8 March, 2016

10 minutes with Sarah, Head of Organisational Development

As International Women’s Day approaches, we meet Sarah Findlater, our Head of Organisational Development, to find out our position when it comes to gender diversity at M&S, what we’re doing to celebrate IWD and how we’re planning to improve. 

Hi Sarah, so tell us a bit about what you do.

I head up organisational development for M&S. That covers recruitment, learning and talent development, employee relations and engagement and also includes responsibility for diversity and inclusion. 

So, as part of that, what have you got lined up for International Women’s Day (IWD)?

Well, we’ve got a panel discussion scheduled in, titled “What I wish I knew then”, which brings together five inspiring M&S women – our HR Director, Director of Womenswear, Lingerie and Beauty, Head of the Property Strategic Programme Office, Head of Technology for Fresh and one of our retail managers. They’ll talk about their career journeys, share their best and worst moments, what's helped them, and give their thoughts on what more we can do to improve our gender balance. 

What is the gender balance like at M&S?

In the UK our general workforce is 74% female. When it comes to senior leadership, 38% of our board are female. Globally the general workforce is 72% female* and senior leadership is at 40%*. This is obviously something to be proud of but we know we can do more. This is partially why we’re organising more events around IWD.

What other events have you got planned?

Our Inspiring Women’s network is hosting a couple of roundtable discussions under the title of “The Gender Debate”. The aim here is to have some open, frank conversations about our business – answering questions like ‘why are there fewer women in senior roles?’ and ‘what is the role of men in gender equality?’ - and use that to focus the network’s role in the future.

Tell us a bit about the Inspiring Women’s Network.

We set it up around two years ago. We essentially wanted a way to inspire, support and enable women to reach their full potential, and encourage more women towards senior roles in the company. It also was a great way to raise awareness of the gender debate within our company.

And how does it do that?

Through a series of speaker events (we’ve had people like Jo Malone, Ruby Wax and Bonita Norris talk to our people), a dedicated coaching programme that’s sponsored by our CFO, Helen Weir and, with a new network board just about to start work, we’re also pushing forward with a female mentoring programme. This is in addition to our existing ‘30% club’ mentoring programme.

What’s that?

It’s an initiative that looks to achieve a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards. Our Chairman, Robert Swannell was one of the first Chairs to sign up. One of the activities that we’re part of is their cross business mentoring programme which means we provide mentors, and people who want to be mentored, with the ultimate aim of improving career prospects for women and increasing the understanding of the challenges they face.

So, it sounds like you already do quite a lot of work towards gender diversity.

Yes, we do. I mean, we try to give our employees all the support they need to do a terrific job. For many women that means solid female-friendly policies. We offer enhanced maternity and paternity policies, for example. But more than that, it’s about being open to the individual needs of everyone who works with us. We’ve had some real successes with flexible working trial periods – tweaking work arrangements and keeping an open dialogue in order to get the best result for everyone. 

We just want to try and do everything we can. We know that lots of women develop brilliant careers at M&S but, if you look at the numbers, there’s still some imbalance when it comes to senior leadership. There’s obviously something stopping some talented women progressing into these roles. And we’re just working hard to fix that.

*stats correct as of global data, April 2015

Inside M&S