When you tell someone you work for the John Lewis Partnership, a frequent reaction is: “I’ve heard they’re an amazing place to work” followed immediately by “so how much discount do you get?”
It’s 25% for anyone interested, and yes, the Partnership is a great place to work. Sure, any job has downsides, but with profit-sharing, a host of corporate memberships, hotels, and subsidised gig tickets, there are many good reasons why so many people make it to 25 years’ service, and it’s not just the legendary six-months-paid-leave you get when you’ve clocked up the numbers.
One of the most attractive qualities about the business is the diversity of our workforce. We employ more than 91,000 people and 57% of our Partners are female. 14% of our Partner population are from an ethnic minority, and we have a thriving LGBT community.
You might be surprised then, to learn that the business did not have an LGBT employee network until very recently, especially when the evidence is clear that such networks come with substantial benefits.
According to Stonewall, 40% of LGBT people are not out at work and tend to be more productive people if they’re not investing significant energy in self-editing. This is perhaps one reason why the Partnership now has an LGBT employee network, but it is not the only one.
Why then, do we need an LGBT employee network? The beauty of a company founded on democratic principles is that, if employees want to create a group then they can just do it – which is exactly what happened two years ago.
Despite being supported by visible role models and allies all the way up to Board level, the process came with its own challenges. The business case had to be made to create a sustainable structure, but it has now resulted in recruiting over 600 members. Over the past two years, Pride in the Partnership (PiPs) has marched at Pride in London, has had rainbow flags on the roof of its flagship store, has influenced policy decisions and has had paved the way for networks in other diversity areas.
However, the same question is occasionally asked: do we really need an LGBT network? Emphatically, the answer is yes. The Partnership’s constitution includes an insistence on ‘mutual respect and courtesy’ and commits to contributing to ‘the wellbeing of the communities in which it operates’. We want to ensure that all Partners know we are here for them, whether they are looking for the confidence to grow in their job, someone to talk to in confidence, professional networking, a forum to be heard, or for fun and friendship.
PiPs is working closely with Partner Support and its teams across all regional centres. The Partnership is also now a member of Stonewall, and is actively supporting the development of PiPs as part of its commitment to fostering an inclusive and vibrant community within and beyond our business.
Given the diversity of the world in which we trade, what right-minded business would not want to embrace every potential customer and warmly welcome anyone who comes through the door, regardless of gender, ethnicity, orientation? And while most have a positive experience, most is not all. Most is not enough. Until diversity is truly embraced, there is work to do. That work is bigger than the Partnership — it reflects a move in society to be more inclusive, more tolerant and more accepting. Visible, public acceptance from a brand the nation loves and trusts goes a long way.
Abby Chicken is Pride in the Partnership Network Chair and Department Manager, John Lewis Partnership