Roz, Project Manager
“I’ve always been a minority in terms of my ethnicity and now through my lifestyle. It means I’ve had to be a strong individual. As my mother said as I was growing up: ‘I always let you be a bit mouthier than your sisters – I knew you may have to fight harder and wanted to prepare you for that.’”
Born in Bangladesh but living in the UK since she was 18 months old, Roz grew up in a quiet village in East Sussex. She moved to Birmingham to go to university, then on to London, before relocating to Surrey. Roz has worked with M&S for 11 years, initially joining us as a Store Manager in our Food Hall. A couple of Head Office roles followed and she’s now a Project Implementation Manager in our Labour Planning team. It was after joining M&S that Roz came out and, as we prepare to celebrate Pride Week, she tells us about the pride she feels about our inclusive culture.
“As I joined M&S, I was exploring my sexuality. I found very quickly that, when you hide who you are, people find it difficult to relate to you or understand you – especially in stores when you work closely with people on a day-to-day basis. This aloofness can create a division and I’ve found that, to build relationships with others, you have to let them know about yourself as openly and honestly as you feel comfortable with. In terms of Regional Managers and Head Office Line Managers, I have never had any problems. They have always been supportive, in the same way they have for non-LGBT+ colleagues.
“I live with my wife and we have been civil partners for four years and together for eight years in total. We met at M&S whilst both in stores. Who I go home to at night has no bearing on my professional career – it does not shape how well I do my job, or which jobs I apply for. But knowing the company I work for accepts all kinds of diversity and actively celebrates and embraces differences within people makes me feel like I have a sense of belonging. This is rewarded by my loyalty to the company.
“There is no doubt in my mind that society and attitudes have changed towards the LGBT+ community over the last couple of decades. I know that from my experience of living in big cities for the last 15 years, tolerance has increased and there is a bigger sense of acceptance to be who you want to be. That said, every minority can feel under threat at certain times.
“I have found that when you meet people, personally and professionally, and you choose to disclose your personal circumstances their overall attitude is positive. Although sometimes it can still be too much. Especially when they ask about your plans to raise a family and want details about how you might go about it. The great side of this is that they are accepting of your choice and don’t see your circumstances as a blocker to having a family. The converse of this is that it can be a bit too intrusive – especially for an initial conversation!
“I am really proud of the recent work that M&S is doing to ensure that all of their people are represented fairly. And of the fact that as a business we are asking “What more can we do for our people?” This can be seen in the reviewing of our HR policies and wording so that both are non-gender specific. This, and others like it, are examples of M&S’s long history of supporting their staff and ensuring they are ‘doing the right thing’ and interpreting those values in the context of today’s society.”Inside M&S
Stephen, Fire, Health & Safety Officer
“Pride is special to me; it means to be accepted by everyone, anyone, anywhere, anytime. It means to be who I am and not who I have to be. Pride is important to me because it symbolises a common struggle that we all face at first but it helps us to have self-belief and confidence that the future is bright (and rainbow coloured!)”
Stephen lives in Southampton and works as the Fire, Health and Safety Officer and Plan A Champion at our West Quay store. He has big ambitions in terms of his M&S career and is a strong LGBT+ champion in West Quay Store. We spoke to Stephen to find out more about his life experiences, his time with M&S and his passion for Pride.
“My coming out experience was mixed. This is where I discovered who my real friends were. Unfortunately, my family was only 50% supportive so when I came out as a gay man, I heavily relied on my work colleagues to give me support, guidance and – most of all – a cheery mood to help me through. And I truly have never felt more compassion, love and respect given to me! Though at home things were rocky, at work I never felt like anything had changed and I simply put that down to the M&S values. We are taught integrity as one of them, and my M&S colleagues were there for me when I thought no one was.
