The foundation of the John Lewis Partnership ethos is to help people get in and get on in business, no matter what their background. Whilst the business’ history and constitution are rich in the knowledge that diversity makes a difference, the organisation has predominantly been viewed as white and middle class. In May 2014, the Personnel Director raised concerns that Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) representation at management levels is much lower than in the UK population and there were no indications to suggest improvement. Satisfaction scores from BAME Partners (the title given to John Lewis Partnerships employees) in the annual engagement survey were also below those of white Partners.
The business conducted a detailed analysis of BAME Partners’ experiences through data analysis and focus groups, which confirmed the need for action. As a result, the Chairman set the goal of having 2,000 managers (10% of all managers) from BAME backgrounds by 2020, double the figure in 2014. This made John Lewis one of the few UK businesses to introduce a goal for increasing BAME representation in management positions. Although the goal acknowledges the effect of the lack of role models on Partners’ belief in opportunities to progress, the business explicitly stated that positive discrimination should not take place and the goal was an aspiration, not a quota. Improvements needed to be sustainable and therefore the focus took culture into account as well as numbers.
John Lewis has invested heavily in talking about the business case for diversity through its internal magazine, on social media and its BAME Network, Unity, which provided the business with a platform to showcase BAME role models both within and outside the business. The Finance Director is the Network’s executive sponsor. The recommendations from Business in the Community’s Race at Work report were also used to enable the business to improve leadership and experience of BAME Partners.
The executive team has increased its visibility of leadership on this topic with help from Business Partners to understand areas of low representation in their teams. Additionally, through the Talent and Progression team, the executive team looked at the organisation’s nine-box talent matrix to identify top BAME future talent and ensure they have coaches, sponsors and mentors to help them progress their careers. The Chairman and other leaders have also set up reverse mentoring relationships to improve their understanding of ethnicity in the business.
BAME representation in management positions has increased from 8.3% in 2014 to 8.7% in 2017, which is in line with projections, and BAME representation at senior levels (Branch Managers and above) has increased from 3.7% in 2016 to 4.1% in 2017. Senior executive Rory Campbell also appeared in the Empower Top 100 List in 2017, which is the first time John Lewis has entered a leader for this list and showcases the best of the organisation’s BAME talent to inspire future leaders within and outside the business.
Although there is more to do and awareness that rapid improvement may not be sustainable, John Lewis has made a positive impact with leadership endorsement and is planning to take bolder action on recruitment and progression in future.