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.
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 2015Inside M&S
M&S and #IWD2016 – Celebrating, inspiring and improving
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is gender balance. Women develop brilliant careers at M&S, however we’re always striving to maintain a balanced talent pipeline across all levels. To get a real insight, we’re bringing together five inspirational M&S women to talk about their experiences – what has worked for them, as well as finding out how they think M&S, and society, can be made more equal for women AND men.
Our speakers include:
Tanith Dodge – HR Director
Tanith joined M&S after excelling at companies like Intercontinental Hotels Group and WH Smith. She is now the HR lead for our 83,000 employees across the UK, and the world.
Jo Jenkins, Director of Womenswear, Lingerie and Beauty
Having joined M&S to head up Lingerie and Beauty in 2013, Jo’s leadership saw her add the Womenswear division to her responsibilities last year.
Beulah Keane – Head of Strategic Programme Office, Property - UK & International
Beulah’s remit covers new store developments, modernisations, Food Halls, and new GM & Food environments across the UK and Europe, as well as India, Hong Kong and China.
Kate Stein, Head of Technology, Fresh
Kate has been with M&S for 15 years. Having started out on the graduate programme she now has a broader role across our food business as Head of Technology for Fresh Food Trading.
Tanya Datta - Commercial Manager
Since joining, Tanya’s spearheaded many improvement initiatives, turned around one of our highest performing stores and won the Asian Women of the Year Young Achiever award, 2015.
Additionally, there will be a hot topic ‘gender debate’ designed to answer tough questions such as, ‘why are there fewer women in senior roles?’ and a fun lunchtime talk at our company archive in Leeds. Exploring the role of women within M&S, from our first market stall teams to leading figures like Flora Solomon, the talk is a chance to hear about wartime challenges for female employees, and find out more about us as an employer today.
What’s more, we’ll be getting all our people involved by asking them to film and share themselves talking about who or what’s helped them in their career, and how they think gender balance could be improved.
Because we believe, by doing more, talking about these complex issues, and raising awareness of the challenges that women face in their careers, we can help create a more equal society. One in which women can ultimately achieve their ambitions.Inside M&S
Things are hotting up
When you order a cappuccino from an M&S Café do you think about the consistency and persistency of the milk? Do you consider the symmetrical look of your latte art? Or the reddish reflection of your espresso crema? Because we do. And that’s just what our judges will be looking for as they begin to cross examine the finalists of our 2016 Barista competition.
Our brave contestants from up and down the British Isles will have to prepare four consistent espressos, cappuccinos and lattes before setting up for their very own beautiful signature creation. Which is where it gets really difficult.
Not only will it have to include only items found in the M&S Food Hall (alcohol excluded), but also be something we could actually, eventually sell in our cafés – meaning it has to be financially viable too.
This battle of the Baristas has been hotting up over the last few weeks, and the final showdown is set for the 8th and 9th March at the Business Design Centre. Fantastic prizes include a David Williamson Trophy, £500 cash prize, a hospitality package to World Coffee Events in Dublin, attendance at the London Coffee Festival – to name just a few.
Watch this space for the winner and keep an eye out in your local café for a possible new drink that will blow your tastebuds away
Seeing your ideas come to life
“Knowing I’ve had direct input into improving the things we design and develop for our customers is great. But seeing it on the sales floor and getting positive customer reviews, is incredible.”
Innovation isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind with furniture. But at M&S, as with all our other product lines, it’s something we’re pursuing all the time. As one of our furniture product technologists, Dave’s doing all he can to bring the brightest and best technology to beautiful, crafted pieces that sit well in any home.
Dave sums up his role as ‘continual product improvement’ but with a customer focus. For him it’s about improving things for our customers; giving them the little touches that make an item a joy to own.
“It’s a small thing, but I incorporated soft close doors and drawers into our Sonoma range. The feedback was immense. Customers loved it then and they still do.”
As well as these incremental improvements, Dave’s also been involved in some landmark projects that have earned him some industry awards. Notably the folding wardrobe for our Sonoma range, which through the clever use of hidden hinges, can be folded flat for moving. Not only was he awarded a Design Guild Mark for this piece, it also meant he scooped a coveted FIRA innovation award.
“I was particularly proud of that one, but I could reel off quite a few that I think have made a real impact; bamboo fabrics and natural fillings for nursery mattresses; bamboo furniture; special quick clean glass for table tops; anti-bacterial finishes on mattresses; bounce back cushions that don’t change shape over time…the list goes on.”
It’s that quest for the next thing that will make a difference to our customers that Dave loves. And he feels it’s something that M&S give him the freedom to achieve.
“They support what I’m trying to do. They allow me to delight customers, make a difference to our business, and have a positive impact on our suppliers too.”
