Raising the Ceiling on Diversity and Inclusion: A Corporate Retail Case Study

Improving diversity and inclusion strategies

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A long-term commitment to innovation and sustainability

Research overview

Raising the ceiling on diversity and inclusion: a corporate retail case studyaims to understand and improve our knowledge of the effective and successful implementation of diversity and inclusion strategies in the retail sector, and organisations generally.

A great deal of the literature on diversity and inclusion, and prior to that equality and equal opportunities, focuses on the negative effects of inequality or on making the business and moral case for adopting diversity policies. While this has been a worthy focus, what is lacking is a clear understanding of the processes involved in bringing about a major programme of organisational change in a large company or public sector organisation, and understanding what it is that makes diversity policies actually work and achieve the desired results.

The research objectives address the single case of Marks & Spencer Group PLC (M&S), who are collaborative partners on this project. With a view to producing research with a wider impact, findings from this project will be generalisable to businesses across the UK. As the retail sector is a crucial part of the UK economy accounting for 11% of UK economic output and nearly 16% of GB employment in 2014 (Rhodes, 2014), its potential to contribute to economic growth has made it a key strategic area for the UK government.

The study is highly relevant to current discussions in business and policy arenas as many organisations see diversity and inclusion as essential to their success and M&S has engaged a major rolling three-year initiative geared toward addressing diversity and inclusion. Using a case study approach focusing on the company, the team will investigate diversity and inclusion in relation to a number of Human Resource (HR) issues: retention and inclusivity, career success, progression and development and the intersectionality of protected characteristics under UK legislation (The Equality Act, 2010). 

The research objectives will address clear gaps in the diversity and inclusion, and human resource management literatures. The design of the research is distinctive as the interdisciplinary research team will use mixed research methods (i.e. combining interviews, ethnographic observation and quantitative data) and this approach is currently lacking in research on diversity and inclusion.


Research objectives

  • To identify ways in which the company can build on its existing strong organisational culture to ensure an inclusive business environment that enables all individuals to perform to their maximum potential
  • To understand how both company leaders and different groups of employees view the characteristics required for success within the company and to assess whether these are appropriately reflected in career support initiatives
  • To ascertain the perceptions of employees in the company with regard to career development and progression, promotion, promotional opportunities, and company support for personal development
  • To understand how and to what extent the intersectionalities of protected characteristics are barriers to a more diverse and inclusive workforce in the UK retail sector

Research impact

The research area offers great potential for the generation of new knowledge on diversity and inclusion in UK businesses. Given its importance to people in their daily working lives, it has considerable potential for broader societal impact.

As well as developing knowledge, thinking, and practice in the retail sector, businesses in general will benefit from the research outputs from the project. The team will broaden the dissemination of the findings to include knowledge exchange with a range of non-academic beneficiaries including non-retail businesses and small businesses, HR managers, consultants, and policy makers. By working with M&S and harnessing the support of an influential project Advisory Board, the findings of the research will lead directly to strategies and policies that will bring about change.

Research team

Dr Kathryn Watson (Leeds University Business School) is the Principal Investigator and contributes to the research objectives of the project. She acts as co-ordinator and organises the quantitative surveys, impact & dissemination and ensures smooth administration of the research including delivery according to plans.

Dr Usman Aslam (Leeds University Business School) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow supporting the project, facilitating qualitative interviews, assisting with the design of quantitative surveys, and contributing to secondary research and research outputs. He contributes expertise in quantitative data collection and analysis, data coding, and data template analysis.

Professor Catherine Cassell (Dean of Birmingham Business School) contributes disciplinary expertise in organisational psychology and methodological expertise in qualitative/longitudinal research and mixed-methods. She provides overall project leadership, partner liaison, performance against objectives, PDRA supervision and co-ordinate the Advisory Board.

Dr Karen Correia da Silva (Bradford University School of Management) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow supporting the project, assisting with the facilitation of qualitative interviews, performing secondary research, and contributing to research outputs. She contributes expertise in qualitative data collection and analysis, data coding, archival research, and data visualisation.

Professor Jackie Ford (Bradford University School of Management) provides disciplinary expertise in organisation studies and critical management studies and help with coordination of the research team, particularly qualitative data collection and preparation of reports. She works with Catherine to provide academic leadership for the project drawing on her experience of qualitative research in organisational studies and diversity and inclusion.

Dr Kyle Griffith (Leeds University Business School) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow supporting the project, facilitating qualitative interviews, assisting with the design of quantitative surveys, and contributing to secondary research and research outputs. He contributes expertise in quantitative data collection and analysis, data coding, and performs secondary research.



Advisory board

Dr. Adelina Broadbridge (Sterling University) is Senior Lecturer in The Management, Work, and Organisation Division of Stirling Management School.

Simmone Haywood (Marks &Spencer PLC) is Head of Talent at M&S.

Jill Miller (CIPD) is Diversity and Inclusion Advisor with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Mustafa Ozbilgin (Brunell Business School) is Director of Research, Professor of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour, and Associate Dean (Equality & Diversity) at Brunel University, London.

Linda Pollard CBE (NHS) is Chair of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.