8 March, 2017

The importance of the 50:50 split, from Sharon's' perspective

Sharon joined M&S as a Business Placement student and against tough competition, got a job in one of our stores. After a spell away from M&S, she returned to the fold as a Sales Developer. Sharon is now four weeks into her present job in Foods IT.

I’ve been on a bit of a roller coaster in my career, but I’m the kind of person who gets stale without a new challenge. After working in M&S stores for two years one of which being Marble Arch, I tasted life with another retailer where I got the opportunity to move into IT as a Project Manager.  I then worked for a consultancy before returning to M&S as a Sales Developer in the Lingerie business unit.  I then moved into the Retail Programme Delivery team as a Programme Manager before heading the team up.  I then spent two years in a business broadening role within International Supply Chain where I set up a new function with a team to embed operations.

Now I’m in IT. I’ve only been in my job for four weeks, but that’s long enough to know that it’s right for me. I love delivering and fixing problems, but the best thing about my role is working with people to drive change. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to shape my own career, but I have to acknowledge the role of people in my network who I’ve been able to bounce things off – particularly my mentor, who I’ve always trusted as a sounding-board.

I had a five-year career plan, which I achieved before I turned 30. Now I focus on three goals: family security, flexibility and challenge. I have two young children and a husband who are my life. I love running – one of my proudest moments is completing the New York Marathon. I read as much as I can and Yammer some interesting articles to the network. And I give a mean dinner party for family and friends, usually with M&S Prosecco!

Turning back to work, I’ve found it hard to fit in study with my day-to-day job, but I have completed my PRINCE2, MSP and APM qualifications. I was also selected as one of 12 women for the Inspiring Coaching Programme. This proved to be a turning point for me in understanding how we can really get the best people into our jobs, regardless of gender – if we don’t, we limit our talent pipeline and the business suffers. Not exactly rocket science.

I’ve learned that women do need support and encouragement, but a ‘for women, by women’ approach isn’t the answer; we need to get the guys involved. I was honoured to be nominated as co-chair when M&S wanted to set up a Gender network.  This role has been an incredible opportunity to make a difference across M&S, a journey my co-chair Simon and the network board are now well underway with. By working together I’m really confident we can make M&S the best place for women to work. I’m a mentor to other women both at work and outside, always ready to support, encourage or offer a shoulder to those who need it.

I’ve never thought that, as companies go, M&S has a particular gender issue. There are more opportunities than barriers, but we should aim for a 50:50 gender split and everyone should take unconscious bias training – it’s incredible how influential this is.  My team have started to tell me where there are meetings where this isn’t the case – so word is getting around!  We have a solid base from which to make change and drive opportunities at all levels across the business. There are initiatives we can look at, solutions we can exploit. We have the data and facts and we should use them.

But I have to say, M&S is a great place for energetic, motivated and focused people. I’d also say to anyone thinking of joining us, talk to colleagues, pick their brains and understand your goals and motivations for work. Don’t wait for others, life is too short!

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