“Before I started at M&S I didn’t really know anything about how they viewed the LGBT+ community and applying was very much a jump into the dark. I won’t lie – at first I was worried to be who I really was inside of the workplace. It took me several weeks to understand our store has a few LGBT+ members and that in this store it is widely accepted. Then, through progression and visiting stores, I realised this is companywide. I am a dedicated person and if I want something I go out and get it. I want to work my way to Head Office and my LGBT+ status won’t stop me! In my lifetime, I have been lucky enough to see major positive change within the LGBT+ community. In my store, I feel I’m around friends due to the attitudes towards me. I would recommend M&S as an LGBT+ friendly company.
“With what I have been through, I am very understanding, have an incredibly open mind and, as my colleagues have always been there for me, I am always happy and willing to help them in any way I can. For example, I like to champion LGBT+ in my store. New starters often come to me for support or questions they may not normally ask other members of staff, and news about LGBT+ is often left out at Team Briefs so I try to disperse information during my walk rounds.
“I have been to Brighton Pride which was an amazing feel-good event. It allowed me to feel not just that I was within a familiar community, but one that understood the struggle we all faced/face. The atmosphere was a celebration of what has been achieved so far. It was something lots of local businesses joined in with and made me realise just how accepting communities can be.
“I think it would be good for the community to see more progression with companies. There are those making great strides in branding with gay couples, movies with gay couples and even books for children. I love our brand and I look forward to our adverts and advertising, however, the LGBT+ community is a large one and one businesses need to look at tapping into. You can cater to LGBT+ people working for you, but shopping with you is another thing all together.Inside M&S
Christine, Customer Assistant
“Pride is a way of celebrating ourselves and making new friends and allies. It shows people that we are human beings, just like them. We breathe, we have emotions, we have family and friends, and we live and work just like everyone else. It’s also a time of reflection for the history and sacrifices of those who have suffered just because they love a different way. Above all, for me, it’s a time of forgiveness and inclusiveness; an opportunity to promote the talent that is prevalent in our community.”
Based in Bradford, Christine is a Customer Assistant in our Food Hall. Christine initially joined us over our peak Christmas period, before applying for a permanent role with us. When she joined M&S, it was the first time she’d worked full time in her correct gender. We caught up with her to find out more about transitioning, her journey to acceptance and how Pride has been such an important source of support.
“I’d been unemployed for about nine months, not getting any responses as ‘him’. Then, the day after I legally changed my name, I applied on a chance to M&S for a temporary job over the Christmas season. I got the job! I really enjoyed it and so I applied for a full-time post within the business and felt extremely fortunate to get it. Even though, initially, it meant travelling for nearly two hours each way on a daily basis to go to work, renting a room in a house share.
“I greedily identify with both B&T – but the journey hasn’t been easy. When I left school in 1975, I joined the Army. I’d attempted to tell my parents I was different, but it didn’t go well. At that time, there weren’t any joined up services; no way to get any gender-related medical support. Indeed, it was very much a dirty dark secret that no one would admit was happening, even then. Back then, it was a criminal offence in the army so one learnt very quickly to act straight. I had to go on leave in order to be myself, which led to the breakdown of my first marriage after my wife found out. My second marriage lasted 30 years before I finally had the courage to be myself and seek medical help. On the plus side, I’ve found my sister through Facebook. We've met up and she is accepting of the fact she now has a sister. I've also recently found a lovely partner, and he is fully supportive of me.
“I believe that most people still ignore the fact we are there until they’re confronted with it, or someone in their family comes out as gay. But Pride helps to address that. I've been to Brighton Pride on numerous occasions, even taking part on a float. It took us just over four hours to travel two miles. I was dressed as an airline stewardess doing synchronised dancing on the back of the float. At the time, I was not transitioning on a full-time basis. The day was beautiful, the sun was shining and the tans were coming. Unfortunately, at the end of the day when I removed my watch there was a lovely piece of white skin, with a beautiful impression of a feminine watch. I was a local sub-postmaster back then and of course, after that, the whole village knew. But for a small community, there was almost total acceptance.
