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Lack of diversity – John Lewis criticised over top ranks

In a recently released report the retailer John Lewis confirmed that only six of their UK-based managers are people of colour. Sharon White, chairman of the company pledged to improve diversity when she joined in February.

The high street retailer has been criticised for the lack of diversity after revealing that of the top 158 UK managers, just six were not white.

 There are only three directors from an ethnic minority among the permanent senior UK managers at John Lewis. The company, which is owned by its staff also run 50 department stores along with the Waitrose chain.

The three directors are chairman Sharon White, Strategy manager Nina Bhatia, who was hired by Ms White, and Bérangère Michel, who oversees customer service.

When questioned, a spokesperson for the company stated that there were three other people of colour in the top ranks but declined to name them.

Ms White, after pledging to improve the diversity of the company when she took over, stated that while the John Lewis Partnership was formed with equality at the heart, there was still plenty of work to be done before it becomes a more inclusive and diverse workplace.

To improve the profile of the business, Ms White said that an ‘open and honest debate’ between staff (who are also called partners) was ongoing.

A member of staff, who asked not to be named, stated a concern about barriers in the company. There is a barrier to get in and a barrier to overcome the underestimation of talent.

Once talent is recognized there is a further barrier of ‘cronyism’ and this becomes a barrier for progression.

The staff member went on to say that diversity had worsened after several redundancies had been made. These redundancies had placed two senior staff members from ethnic minority backgrounds in temporary positions.

In January John Lewis published their first diversity report, named Be Yourself Always. This report indicated that the representation of ethnic minorities had decreased steadily in the management positions.

Staff at John Lewis who identified as black in a recent survey awarded a low score when asked about their experience working at John Lewis.

When answering the question ‘do you feel recognised for your contribution?’ only 35% of black workers agreed that they did.

Of white employees 53% indicated that they were recognized for their contributions to the company.

In a statement reading ‘I am treated with fairness and respect’ fewer black and Chinese employees agreed compared to white, Asian and mixed-race colleagues.

John Lewis has an overall 13.7% of staff who identify as BAME background, in line with the 14% in the UK’s general population.

The numbers, however, represent workers in the lower ranks with just 3% in the top management levels.

A spokesperson for John Lewis stated that the company had commissioned an internal investigation so that they could understand the differences in proportions of ethnic minority and white senior leaders. The investigation will also suggest ways to handle the lack of diversity.

A letter sent to staff at John Lewis said that the company needed to do more to ensure that the partnership is a place where they reflect the communities in which they serve.

The letter concluded by saying that actions always speak louder than words and John Lewis expects to be measured on the daily experiences of all partners in the workplace.

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