Awards 2012 - Marks and Spencer - Inclusive Culture Award

Supporting Lone Parents
Award Status: Shortlisted

Award: Inclusive Culture
This award recognises a workplace programme / initiative which is driving change at an organisational or cultural level. For example, cultural awareness / diversity initiatives and programmes or diversity / inclusion strategies.


Marks & Spencer believes that supporting lone parents into work strengthens the company’s PlanA (CSR) commitments, which drive clear business benefits in brand value to their customers and employer brand to their employees. Their employability programme, Marks & Start, is one of the PlanA commitments, which aim to make M&S the world’s most sustainable major retailer by 2015. In 2004, the company asked customers which vulnerable groups they should support, and one identified was lone parents. As an organisation that prides itself on inclusion, particularly around gender, M&S was eager to provide an impactful programme to support this group.


Through their Marks & Start programme, M&S works in partnership with Gingerbread, a charity supporting lone parents, to provide two week placements for candidates in their stores and offices across the country. Candidates are supported at every step through buddies, coaches and co-ordinators.  Over the last eight years, M&S has developed a close relationship with this charity and can now provide the best possible support to the programme’s participants. Gingerbread provides preparation for participants prior to their work placement, identifying and developing personal and professional skills, supporting with financial management and advising on childcare.  The work placement provides experience in a variety of roles; training in service, product knowledge and standards, and working with a team and in a customer facing role.  Gingerbread also provides extensive support following the placement helping participants into work.


The programme has supported over 2,000 women since 2004, changing many women’s lives. Over 40% of all candidates find work within three months, even in the current economic climate.
Many ex-participants volunteer to become buddies for new participants and the role of the ‘buddy’ is recognised as a step on the organisation’s career path. In a feedback survey, 82% of buddies said they learnt new skills, 93% feel motivated by involvement and 81% said it makes the company a better place to work. 
Organisational benefits include enhancing employee skills, diversifying the workforce, improving community relations, achieving positive press coverage, and boosting the company’s profile with government.