Find out more about our specialist product roles here.Inside M&S
Location, location, location
When it comes to opening a new Food Hall, finding the right location is everything. Take one of our imminent new store openings, Bidston Moss in north Wirral. The main town in this neck of the woods is Wallasey, with a 60,000 population. Rather than head for Wallasey itself, we’re opening at Junction One Retail Park just off the M53, which has just received a major facelift. Accessible to people in Wallasey, the suburbs west of Birkenhead, and with Bidston railway station a stone’s throw away offering easy links to Liverpool city centre, Bidston Moss is convenient for shoppers, and colleagues.
Bidston Moss will offer 8,500 sq ft of the latest in food retailing boasting a host of innovative features. It will be one of the first M&S stores to launch our new ‘Coffee to Go’ format. Our customers will be able to enjoy a drink and snack in store or on the go, as well as the tempting offerings of a 16 sq ft, in-store bakery. There are also card and horticultural shops within the store.
Joseph Chambers will be Store Manager of Bidston Moss. Having grown up in Liverpool and worked at several M&S food-based stores across Merseyside, he knows the area like the back of his hand.
“I’ve quickly realised that there is genuine excitement for the return of M&S to this part of the Wirral; the local community have really given it the thumbs up. M&S is so often an integral part of the community and we will be investing our time and energy in building partnerships with some local charities. I’m also proud that we can bring so many job opportunities to the local area – everything from Bakers to Baristas, Section Coordinators to Food Advisors.”
Anyone who joins us in Bidston Moss and wants a new challenge could gain inspiration from Joseph. The way he has progressed so quickly demonstrates how many opportunities there are available. Since starting on our retail graduate management programme seven years ago in North London, Joseph has worked in General Merchandising, Food Commercial and Store Manager roles across a variety of different store formats. And that’s not all:
“More recently, I had the opportunity to travel and deliver food training to some of our new franchise partners in both Bangkok and Shanghai, which was certainly one of my most memorable experiences with M&S. Opening a new store will definitely be the highlight so far, and a challenge I can’t wait to take on. The culture in the business is inspiring, the people I work with are fun and engaging and, most importantly, they want to do the right thing for our customers.”
Fashion fast forward
If 130 years on the high street has taught us one thing, it’s how to evolve. In fashion, where things change in the blink of an eye, our adaptability is at its most vital. Customers demand the latest trends and we’re delivering – both in our lines and through the store experience. We’re regularly featured in the glossy magazines with hugely covetable items like that pink coat, and this season’s leather wrap around skirt. Spend 10 minutes with Regional Visual Manager Ian Harry, and you can’t help but feel inspired. He takes up the story:
“Visual merchandising at M&S is all about inspiring customers with amazing new store experiences, and this is an incredible time to be doing it. The business is investing heavily in better-looking stores with more product choice, so as the visual team we’re witnessing huge positive changes.
“Every day I come across innovations and fresh visual ideas. My inspiration can come from anywhere: picture galleries, social media, or just being out and about. It makes me so proud to work for M&S. Wowing customers and watching sales develop is immensely motivating for us too. We put a lot of thought into our work and the results can be astonishing. I love watching shoppers, the ultimate creatures of habit breaking those habits because of some insightful decision my team has made.
“Impact is everything in this job and that’s why M&S is so hot right now. We’ve just teamed up with model Alex Chung in our latest fashion collaboration – Alexa has hand-picked a new 31-piece womenswear collection, shortly to be unveiled. We’re also collaborating with Livia Firth (wife of actor Colin), who has designed one of our most eco-friendly ranges yet – it’s fashion with integrity.
“I’ve worked in different retailers and the sheer scale of responsibility, the impact, the pace of change at M&S cannot be understated. New developments, exciting collaborations – it’s a great time to be part of M&S, a huge British retail icon that is changing for the future.
“Part of the attraction of M&S is that you have so much scope for movement. You could start your career in an entry level Stylist role and see yourself progress to a regional role or even Director. Visual Merchandisers balance the creative with the practical to showcase our ranges in the best possible way, draw in customers and, ultimately, keep sales healthy. So people who do well here all have that commercial instinct; a smile, thick skin and tenacity all go a long way too. And with the level of change here, excitement, pace and impact need to be in your DNA.
“Trust me when I say that within a few years, you will not recognise M&S… and in a good way! We’re finding ever more exciting ways to think like the customer and create memorable store experiences. I can’t say too much, but be sure to watch this space. Or better still, apply and find out for yourself.”
Think you have what it takes for a visual merchandising career at M&S? What counts is a real passion for working with fashion, and the ability to keep abreast of the latest trends, pull them together and make sure they appeal to customers. Click here to view our roles.
