South Asian cultural event

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Following the success of our Caribbean Event in November last year, the Rise Network invited colleagues from across Co-op to attend a South Asian themed evening.

Hey, Atif here,

Following the success of our Caribbean Event in November last year, the Rise Network invited colleagues from across Co-op to attend a South Asian themed evening.

South Asia is a region of the world that comprises the nations of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka. At Co-op, we have a diverse mix of people with origins from these countries and they all bring with them varied customs and traditions.

It was a family friendly affair with a fantastic turn-out from across the Co-op where colleagues mingled together to talk about food, cultures, music and even work!

We put on traditional clothing and some of my colleagues even did couple of dance numbers, I really need to up my game on that. Any takers for a dance lesson with me?! I can start with Salsa, Tango and make my way to Bhangra (a punjabi folk dance to the beat of drums).

Rise organises events like these with the aim to promote diversity and raise cultural awareness in its truest sense. When you know your colleagues better, you work better together and create a thriving environment for the common goal of serving our members and communities.

These events are a success because of the involvement of everyone, no matter what their background. If you have any ideas to share for other events or if you’d like to join us, let us know

Diversity is good for communities, and it’s good for business.

Atif Hussain 
Business Intelligence Analyst (Co-op Property)

We have to demand and ensure equality of life outcomes

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In part two of her interview with Lyla Penman, Hazel Reeves talks about empowerment and equality ahead of International Women’s Day.

In our last blog Hazel Reeves talked about becoming the sculptor of Manchester’s newly unveiled statue of Emmeline Pankhurst. Until ‘Our Emmeline’, 16 out of 17 statues across the city were men, the single woman being Queen Victoria; her statue in Piccadilly Gardens was unveiled over 100 years ago, before women even had the right to vote.

Hazel’s been involved in women’s rights activism globally, and we wanted to find out more. We asked her about what being a woman means to her and what she feels is needed to create female empowerment in the workplace.

Our network seeks to empower women, and encourages our members to push for equality – what does empowerment and equality mean to you as a woman?

When I worked promoting gender equality, I had colleagues who spent a lot of time tousling with definitions of empowerment in relation to women. So I thought I would cheat and nick one of their definitions (from Rosalind Eyben, Naila Kabeer and Andrea Cornwall in 2008): ‘Empowerment is fundamentally about power – about the power to redefine our possibilities and options and to act on them, the power within that enables people to have the courage to do things they never thought themselves to be capable of, and the power that comes from working alongside others to claim what is rightfully theirs’. And it can’t be a top-down process.

For me, gender equality and women’s empowerment is about transformation – transforming gender power relations. It’s not enough to give women equal opportunities to men as there isn’t a level playing field. We have to demand and ensure equality of life outcomes. This means we first have to challenge discrimination and violence against women, and we have to challenge limiting gender stereotypes and sexist attitudes and behaviour.

I’m sure Aspire is much-needed. I’ve yet to find an organisation where [a network of this kind] is not needed. The time is right to push harder for gender equality – remember that there is no justice without gender justice.

What is the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever been given, and how did it shape who you are?

It wasn’t advice as such, but I saw my mum, only educated until she was aged 14, do spectacular things in addition to bringing up me and my two sisters. She was a racing cyclist and won medals in national races. She founded and ran a bird hospital for over 40 years. She was a book collector and bric-a-brac dealer. She did a BA in her 60s at Surrey University. She showed me that women could do whatever they put their mind to, and not only that – they could excel.

A piece of advice I received later in life was actually a quotation by George Eliot on a greetings card. She says ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’ It was a risk changing career from a well-paid research manager promoting women’s rights, to becoming an artist. But George Eliot inspired me all the way, and now I’m very happy as a full-time sculptor, working to commission, doing what I should have always done but not regretting my rather convoluted route to my final destination.

