UK co-op movement affirms commitment to racial equality

Rose Marley of Co-operatives UK and Steve Murrells from the Co-op Group have given updates on progress

The leaders of the Co-op Group and Co-operatives UK have both made statements last month affirming the anti-racist and inclusive commitments of their organisations.

Steve Murrells, CEO of the Co-op Group, wrote a blog on the society’s Colleage Stories site, referring to the commitments it made last September to racial equality and inclusion.

These include annual publication of the ethnicity pay gap; doubled representation of black, Asian, and minority ethnic leaders and managers by the end of 2022 – moving from 3% to 6%, and then to 10% by 2025; and requirement of diverse shortlists for all leadership roles.

The Group also resolved to actively collect and monitor data on inequalities when it comes to promotion and opportunities; and to put in place measures to increase representation and consultation of members from ethnic minority groups, with specific products developed for them.

The retailer will publish its first annual report on progress to its targets this September.

Updating members on the work, Mr Murrells said independent experts have been brought in to “help guide, challenge and support us … we’ve brought together some of the leading minds and activists on inclusion, equality and diversity to create a new Equality and Inclusion Think Tank”. 

The Group says the so far it has:

  • set up a food supplier pilot group to bring inclusion ‘to the forefront of how we do business’
  • seen 36% of Local Community Fund causes support BAME causes – up 3% on the previous round
  • started work in marketing with the Diversity Standards Collective to improve representation in its ads
  • launched a Funeralcare service to meet the needs of Afro Caribbean families
  • made a safe space for BAME colleague representatives to share their experiences
  • begun work on an inclusion strategy at the Co-op Academies Trust, including unconscious bias training and a new curriculum on anti-racism
  • partnered with Black Young Professionals to build connections with the community and make job opportunities more accessible.

Mr Murrells added: “Thank you to the 40% of you who’ve completed your diversity data . This information is allowing us to start to identify any barriers in place in relation to our people processes right from recruitment through to retirement and ensure fairness – for example, pay and progression.

“There’s still more to do and plenty more to learn but for me progress is better than perfection. I’ve always believed that the Co-op is only as successful as the people that work in it and I’m committed to ensuring that at our Co-op, everyone has an equal opportunity to fulfil their potential. ”

Meanwhile, Rose Marley, who took over as CEO of Co-operatives UK in January, has blogged about diversity and equality issues on the apex body’s website.

She said the organisation still has “a long way to go – both to put our own house in order to become a more inclusive employer and to help drive and encourage more diversity within the UK co-operative sector”.

Ms Marley said she wanted Co-operatives UK to “facilitate conversations and collate information to help guide a plan of action” and “connect more effectively with the diverse communities that are already co-operating together to achieve a common goal”.

“We also need to make it easier for people from diverse backgrounds to engage with the sector,” she added. “The use of language, imagery, perceptions, sector profiles all contribute to people thinking ‘that’s not for me’ – even though at their heart they are committed to the values of co-operation, social responsibility and caring for others.”

Following up on Co-operatives UK’s blog last November outlining its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, Ms Marley outlined steps taken so far:

  • a report commissioned on the potential for community shares to be recognised as Shariah compliant
  • a pilot project with Stir to Action to support BAME-led co-operatives in Preston
  • the Community Shares Booster and Empowering Places programmes, which focus on co-op development in areas of high deprivation, and the Ownership Hub which aims to create more worker co-ops and employee owned businesses, has tackling economic inequality baked into its design. 
  • workshops to stimulate discussion around diversity, equity and inclusivity with our co-op members, staff and board and an inclusion forum with the large retail consumer co-operatives.

To make up for the lack of data on the issues, Co-operatives UK’s Co-op Economy survey, launched last month, includes some questions on diversity.

“We invite you to submit any information you hold so we can build up an evidence-based picture of the make-up of the sector,” said Ms Marley. “We will be asking our members to form a research panel representing a wide range of co-ops to further inform and shape this work. You’ll have the chance to sign up as part of the survey.

Another initiative from Co-operatives UK is the creation of a management indicator to measure staff impressions of inclusivity.

The organisation says it is committing 10% of its learning and development budget in 2021 for diversity, equity and inclusion training and support.

“We became a Living Wage employer and now display the Mindful Employer and Disability Confident logo on our website,” said Ms Marley. “Recognising that not everyone celebrates Christmas, we’ve changed our annual leave policy, so that taking the whole of Christmas week off is no longer mandatory.

“We’ve added a diversity, equity and inclusion statement to our recruitment packs and we’ll continue to improve our recruitment practices so that we are attracting diverse talent.”