“For me, Pride is both a celebration and a time for reflection”
“When I joined M&S, I found all the staff and management to be totally supportive. They respect people’s right to be themselves. I love people, putting a smile on their faces and exceeding their expectations is paramount to me. I think with regard to the LGB community, the M&S approach is good. But the Transgender community are changing their bodies to match their brains. The tablets we take are not only changing our bodies but our emotions as well. As it’s becomes more widely recognised, I’m keen that our employees and line managers have access to the right support; we’ve already started work on this and I’m involved in shaping our policy approach with our central team which is really exciting.
“Living my life in the open as myself is the most important decision I ever made – or ever will.”Inside M&S
Emma, Executive Assistant
“Pride is about not hiding in the shadows and is important as it shows others that being LGBT+ isn’t something we’re ashamed of – it can’t be used against us. I’ve been to Pride in Birmingham, Telford and Chester and enjoy the atmosphere surrounding them. They feel like safe places to be myself.”
Born in Solihull, Emma now lives just over the border in North Wales. She works in our Executive Office in Chester. Emma tells us that she has found M&S to be a strong supporter of inclusivity and she’s really pleased that we’ve become involved with Pride.
“I don’t know how much has changed over the last ten years in terms of general attitudes but I know a lot of my negative experiences were in the first couple of years of coming out as a lesbian. Two of my friends had bottles thrown at them and I did get abuse shouted at me in the street. I’ve not had that in a very long time though.
“It took a while for me to come out and, rather than having one big push, I told different people on different occasions. However, I think I’ve learnt that you come out each time you meet new people. People often don’t realise I’m gay just by looking at me, so I have to essentially ‘come out’ time and time again.
“I think being LGBT+ gives you more awareness of what is going on around you and the subtle ways that things display heterosexual relationships as being the norm”.
“I think it would be great for M&S to be involved with more Pride events, there’s always more that can be done to support this community. And while it hasn’t been an issue for me, as I was already comfortable with my sexuality before I joined M&S, I think people who are struggling with this may appreciate knowing that they have support.
“Pretty much all of my office know, but my sexuality has never been an issue and I’m viewed in the same way as anyone else I work with. It’s an inclusive environment where you don’t feel different because of your sexuality, everyone is treated the same. I would definitely recommend M&S as a place to work.”
Vicki, Hospitality Manager
“I was living in a Devonshire seaside town when I first came out and not everyone was that nice. I had a lot of comments shouted at me and was even spat on in the street. But I had an amazing group of friends to support me and, after a while, things settled down and I became that one lesbian person that people know – you know, that one where they say: ‘She's a lesbian but she's alright actually!’ It didn't take long for me to realise that life was going to be just fine and a lot of fun.”
Based in Derby, Vicki is a Hospitality Manager with us. She initially joined us on a temporary basis in a seasonal role, but she soon realised that M&S is a great fit for who she is, and for all that she wants to achieve in her career…
“I came out when I was 21 (I'm 39 now). The first person I told was actually my grandma. She's a very forward-thinking older lady and she was so happy that she had a lesbian granddaughter that she used to tell people in the street about me! After that, coming out to the rest of my family was pretty smooth and, luckily for me, they were all supportive.
“I realised very early on that I was M&S through and through, and that I wanted to start a career in the company. I also know I'm not where I am today because I'm a lesbian, but because of the way I work. I’ve had nothing but good experiences during the five years that I’ve been with M&S. I have an amazing manager who I have a very honest and respectful relationship with. He’s really supported and believed in me, pushing me to achieve my potential. The best thing about M&S is that everyone is equal and being gay just isn't an issue.
“Personally, Pride means being myself every day, no matter where I am. I used to live and work in London, so would go to Gay Pride and Soho Pride every year. I’ve been in the Pride march once and it was just amazing to be part of something so big, colourful and fun. The crowds along the march are pretty special too.
“I think the change in attitudes towards our community is pretty mind blowing really. I remember the first lesbian kiss on Brookside caused absolute uproar and scandal. Now, no one would bat an eyelid. I see young couples walking down the street holding hands, as I do with my girlfriend actually – that would be completely unheard of when I came out. It really is wonderful.