For more information on the WoManchester project, visit

Aspire (low res)Co-op Aspire


For the design of the statue I wanted to show Emmeline as the courageous, determined, dignified and elegant activist she was

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Sculptor Hazel Reeves talks to Lyla Penman about creating Manchester’s new statue of Emmeline Pankhurst.

As International Women’s Day fast approaches (8 March), we’ve started to think about the women who inspire us and the impact that empowered women in history have had on our everyday lives.

Hazel Reeves is the sculptor behind the recently unveiled Emmeline Pankhurst statue in St Peter’s Square, Manchester. Working from her studio in the West Sussex countryside, she does a lot of work to promote women’s rights internationally. As well as creating the bronze of Emmeline for Manchester, she’s made other artworks celebrating women, including one of women biscuit factory workers, the Cracker Packers, for Carlisle. In this first blog, she talks about what Emmeline – both statue and figure – means to her.

What made you enter the competition for the Emmeline Pankhurst commission?

I saw the call for artists and immediately knew I had to apply. I’m never happier than when I’m combining my passion for portraiture with telling stories of struggles for social justice and redressing the lack of representation of women in public art. Emmeline is a hero of mine, of Manchester’s, and of women’s rights advocates across the world. Easy.

What does Emmeline’s legacy mean to you?

I admire her courage and tenacity in the face of sometimes violent resistance and her ability to inspire women of all classes to rise up and demand the vote. She brought about new forms of activism and pioneered concerns that became central to feminism later in the century.

Gaining the vote and enabling women to stand for public office weren’t just end goals but a route towards women shaping the decisions that affect their lives, challenging and changing discriminatory legislation and carving out space for women to be whatever they want to be. My choices and achievements in life have been hugely advanced by the sacrifices of the suffragettes and suffragists.

It’s befitting that the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst – affectionately known as ‘Our Emmeline’ – was unveiled on 14 December 2018, the centenary of when the first women voted in a general election in 1918. Despite this, both my grandmothers had to wait until 1928 before they were able to vote.

What impact do you want the statue to have and how did you include that in your design?

I wanted the statue to highlight Emmeline Pankhurst’s extraordinary contribution to progressing women’s rights, and remind us of Manchester’s radical legacy as the birthplace of Emmeline and the suffragette movement. But I also wanted her back on Manchester’s streets, to be a catalyst, to move people to action. We need her as much as ever to inspire us all – women and men – to rise up and demand gender equality and demand the end to violence against women. I dedicated the statue to our modern-day Emmelines, who are tirelessly working for women’s rights, and to the future generations of Emmelines.

For the design of the statue I wanted to show Emmeline as the courageous, determined, dignified and elegant activist she was. The scene is one Emmeline would be very familiar with – the suffragettes are ringing bells, summoning people from their homes and workplaces, to listen to Emmeline. Someone grabs a kitchen chair as a makeshift rostrum and the 5ft Emmeline climbs atop and addresses the noisy crowds, urging women to rise up and demand the vote. This design nods to the work she has done but also to the work that is left to be done.

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It’s been another busy year for Aspire

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Aspire’s Co-Chair Louise celebrates the network’s best bits from 2018.

2018’s been another momentous year for women. We celebrated 100 years of suffrage, read gender pay gap reports from all employers with 250+ colleagues, and saw Hollywood bring feminism to the center stage at the Golden Globes.

Inside Co-op, gender equality remains a top priority and the small army of colleagues who are part of the Aspire community has been working hard to make a difference.

Volunteer power

We’ve achieved a heck of a lot this year, and it’s down to our people. Colleagues involved with Aspire and other D&I activity are all volunteers, and they all role model the ways of Being Co-op. Without their dedication, commitment and enthusiasm we wouldn’t be able to achieve everything we have this year:

– 3 inspirational career story roundtables
– 3 mentor and mentee training days
– 3 new regional networks launched
– 4 Parents and Carers Together (aka PACT) lunches and workshops
– 5 blog posts on our new diversity blog
– 8 personal development days
– 9 Know Your Co-op events
– 11 newsletters
– 15 International Women’s Day celebration events
– 17 colleagues trialling the personal development support network
– 17 colleagues in our steering group
– 100+ parent and carers buddies
– 150+ colleagues involved with the mentoring scheme
– 500+ Facebook group members
– 800+ newsletter subscribers
– 1,900+ Twitter followers

Phew! Well done everyone.

