Amelia Cargo works for the Co-operative Group as communications officer in the New Stores team based in Manchester and is volunteer chair of the Group’s LGBT+ Respect network. She talks to us about her twin roles.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I work as a communications officer in the Co-op’s new stores team. We’re going to open over 100 new shops in 2017 and our acquisitions managers are always on the lookout for places that could benefit from a co-op. My job is to support them by promoting the Co-op to property agents and developers. We do that in a variety of ways – through social media, events and PR, to name but a few. Every day is different – one day I could be working on a leaflet promoting our new store requirements and the next I could be organising a networking event at one of Co-op’s local suppliers.
What’s your co-op’s difference?
Through our membership scheme we are supporting communities and local charities and making a real difference. The Co-op Group has a really good reputation of being LGBT-friendly. We have been in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index since 2005 and are the only retailer to have given evidence for equal marriage at Parliament. When I was looking for a new job about four years ago, I was drawn to the Co-op’s commitment to local communities and its reputation as one of the most LGBT-friendly employers. I wanted to work for a business that was positive about difference and supported LGBT+ communities; the Co-op ticked those boxes for me.
What’s the best thing about the job?
Our team is quite small so I get to try a lot of different things and work with a lot of different people. New stores are really important for our success in getting us out into more communities.
What’s the hardest thing about the job?
When I first started this job I did not come from a property background so it was a bit of a challenge. I have learned a lot about the process and policies involved in bringing new stores to our portfolio from empty shells, and about the property world.
If you could set up a brand new co-op tomorrow, what would it be?
I am interested in clothes so it might be something around ethical fashion. As a consumer I have general concerns around ethical manufacturing and I think it is an area where co-ops could make a difference. I am also a vegan so the a vegan co-op would be of real interest as I could eat everything on sale!
What do you now know about co-ops that you wish you knew on the first day?
I did not know how invested the public are in the idea of co-ops and how much they want them to succeed. Knowing that now makes me really dedicated to it as a business and that’s why I love it so much. Seeing the difference co-ops can make and the passion people have for them is a real driver for me to stay and pursue my career here.
Why did you get involved in Respect?
I got involved about three years ago. I was doing comms work and internet updates educating the business on LGBT issues. Then I took over as chair about 18 months ago. In that time I have built up my knowledge of the network and what needed to be done. It means a lot to me. Our main aim is to support colleagues who need advice and support and it is a tremendous privilege to be able to do that.
How extensive is the work of Respect?
We have around 700 members across the country creating an inclusive environment for everyone at all levels of our business. The largest part of our colleague base is based in stores. In terms of the steering group there are about 15 of us, mostly based in Manchester, but one of our main tasks is to build more regional support in local communities. Even in Manchester which is known for being LGBT-friendly there are people who struggle but in smaller places we really need to be reaching out. We have a very good social media presence on Twitter and Facebook and we try and push awareness.
What are your priorities at the moment?
We are getting the message out about regional groups and asking people what they want us to do. We are also working with senior leaders across the business to make sure they are inclusive. There is also the usual events calendar with important dates like International Women’s Day and Manchester Pride. We are also asking colleagues if there are any other events where they want to see us.
What’s your proudest achievement as chair of the LGBT + Respect network?
Being able to support colleagues. I have never had a difficult time because of who I am but it is still an issue for many people. We are 31 in the Stonewall 2017 Workplace Equality Index out of 400 – a jump of 41 places on our previous ranking and that is great – but there is still a lot of hard work ahead. We have been higher in the past and I want to see us climbing back up. The process is pretty rigorous.
I’m really proud of our ranking. We’re confident we can do even better next year and are working with the diversity team, our businesses and Stonewall to make it happen.
Why was LGBT+ Respect set up?
It is a sign that LGBT people are valued and included and is a confidential point of call for people who can talk to others who have been through similar experiences. We are the voice of LGBT colleagues and make sure policies and processes are as inclusive as they can be. We have just introduced a new transgender policy for staff and have acted as a consultation point so we were able to make tweaks to that based on people’s experiences.
How would you like to see things progressing in the next five years?
It would be great to have a lot more regional organisations and mini-steering groups. I would also like to seethe Co-operative Group back in the top 10 in the Stonewall Equality Index having that consistency and recognition for the work we do for the LGBT community.