“I consider myself lucky to be a lesbian. The experiences I've had, the people I've met and the stories I've got to tell – I wouldn't have had that if I wasn't. I probably make it sound like being a lesbian has been a rainbow-coloured breeze, but it hasn't. Quite a few years ago I was beaten up for being a lesbian, which as you can imagine was pretty bad. But it didn't take long to get over that and soon it was just a bad memory – another thing to add into the mix that has made me who I am.
“I never take anything too seriously and have fun every day. I'm very proud of what I have become, of what I’ve achieved and of who I am.”Inside M&S
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
A shared sense of Pride
At M&S, we’re passionate about making sure that everyone who works here has a voice – that’s one of the reasons why we’re a Stonewall Diversity Champion employer.
As part of our Pride in London celebrations, we asked our colleagues if they’d like to share some of their stories. And now we’re going to be sharing those stories with you. Each day, in the run up to the Pride Parade on Saturday 25 June, our colleagues from different parts of M&S will share with you a bit about themselves, their roles and what Pride means to them.
“For us, recruiting a diverse workforce is absolutely vital. Our employees represent all of the people who shop with us and the many different communities in which our stores and offices are based. Pride gives us an opportunity to celebrate diversity – to reflect on how important it is to every organisation, everywhere.” Andrew, M&S Recruitment team
#celebratediversity #beyourself #nofilterInside M&S
Inspiring young fashion design talent
Graduate Fashion Week is a charity organisation founded in 1991 that showcases the work of the very best students and graduates from influential universities around the world.
Being held this year at the Old Truman Brewery in East London from Sunday 5th to Wednesday 8th June, this annual event represents the future of creative design talent – with 22 catwalk shows, exhibitions from over 40 universities and an acclaimed Gala Award Show. Traditionally, Graduate Fashion Week has attracted around 30,000 guests.
We’re delighted to play such a prestigious role in its 25th anniversary year. We are sponsoring the prestigious Womenswear award for the first time with the winning graduate receiving the handsome prize of £5,000 and the winner’s university £1,000.
As well as incredible design, Graduate Fashion Week is famous for its live talks given by notable figures from the creative and retail industries. This year, students, graduates and guests will be treated to the words of wisdom from a series of M&S speakers.
First up on Sunday 5th, Jo, Head of Buying, and Narinda, Design Lead, will be talking about how design and buying work together to deliver style. They will explain the process of getting a garment from sketch to shop floor – how the designer’s vision is carried through to the garment the customer sees in store, while quality, fit and commercial needs are met.
On Tuesday 7th, designer Faye and buyer Hannah will take the floor. In April this year, we unveiled a unique collaboration with Alexa Chung, which saw her create a 31-piece collection reworking some of her favourite pieces from our history. Faye and Hannah played key roles in making the concept a reality and will tell the story behind the range.
Finally, on Wednesday 8th, Simon, Head of Innovation and Quality, steps up to the mic. As part of our involvement in helping to regenerate the once-thriving UK garment and fabric manufacturing industry, we launched our twice-yearly Best of British collection. Simon will talk about the technical challenges and the complexities involved in creating the collection.
One of the aims of Graduate Fashion Week is to build a stronghold for the creative industries – and who knows, some of the students and graduates displaying their designs could soon be forging a career at M&S. We’ve been turning heads in fashion since 1884 by staying in touch with what customers want to wear. But conceiving and creating our stand-out pieces is all down to talented people who have an intrinsic understanding of what it means to look good. And that’s why we’re always looking for the brightest and best of fashion graduates to join us.Inside M&S
M&S in bloom at the Chelsea Flower Show
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is the flagship event in the horticultural calendar, attracting visitors from all over the world. Last year, we won a Silver Gilt medal with a theme inspired by our Plan A philosophy across flowers and plants to create a naturally balanced eco-system. We’re back again this year, and our garden has been created and designed by Simon, our Product Developer for Horticulture.