Plum position on an old fruit market
Every Tuesday and Wednesday, Chesser Avenue in Edinburgh used to be heaving with the cars of traders, farmers and shoppers visiting the local fruit market. All that changed 14 years ago when the market closed and was left abandoned. That is, until last year when the site welcomed the build of a new, 56,000 square foot Edinburgh West Retail Park and adjacent residential accommodation.
A new M&S Food Hall will be at the centre of this new £38m development. The store will contain ‘cold-chain’ produce, ambient products, an in-store bakery and a café. With the site located directly between the two main arterial routes into and out of central Edinburgh, 286 parking spaces and extensive public transport links, the store will be a magnet for shoppers.
And people looking for a rewarding local job – as Alyson Crombie, the new Store Manager of Edinburgh Chesser, explains:
“We’re going to need a wide variety of people including Section Coordinators and Customer Assistants across Operations, Food and Hospitality, plus specialists such as a Fire, Health and Safety Officer. And there is a mix of full and part-time hours available, with early morning, late night and weekend shifts we need to fill. We hope that our opportunities will appeal to a broad cross-section of the community.”
The brownfield site has been derelict for years, but that hasn’t undermined Alyson’s optimism for what can happen in the future.
“In my first Store Manager role, I’m thrilled to bring M&S to a former fruit market site and play a part in the regeneration of this part of Edinburgh. M&S knows that vibrant local communities are vital for our success and have been supporting them throughout our 130-year history. I’m really excited about getting to know the people of Chesser community over the coming months – whether that be as customers or as one of our new team members.”
To view our current vacancies, click here.Inside M&S
More than making things look pretty
Natalie began her M&S career in 1997 as a Sales Advisor, before becoming a Visual Merchandiser in her home city of Nottingham. After gaining experience with other retailers, she returned to M&S in 2013.
“I heard that M&S were investing heavily in visual merchandising and creating lots of exciting roles – and I haven’t regretted coming ‘home’ for one minute. As Store Visual Manager for our large Cheshire Oaks store, I lead 16 Stylists plus Section Managers and Co-ordinators. In fashion, the secret is to create a style that matches our sophisticated brand and customer profile. It’s really satisfying when your presentation ‘clicks’ with customers and delivers sales results.”
But Natalie’s responsibilities extend beyond fashion to visual presentation across the entire store.
“I love the fast pace of merchandising and the variety of products we sell, from food to plants, bedding to babywear. And if our products are varied, so too is my day. Planning displays, team meetings, store visit walk-arounds, coaching, there’s so much to keep me busy. Blink, and it’s Friday and you can look back on what you achieved during the week. I take photos of everything and at the end of the week we can see how sales have gone and say, ‘that looks fantastic, well done everyone’. I also enjoy living the M&S brand values – inspiration, innovation, integrity and in touch – on a daily basis. In fact, our values were one of the motivating factors in my returning to the fold.”
M&S is such a strong and established brand and there are inevitably guidelines to follow. So does that shackle Natalie’s creativity?
“Not at all. There are plenty of opportunities to be creative by adapting the guidelines to suit your own store and customer types. The guidelines are, at the end of the day, just a guide and I’ve got the freedom to put my own stamp on how they’re interpreted. There’s always the chance to push the boundaries, especially when there are special events such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.”
Natalie has had experience in both a regional visual role and also at head office. Her dream now is to become a Regional Visual Manager and be responsible for a cluster of stores, which she believes will stretch her skills to the full. But she can look back with pride in what she’s achieved so far.
“I think my biggest achievement was being the Team Leader for Menswear when we opened our Wolstanton store. We had some fantastic feedback – I lost count of the number of times someone said our department looked truly inspirational! I’m also proud to say that I’ve mentored and promoted four Trainee Visual Stylists to become fully qualified Section Managers; M&S is big on training.”
So, one final question – does Natalie confine her creativity to work?
“I love interior design and decorating. I’ve recently renovated a cottage and upcycled 90% of my furniture from charity shops and salvage yards. I much prefer to create something unique than buy in mainstream furniture. It gives my home identity and shows my rustic personality!”
10 Tips for a Visual Merchandiser
Customers quite often come to our store with a purpose – be that to buy their evening dinner, or browse the latest Autograph collection. But when they walk in store, we only have limited time to win them over. We want to create the inspirational store spaces where people long to shop and ultimately, turn browsers into buyers. There’s a lot of work goes in to make sure our stores look good. Here are our team’s tips for creating the ultimate store display:
1. Have a plan
Always have a plan. At M&S we look at the store layout and pinpoint the key points where customers will look first. Your plan can be bullet points or a detailed description of what you will do. But it is crucial to allocate some time to planning, and writing down your thoughts and ideas taking into account space, lighting, and entry and exit points.
