The Gatehouse Blog

M&S puts colleagues “In My Shoes”

Marks & Spencer executed an internal communications campaign with the goal of making inclusion relevant to the majority, not just the minority. Group Employee Communications managers Roland Burton and Louise Mitchell discuss strategies to talk about diversity and inclusion with employees from all walks of life.

“We’re a business with about 80,000 colleagues around the world, and we all know that the world of retail has never been more challenging or competitive,” says Roland. “To be successful, we need to ensure that everyone feels recognised and welcome to play a part in our success. We also need to recruit the best talent from as wide a pool as possible, including people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and nationalities. It’s a commercial imperative too: we want our customers to connect with us and think that we’re relevant to them. For all these reasons, diversity and inclusion features very high on our agenda.”

In My Shoes

As part of the Central Corporate Communications Team, Roland and Louise believe that the key to true inclusion is making people who aren’t minorities in the workplace feel that they have a role in making M&S more inclusive.

“We have fantastic D&I Networks – groups of colleagues who have grown support communities from the ground-upwards – LBGT+, BAME, Gender Equality, Veterans and Buddy (wellbeing), explains Louise. To build on the work of the Networks, M&S has more recently introduced a company-wide Inclusion Group to accelerate progress. “We knew communication was absolutely critical to success. Our biggest objective was to broaden the audience and make diversity relevant to people who aren’t part of a minority group”, says Louise. “What we wanted to do was really help everybody see that, actually, diversity is relevant to me whether I’m part of a group or not.”

To reach people who are not minorities and make them feel more passionate about creating an inclusive environment, Roland and Louise set out to create a campaign that encouraged everybody to take a moment to stop and think about what it’s like to be someone else.

“The campaign that we settled on was called “In My Shoes,”” says Roland. “The idea was that we share colleagues’ stories where people talk about what it means to be them – whoever they are – and share something that frustrates or excites them.” M&S got very literal with the message, making things fun and interactive. Colleagues were encouraged to take pictures holding up their shoes, swapping shoes and walking in each other’s shoes.

“We wanted to attract people’s attention and get them to wonder, ‘Why are we seeing pictures of people holding up a pair of shoes? Why is there a big pile of shoes in reception?’” says Roland.

The keystone of the campaign, says Louise, was a headline film. The film interviewed a diverse group of M&S colleagues and asked them questions about their frustrations and their hopes. The result was an impactful and uplifting short video that Louise and Roland made central to their annual retail conference.

Inclusion Week

“One way to get people to know you’re serious about inclusion and diversity is to dedicate a full week to it,” says Louise. To celebrate National Inclusion week, M&S orchestrated a full week of activities, debates, guest speakers and videos to create interest.

Tactics included the ‘Great Debate’, a series of interactive sessions hosted in various locations where colleagues who wouldn’t normally have their say on inclusion had an opportunity to debate how M&S can become a more inclusive business.

“One way to get people to know you’re serious about inclusion and diversity is to dedicate a full week to it.”

Another headline activity was a series of workshops exploring power, privilege and bias, where people were encouraged to understand someone else’s viewpoints and relate to others’ life experiences. The facilitator read a series of statements, such as “I had more than 20 books in my house growing up” or “I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal is coming from.” Participants were asked to close their eyes and put their hand up when they agreed with the statement. It was a very private experience, and really challenged people’s perspectives and assumptions.

“What we tried to do is empower other areas of the business to tell their stories. For people to pay attention to this, it had to feel authentic; and the most powerful communication is giving people the platform to tell their own stories,” says Roland. And the campaign did exactly that – reaching a huge number of employees in the UK and making sure that the discussion took on a life of its own on Yammer and across all locations. Overall, about 8,000 people joined the conversation that week.

It was an inspiring project to work on, says Louise, but the hard work is only just beginning. “It showed us that people who aren’t in minority groups are 100% supportive of inclusivity and equality once you engage them. But we all lead busy lives and generally, it’s not high on their radar. Our next step is to make it really easy for these people to visibly display their support as allies, so that it sends out a powerful message about who we are and what we stand for, individually and collectively.”


Biography: Roland Burton

Roland Burton has 15 years’ experience in some of the UK’s most iconic businesses’ where he’s tried to provide the glue between the strategy of the business and the colleagues at the front line delivering it. He believes passionately in the power of word and stories; and strives to deliver energetic two-way communication which drives understanding, engagement and pride. @BurtieBurton

Biography: Louise Mitchell

Louise Mitchell has specialised in communications for over 18 years working for big blue chips including PwC, Unisys and latterly M&S. She specialises in delivering large-scale internal comms campaigns and is passionate about giving colleagues the opportunities to actively shape the business they work for.