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Academics from the University of Birmingham are working on a new research project with Marks & Spencer (M&S) that will help improve our knowledge of how diversity and inclusion strategies can benefit the retail sector and other organisations.

Working with the Universities of Leeds and Durham, the partners celebrated National Inclusion Week 2017 with an event – hosted by lead partner the University of Leeds – as part of the collaborative On Your Marks Networking Series, delivered annually in partnership with M&S.

Professor Cathy Cassell, Dean of Birmingham University Business School and Simmone Haywood, M&S Head of Talent addressed an audience of business and academic leaders with an interest in diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The three-year research project, which started in January this year, aims to understand and improve our knowledge of the effective and successful implementation of diversity and inclusion strategies in the retail sector and in organisations more broadly.

Professor Cathy Cassell welcomed the close industry-academic collaboration and said: “At the heart of diversity and inclusion is the commitment of employees at all levels and an organisational culture that embraces the differences within its workforce, as well as providing good support systems where needed. This research is a very exciting opportunity for us as researchers that will not only benefit M&S but many other UK businesses and employer organisations.”

Using a case study approach focusing on the leading retailer, the team are investigating diversity and inclusion in relation to a number of Human Resource issues: retention and inclusivity, career success, progression and development and the intersectionality of protected characteristics under UK legislation (The Equality Act, 2010).

Dr Kathryn Watson, Principal Investigator, from the University of Leeds said: “We are working in partnership with M&S to identify ways in which the company can build on its existing strong organisational culture to ensure an inclusive business environment that enables all individuals to perform to their maximum potential and deliver excellent customer service.”
The project is funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) and covers all diversity issues ethnicity, age, race, disability, religion and sexual orientation as well as gender.

M&S has opened its doors for the research team to engage closely with staff and explore in detail many of the processes and practices within the company. It is a rare opportunity for academic researchers to be granted this level of access within a business organisation. The project team make regular feedback reports and discuss the findings which are given high level strategic consideration. M&S colleagues are involved in planning each subsequent stage of the research.

Simmone Haywood commented: “Marks & Spencer is committed to enhancing opportunities for all our employees and developing talent within our teams. We believe that diversity and talent go hand-in-hand to ensure effective decision making, high performing and innovative teams and to deliver meaningful careers and opportunities. We want to celebrate all aspects of diversity in our business and so we are delighted that this project with the University of Leeds and academic partners will support us to do this."

M&S is a global brand with over 80,000 employees. The collaboration reflects the business’s commitment to demonstrate best practice in employment throughout the company and to support broader dissemination to the retail sector and other large employee organisations. The project includes a planned series of public dissemination events from 2018 onwards. These events will be supported by M&S participation.

Professor Jackie Ford, from the University of Durham, said: “We lack is a clear understanding of the processes involved in bringing about a major programme of organisational change in a large organisation and understanding what it is that makes diversity policies actually work. This research aims to make a major contribution to academic knowledge as well as being of practical relevance to businesses.”

The research team includes Professor Cathy Cassell (Birmingham), Professor Jackie Ford (Durham), Dr Kathryn Watson, Project Principal Investigator (Leeds), Dr Kyle Griffith (Leeds), Dr Karen Da Silva (Leeds) and Dr Usman Aslam (Birmingham). From the M&S side, the project is supported by Simmone Haywood, Head of Talent, Claire Maydew, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, and Tamsin Slade, Relationship Manager.

For more information, please contact: Tony Moran, Acting Head of Communications, University of Birmingham on +44 (0) 121 414 8254 or +44 (0)782 783 2312. Out-of-hours enquiries: +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The University of Leeds has a unique partnership with M&S, which was founded on the relocation of the M&S Company Archive to the Leeds campus in 2012. The partnership represents a new model of engagement between industry and academia, based on mutual value creation around the key themes of Research and Innovation, Student Education and Opportunity, and shared ways of working.
  • The three-year project ‘Raising the Ceiling on Diversity and Inclusion: A Corporate Retail Case Study’ commenced on 1 January 2017. The total funding is nearly £900,000 with approximately two-thirds of this provided by the ESRC. Grant Amount: £527,578 (ESRC contribution); £649,205 at Full Economic Cost