2. Think like a designer
Visual merchandisers, like all creative people, understand the principles and elements of design. Elements can be summed up as direction, line, shape, size, colour, tone and texture. Translated to a retail environment, elements are all things that make up your shop: windows, floors, walls, fitting rooms, fixtures and signage. Principles of design are repetition, unity, contrast, rhythm, balance and harmony. Essentially, the visual organisation of our products. It's simply what you do with all your store elements to create an overall pleasing display for customers.
3. Think about themes
We’ll always have seasonal themes for our collections, but it’s always worthwhile thinking about other themes that can be used to draw a customer’s eye – sports tournaments and public holidays are good starting points.
4. Use your display/merchandising/layouts to tell a story
Humans process information much easier in the form of a story. So think about what you want your display to say. Does it touch the aspirations of our customers? How does it make them feel? To create a story, consider the environment and the product on which you’re focusing and why our customers would consider buying it. Is it for a special occasion? A birthday, picnic, wedding? Then let your display bring this story to life.
5. Think about colour
Colour is a powerful tool when it comes to non-verbal communication. It can also make a space come alive. By choosing the right colours you can literally stop people in their tracks. Using colours that coordinate together is a visual merchandiser’s way to encourage customers to be more experimental. Using this technique can offer them quick and easy solutions to ﬁnding items that work well together – in fashion as well as home furnishings.
6. A note about techniques
Every visual merchandiser will look at using a range of merchandising techniques. These include:
- Horizontal merchandising – placing products horizontally, at or near the customers’ line of sight.
- Vertical merchandising – placing merchandise in vertical columns instead of horizontal rows to expose more product options to shoppers.
- Pyramid merchandising – creating a stepped effect that draws the customer's eye downwards.
- Live merchandising – setting up a scene as if it was in real life e.g. a picnic to show off picnic food and summer wine, or a dressed table to display Christmas homewares.
- Hero merchandising – focusing on one single product in your window display.
7. Block it out
There are times when it’s really effective to put one type of product in the same place. This is normally done when you know customers will be looking for a product type rather than a specific thing e.g. they’re looking for jeans or a handbag. Grouping them together not only helps customers to make a decision, it can have a huge impact visually.
8. Keep it simple
Try and make your display orderly and neat. At M&S we try and make our items the stars because we know our customers haven’t got time to waste when it comes to choosing the perfect product.
9. Symmetry and balance
Always look to create a harmonious look. Balance things out. It doesn't need to be perfectly symmetrical, but mirroring can give you a pleasant overall effect. Don’t forget to stand back and see it through a customer’s eyes.
10. Explore the world outside your store
For a creative mind, inspiration can come from anywhere. Competitor shopping is more than just walking to the store across the road. It’s the local coffee shop, hotel, deli and independent fashion store. Keep your eyes open and look at the world around you – art galleries, restaurants and architecture really stimulate your senses and it’s where the next big VM idea will come from. Take your camera to snap the things that speak to you, make notes and gather as many ideas as you can! Use social media to learn as well as share.
If you think like an M&S Visual Stylist, you can view our roles here.Inside M&S
Closer to home
The beautiful town of Haslemere is home to our latest Food Hall opening. This will be the first M&S within a 34 mile distance and is 8,800 square feet of the best M&S food, drink and hospitality. Store Manager Abby is proud to be part of this opening and has spent some time getting to know the locals.
“I am very excited to be opening an M&S Food Hall in Haslemere, and have spent some time getting to know the town and the people in it. Haslemere is a quaint and charming place, and I have been overwhelmed by the sense of community here.”
As a brand that aims to enrich people’s lives and offer them the very best, we felt that it was time we brought M&S to the area. That’s why we’re opening a large Food Hall equipped with a bakery, ‘Shop Your Way’ collection service and our newest hospitality concept, ‘Coffee to go’.
“At M&S, we are very conscious that we have a very real responsibility to live up to people’s expectations and play our part in Haslemere life. Before we opened there were no M&S stores between Guildford and Petersfield. A distance of almost 34 miles.”
Abby explains how important it was to make the store as accessible as possible to everyone.
“The store has its own customer car park with 40 spaces. It’s very close to the railway station which has direct rail links to London, Guildford and the South Coast. It’s also a five minute drive from the A3 and it’s easily accessible for towns such as Liphook and Bramshott.”
So what’s missing? Our new store needs just the right mix of talented people. We have a range of customer service opportunities, including specialist hospitality roles. We’re holding a recruitment open day on Tuesday 16 February between 10am – 4.30pm, at the Job Centre Plus, Guildford GU1 4QD. We’d love to see you there.
Can’t make it? Not to worry. You can apply directly to our roles at careers.marksandspencer.comInside M&S