as they are probably looking to go, to see a figure that more equally reflects the populace. Also, I would think equality is the aim!

    • I don’t think that the quote implies aiming for 50% that at all. I think it just says that currently 0.36% of the UK’s most powerful people are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Wikipedia tells me that 13% of the UK is from an ethnic minority background, so I guess that’s the level of representation to aim for. I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s a massive gap between those figures, so plenty to do! Us non-ethnic minority people need to recognise that we are beneficiaries of an unequal system and be ok with trying to change that in everybody’s interest (i.e. all 100% of us). In my humble opinion 🙂

      • Sorry bad maths by me -s hould have been 3.6% – but still way off representative of the general population!

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