Diversity, sustainability, crime, care and AI on Co-op Retail Conference agenda

Preview of this year’s event, on 15-16 March, including a few words from guest speaker Joanna Aunon of Diversity in Retail

Co-operatives UK’s Co-op Retail Conference (15-16 March) will gather leaders, managers and directors from the UK’s leading retail co-ops.

Sponsored once more by VME Co-op, it will explore specialist retail topics including insights from sector experts IDG. But it will also tackle challenges for co-ops in all sectors, such as diversity and inclusion, social care, climate change, sustainability, AI and technology. 

Retail crime, discussed at the conference in previous years, remains a deep and complex issue and is back on the agenda. In February, a report from the Co-op Group set out a ten-point plan to tackle retail crime – which hit record levels at its stores in 2023, rising 44% to more than 330,000 incidents (see p9).

Discussing the issue at the conference will be Paul Gerrard, campaigns, public affairs and board secretariat director at the Group, alongside Alex Norris MP, who has tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill going through Parliament, asking for attacks on shop workers to be a standalone criminal offence.

Related: Co-op Group urges ten-point plan to tackle record levels of retail crime

Jas Mehmi, former store manager and now Operations Manager at Central Co-op, will share her first-hand experience; and Caroline Best will talk about her support work at Offender to Rehab. They will explore the root causes of the problem and explore how retailers can do something positive to help resolve them.

Lindsey Chapman, climate, culture and wildlife presenter for TV and radio, will lead a discussion with Midcounties’ Mike Pickering and Unicorn Grocery’s Debbie Clarke on how the co-op movement is addressing climate. And, with a general election just around the corner, delegates will hear an update from Co-op Party general secretary Joe Fortune; while Co-operatives UK policy officers James Wright and Tom Laing will lead a session feeding directly into the organisation’s work to position co-operatives before and after polling day.

Related: Report from Co-op Retail Conference 2023

Co-operatives UK CEO Rose Marley will chair a session with leaders of some of the UK’s retail societies – including Lincolnshire, Central, Midcounties and the Co-op Group – on bringing principle six, co-operation among co-ops, to life. And on the Sunday morning, a workshop fusing innovation, ethics and consultation will look at how co-operative technologists are building new AI for retail and beyond – and give delegates the chance to try out some of the technology. 

Special guests include Joanna Aunon, director of Diversity in Retail. Here, she shares why diversity should matter more to co-ops – and what you can expect from her session. 

Diversity is often a misunderstood term and essentially refers to representation – in other words, how representative is our organisation of the customers you serve and to what extent is the diversity of colleagues represented in leadership at all levels. 

However, having diverse teams at all levels is an outcome of an inclusive and welcoming culture where anyone can thrive and reach their potential. Having an inclusive culture helps to create a workplace where colleagues feel valued, respected, and empowered. In an organisation that is inclusive and therefore enables diverse representation, colleagues bring unique perspectives, experiences, and talents to the table, fostering innovation, creativity, and problem-solving.

When colleagues feel included and appreciated for who they are and the unique contribution they can make, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and committed to their work. This, in turn, leads to higher levels of job satisfaction, productivity, and retention.

Making diversity and inclusion a key business strategic goal within a retail organisation not only strengthens colleague engagement and wellbeing but also enhances organisational performance, customer satisfaction, and brand reputation. Retailers that champion diversity and inclusion not only attract top talent but also foster a positive workplace culture that drives success in the long term – all of which drive a strategic advantage in an increasingly competitive retail landscape. 

Ultimately, by creating working environments where every individual feels valued and included, retailers can strengthen commercial performance: McKinsey’s latest report, Diversity Matters Even More, states the likelihood of financial outperformance for companies in the top quartile of gender and ethnic diversity on executive teams is 39%. They also contribute positively to the communities and societies they work within, which is at the heart of Co-op’s philosophy. 

Being an inclusive organisation can also play a significant role in addressing attraction and retention issues in retail. By actively recruiting from diverse backgrounds, including different ethnicities, genders, ages, and abilities, organisations can access a more extensive range of skills, experiences, and perspectives. 

This in turn broadens the talent pool, improves colleague retention, and enhances customer service experiences. Therefore, by focusing on diversity and inclusion initiatives, businesses can attract and retain stronger, more resilient teams that are better equipped to thrive in a dynamic and competitive market such as retail. 

Diversity in Retail is the only collaboration community in retail and we work with many organisations across the whole spectrum of the retail sector to support them in creating and strengthening inclusive working environments. In our 2023 report, it was evident that retail is performing slightly stronger than hospitality in creating diverse teams, particularly in terms of gender. Our research shows the gender pay gap across retail has improved year on year – but progress is still painfully slow in terms of balanced representation at all levels of leadership across the industry. 

Retailers, and in particular co-ops, have a fantastic opportunity to ensure diversity and inclusion is a key strategic business priority. At Diversity in Retail we work with Central Co-op and the Co-op Group as members of our collaboration community; they have shown a great commitment and lead the way in many aspects of diversity and inclusion. Debbie Robinson, CEO of Central Co-op, also sits on the Diversity in Retail advisory board. 

During the Co-op Retail conference, I will lead a session on diversity and inclusion that will explore how co-ops can encourage diversity and inclusion in their organisations. I will explore the current landscape across retail with results of our industry benchmarking and recent research, giving the conference delegates key insights into cross industry best practice. 

I am also delighted to be joined by Sarah Dickins, CPO Central Co-op, who will share some of the great work they are doing in this space. We will also hear from colleagues who will outline why inclusion matters to them. The session will highlight the huge competitive advantages of harnessing diversity and Inclusion as a key business priority and will further engage and inspire the senior leaders attending the conference. 

For more info and to book, visit uk.coop/events-and-training/co-op-retail-conference