Jon, Store Manager
“When I was 16, I couldn't marry; there was not really much mention of gay people on telly; it didn't feel 'mainstream'. Now everyone knows someone who is LGBT+ and, increasingly, people in same-sex relationships who are getting married and adopting. 16 years on, everyone in my life knows I'm gay: family; friends; colleagues. I could not have imagined, back then, how quickly acceptance would happen, legally and socially.”
Jon is store manager for our Eden High Wycombe branch. He is 32 and originally comes from a small town near Dudley in the West Midlands. After graduating from the University of Liverpool, his career path took him to Manchester and Leicester before moving to north London five years ago. He now heads up a team of 12 managers and some 200 staff across foods, café, clothing and home departments. As part of our Pride Week celebrations, we asked him to share with us his take on working at M&S, what ‘Pride’ means to him, coming out and how being a gay man has helped shape his approach to work.
“I first came out in work when I was 16; first to another gay guy that I got on with; and then, gradually, other friends and colleagues. I've met a lot of people who have come out to workmates first.
“I think some of the very best people managers are empathetic; and being gay and having that underlying feeling of non-acceptance and discrimination when I was younger has made me an adult who is constantly reflecting on how other people are feeling. As I run larger stores with more and more staff, I think it's really important to be open and visible about your sexuality. The 200 staff in my store know I'm an out gay man and that in no way holds me back on career progression at M&S. Why should it? Both my line manager and regional HR Business Partner couldn’t be more supportive in my development throughout my career too”
“Now I'm a Store Manager, I'm really aware of how important it is to create an environment where everybody can come in to work and 'be themselves'. You spend so much time in work, you're only going to be the best version of you if you're not trying to conceal part of who you are.
“I think Pride means different things to different people at different stages of their lives. When I was at university, I was involved in the National Union of Students, campaigning against Section 28. I thought this was a really poisonous piece of legislation; it banned local authorities, including schools and teachers, from publishing information that ‘promoted’ sexuality or taught it as an acceptable family template. It created a situation where teachers could be sacked for pointing LGBT+ students in the right direction to get support. It still makes me angry just thinking about it.
“I also went to Parliament to lobby for Civil Partnerships and, later, gay marriage. It would be fair to say I was in a 'we can change the world’ stage. And so we did. Eventually.
“In my twenties, like a lot of gay men, I settled in to ‘Pride’ being a big drunken party. I think it's really important to be visible and say 'we're here', because in some counties, you can't do it without fear of attack. More recently, I've become more politicised again but for different reasons. Gay people are slipping in to 'the fight is over we've been accepted' mantra, but there's still a long way to go. There's still a huge stigma surrounding mental health, sexual health and gender diversity issues, to name just a few. Tolerance and equality are not the same thing.
“I’ve been to a lot of Pride events around the UK and to Gran Canaria Pride a few times. The parade itself is always worth going and watching, and lending your support to. It's really important that whether you're a flag waving party-goer or not, that we celebrate and support our ability to be open about diversity.
“I'm really comfortable with being out and being me at M&S. You get the odd cringe moment when you move stores and people ask 'wife and kids?' but that's just life, and once you reply 'gay, single and not yet' in a dead relaxed and open way it's never an issue. Similarly your regular customers tend to assume that you're straight and married as an M&S manager; it’s not meant offensively, so it really doesn't bother me.
“I couldn't work for someone where I couldn't be out and open about who I was. Some businesses have a 'blokey' or 'macho' culture'; where it’s about 'banter'; the casino at the end of a night out etc. I think bonding is good; I think it’s important – and I’m more than up for a night out. But the thought of career progression somehow being linked to how many pints you can manage with your boss is something I’m really glad we don’t have at M&S.
“M&S is a really inclusive employer across all strands of diversity. Recently we have signed up with Stonewall, OUTstanding, announced our participation in our first gay pride event at London Pride 2016 and established an M&S LGBT+ network. These are all really positive steps to make M&S a more overtly positive LGBT+ employer.”Inside M&S