Chelsea runs until 28 May and our exhibit supports the M&S food summer campaign ‘Spirit of Summer’. Simon explains the rationale behind it:
“This year’s exhibit is not only a collection of beautifully vibrant coloured blooms, but a celebration of cultural diversity.” The exhibit showcases blooms including English peonies, Columbian roses and gerberas from Holland. So it celebrates floral and cultural diversity across Britain, Europe, Africa and South America – and Simon believes we should educate people on the importance of flower production for all the world’s economies.
The show-stopping centrepiece of the exhibit will be a floral pillar, which parades flowers from each section of the garden, symbolically joining together the variety of cultures. There’s also a table laid with bowls, jugs and flowers representing food from a fiesta, evoking a street party feel.
“We think this year’s gorgeous M&S display will be a truly unique exhibit and I can’t wait to see our customers’ reactions when they see it,” Simon said before Chelsea began.
So, was Simon born with a greenfly spray in his hand? Almost.
“I was inspired by my grandfather’s garden,” he explains. “It was always so immaculate and I started learning gardening from him until it became a hobby.”
But it was only many years later – after studying Textile & Business Administration and spending 15 years in the fashion industry – that he decided to turn his hobby into his career. After studying for an RHS general certificate, he worked for a top London florist before joining M&S 11 years ago.
Simon now specialises in cut flowers and is responsible for creating our new ranges of bouquets, working alongside suppliers from all over the world. That’s a big attraction for Simon.
“I’m lucky enough to travel in my current position, attending trade fairs and events in many different countries to seek inspiration for our flower ranges. Travelling has certainly been one of the inspirations behind our Spirit of Summer: Carnival of Flowers garden currently on view at Chelsea!”
Could you follow in Simon’s footsteps up the garden path and turn your hobby into a career with M&S?Inside M&S
Triumph over adversity
Our four-week Make Your Mark programme is designed in partnership with The Prince’s Trust to give young people the skills and confidence to find work. It provides hands-on experience in a real M&S job, skills training to improve employability, and the support of a coach and buddy. It may even lead to a permanent job with M&S – like it did for Craig.
Craig is a Customer Assistant at our Coleraine store in Northern Ireland who joined the programme last year. He made such an impression on his colleagues with his fantastic attitude to work and his dedication to M&S that, twelve months later, he was nominated for The Prince’s Trust Rising Star award. It was a nomination that came as a total shock to Craig.
“I had no idea I was going to be nominated,” he says. “It was my buddy who put me forward and I was really surprised. I went to the regional awards in Dublin and then, as a finalist, to London for the national ceremony.”
Craig didn’t win overall, but just getting a nomination was an incredible achievement. The award recognises young people who are in sustainable employment despite having faced personal obstacles – and Craig had been dealt the unkindest of hands in his early life.
He was eight when he saw his mum die, 13 when he left school and sought comfort in alcohol and 20 when he became the father of a daughter – Zara, named in memory of his mum. He temped in a bar, but soon that closed down. Other applications for work failed, his grandmother died and, agoraphobic, he was incapable of leaving his house for three years.
The crunch came when Zara asked for an ice-cream and Craig couldn’t afford to buy her one. “I just felt so useless and ashamed. Seeing her face crumble made me realise I had to turn my life around, for her sake and mine,” he recalls.
Craig needed a stepping-stone and found one when his local Jobs & Benefits Office recommended Make Your Mark. He learned many transferable skills on the programme, and his confidence and self-esteem flourished. Craig was quickly taken on full time and, as well as receiving The Prince’s Trust nomination, he has recently been named Employee of the Month.
“M&S and The Prince’s Trust have given me a second chance in life. That second chance has given me and my family hope. Look at me now – I’ve got a job I love and a new home. Who would have believed it?”
Now Craig plans to work his way up in M&S and give his family and even happier and healthier life. For the first time since his mum died 17 years ago, Craig says he’s excited about his future:
“I’ve got lots of plans about where I want to go. I’m definitely looking to climb the ladder as I truly believe that my future is with M&S. Not only did they give me the break I needed, they believed in me enough to keep me on.”
This image originated on the Princes Trust website.Inside M&S