A refreshed identity

When Aspire was established in 2012, our purpose was to create a network that encourages women in lower grades to ‘aspire’ for senior roles.

Rebalancing the numbers is still important, but being a woman involves much more than career development and we wanted Aspire to reflect this. We wanted to move from being a network to a community, strengthen our purpose and change perceptions of being ‘women only’. After lots of workshops and input from colleagues, we’ve agreed on a new mission statement:

Aspire is a community of colleagues who believe that all women in Co-op have a right to equality. We support others with their career development, challenge others to support women and raise awareness of issues which affect women.

For our brand, we’ve kept the name Aspire but a new, less work-focused tagline – ‘Women in Co-op‘.  For big moments, such as International Women’s Day, we’re also using a new purple cloverleaf Co-op brand; purple’s the international colour of women, and it signifies Co-op’s commitment to gender equality.

Growing our community

When Christine and I became chair this year, we both agreed that growing an inclusive Aspire community was really important. We would both love for every single colleague, all 65,000+, to be involved!

We now have a web page and a national Facebook Group so our community can chat, share ideas and organise activity in a safe space. We’re also helping colleagues to set up regional groups so they can focus on their specific needs. Colleagues in Glasgow, Plymouth and Insurance held their first Aspire events this year.

Get involved

We’ve got big ideas and plans for Aspire next year and we’re always looking for colleagues who want to get involved. Find out more information on our webpage:

Louise Anderson
Aspire Co-Chair

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Shared Parental Leave really made coming back to work an easier experience

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Ruth Kyle chose to split parental leave with her husband; here, she explains why it worked so well and encourages others to give it a go.

The government introduced Shared Parental Leave in April 2015, which lets parents share the time they take off to look after their newborn baby. With only two percent of parents taking up their offer, I want to share my story to show how positive the experience has been for me.

I wonder what holds people back from sharing parental leave? Does the gender pay gap mean families can’t afford dads taking time off? Is there pressure on mums to go it alone? Are both scared of being displaced in work? I’d hate for anyone to miss out simply because they didn’t know it was possible.

My story

When I was pregnant, my husband Oli and I chatted about what we imagined time off work with Rae, my now 19 month old daughter, would look like. There was a maximum of 12 months available, we both wanted to return to work, and there were two of us – so six months each was our first idea. In the end, I took seven months off, Oli took four, and overlapped for a month in the middle.

Our month off together happened at the right time. Rae became a nap-refuser, a status she has proudly clung to ever since, so it was a relief to muddle through as a team. Potentially there won’t be another time that we’ll have a whole month off work together as a family before retirement!

As well as the joy of a month off together, Shared Parental Leave made coming back to work a really positive experience for me. When I returned, I didn’t need to go through the turmoil of leaving Rae at a nursery for the first time. I could be confident Oli was on it and focus on getting my brain back into work.

The experience was a real test for Oli. He had to learn how to parent single-handedly. And it was a test for me too, in learning to let go. I had to leave the routines that Rae and I had created in her first seven months, and allow her and Oli to establish their own patterns and ways of doing things. This experience has shaped the equal way we parent today.

I’m really enjoying the balance of working and going home to Rae. Sometimes I lose the balance but, with Oli’s help (and a back pocket filled with an emergency ration of blueberry rice cakes), I’m grateful for the sense of ‘team’ that sharing parental leave has left us with.

Ruth Kyle
Chief of Staff

Working flexibly means I do my job well

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In celebration of International Men’s Day, Director of Insights and Data Tim Sleap talks about how balancing work and family life helps him be good at both

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I know people work in different ways and with varying levels of flexibility; mine even changes from one day to the next. For me, flexible working is essential, not only so I can keep my life in check, but also so I can do my job well. I’m really open about needing flexibility at work, and people often ask me why it makes such a difference. This is what I always say:

I want to play an equal part in bringing up my son

I want to be involved as much as I can, not just so I can join in the fun, but also so he grows up with an open mind. Being the primary care giver isn’t – and shouldn’t be – defined by gender; it shouldn’t be a role that belongs to just women or just men. Why should there be just one person in charge anyway? My wife works shifts so I need to be flexible with my time, for practical reasons like the school run as well as for getting time together as a family.

‘Make sure you put your lifejacket on before helping others with theirs’

Someone once told me the key to holding down a big job and having a happy family life is to listen to the safety announcements when you get on a plane. I’ve used this motto ever since; for me to have a work-life balance I need to put on my life jacket first. Flexible working lets me look after what’s most important to me, and that means I do my job well.

Being with my family is the best and, as it happens, it also makes me better at my job. It’s so easy to become stressed and over-involved in work; spending time with my family gets my head back into reality, so when I come back refreshed I can see the bigger picture and make better decisions.

I’ve found work I really want to do

I’m actually writing this in the evening, after going to see my son’s harvest festival assembly in the morning – it was amazing! I really enjoy my job and want to do well in it, so I don’t mind working outside traditional business hours; it makes it easier to switch between family and work life.

Making these two parts of my life work together is a challenge, but it’s one I enjoy. I’m not the only one, which is why PACT exists. I’ll be speaking act their Flexible Working Parent’s Event on 29 January, showing support for colleagues balancing work and parenthood. I hope to see you there!

Tim Sleap
Director of Insights and Data

PACT’s Flexible Working Parent’s Event is taking place on 29 January in 1 Angel Square’s 9th Floor Barn. Feel free to come along, hear more and share your experiences.

Empathy is good for Co-op

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We’re hosting a series of events focused on different cultures to celebrate both our similarities and differences.

Did you know that the benefits of building a workforce of diverse people and an inclusive culture are huge – from better financial performance and more innovative problem-solving to easier employee retention and greater appeal to customers.” 

The communities we serve are changing. I stepped up to become Chair of the Rise Network a few months ago so that I could be a part of making the Co-op ready for the future.

We live in a multicultural society, yet most of us spend the majority of our time with people who are just like us. Without perspectives from different backgrounds and cultures, our worldview is skewed as the representations we see in the media only offer, at best, a 2-dimensional view. Without a full picture, it’s difficult for us to envision the world as someone else may experience it.

Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.”

A typical example of one way that cultural awareness makes us more able to serve our customers was given by a fellow colleague the other day. They facilitated some training with our Co-op Academies. At lunch, their chosen meal deal lunch of sandwiches, crisps and a drink was provided to the group. When a large portion of the students immediately turned over the bag of salt and Chardonnay vinegar crisps to ensure there was no alcohol, the colleague realised they’d overlooked a small but vital detail — as most of the students were Muslim and they don’t consume alcohol.

One of the main purposes of Rise is to create empathy and common understanding amongst colleagues of all cultures. To help with this, we’re hosting a series of events focused on different cultures to celebrate both our similarities and differences.

“Eighty-three per cent of employees are more likely to innovate – and are more than twice as engaged – in workplaces that are both diverse and inclusive.”

The first of these events is on Friday 23 November at Federation House from 4 – 8pm. It will focus on aspects of Afro-Caribbean culture and give the attendees the opportunity to network with colleagues from many different cultures in a social setting.

We invite you to come together to enjoy authentic Caribbean food, great music and learn about each other. Children are welcome, although they must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Sign up to the event here

Diversity is good for customers, it’s good for communities and it’s good for business

Annette Joseph
Digital Delivery Manager and Chair of the Rise Network