Case Study: Samina’s Experiences in Retail Co.
Samina has been working in Retail for almost 8 years. She rose through the organisational ranks and has recently been appointed store manager for the company’s newest store. Today was a rare occasion on which she actually had some time to take a quick lunch brea
k so was picking at her sandwich and sipping at her coffee. She was in a reflective mood.
She remembered arriving on her first day at work as a shop floor-level assistant aged 24. She had planned to work at retail Co. over that summer as she had just completed her university degree. She had wanted to apply for a ‘proper job’ after the summer. But her plans changed when she was selected early on by her line manager, Mark, as ‘someone with a high potential’, as he put it. He had supported her in getting a position on the organization’s fast-track management scheme a year after she had been recruited. Samina always fondly remembered Mark, who took her under his wing and they had spoken only occasionally since then. She missed their chats and the support that Mark had always provided. He was great for bouncing
ideas off, and he ‘always had her back’, as he used to say.
Samina was proud of her achievements and for succeeding her own career goals. With the help of Mark and some of the other managers, she had developed a clear career plan, and she had clearly stated her ambition of becoming a store manager before she reached 34. Colleagues often joked that she was a well-oiled machine, always efficient, very organized and much focused. This sometimes created conflict with some of her workmates, who had not adopted the same management style. At times, she found that upsetting, but it had no effect on her drive to succeed.
Her family, especially her mother, often told her how proud they were of her work achievements. Samina was the daughter of a Pakistani family who had migrated to the north of England in the 1970s. There were always high expectations of Samina and her two brothers to do well professionally. In the last couple of years, however, her parents had started hinting that maybe she had been focusing ‘too much’ on her career, at the expense of other areas. Samina knew that they meant her having a husband and children.
Samina was aware that, at the moment, she was focusing on her career, but she felt she did not have a choice. As a new store manager, her days were very demanding and made up of long hours in the store. She felt the pressure to succeed and prove her critics wrong. Although she had a good working relationship with most of the staff and managers, she was very aware of some resentment, especially from some older white managers, who had assumed they would be made managers when this store was opened.
In her opinion, the focus of Retail Co. on equality and diversity issues over the last few years had been great. There were very few ethnic minority staff in any management positions, but they were especially sparse at senior management levels. The CEO had clearly communicated her commitment to equality in all areas such as gender, ethnicity, disability and age. She had focused on the benefits that diversity could bring to the organisation and the need for the stores to represent local communities. As part of these diversity initiatives, stores were given ‘
aspirational targets’ to reach within 2 years, including a higher representation of ethnic minority male and female staff at management levels. Samina knew she had all the right credentials for a store manager’s position as she had gained the required management expertise in her time at the Retail Co.
Increasingly, however, she was feeling like an outside. Discussions would suddenly halt once she entered the staff canteen; staff would be whispering after she had passed them in the corridor. Indeed, some comments were loud enough for her to hear. ‘She is so young; what does she know about managing a whole store? ’ The most recent comment she had heard the day before was from Bakery manager, Tom, who had worked for Retail Co. for 20 years; ‘Everyone knows she was placed in that position to reach ethnic targets. Actually, it’s one tick for race and one for gender. It’s not right. Why can’t they just people on merit?’
Samina knew that Tom was very resentful of the organisation’s diversity initiatives as he perceived thispositive discrimination, despite clear communication from senior managers that they could not lawfully positively discriminate in favour of any group. Thankfully,she was aware that not everyone shared his views and that some staff at least were in support of the initiatives and her promotion. But negative comments still dominated in her mind.
Anna, a shopfloor-level assistant in her 50s, had come to see her the day before and congratulated her on her promotion. Samina felt touched by this as most staff did not openly wish her well, which she saw that as another sign of resentment or assumption of tokenism. Her good mood quickly vanished though as Anna went on to say:“Ithink it’s a great achievement Samina, don’t get me wrong…. But I think you are now at an age that you should be focusing on marriage and having kids; you’re not that young anymore!’ Samina felt she could never win. She was worn down by people’s expectations, especially her family’s views of what it meant to be a single woman in her 30s, focusing on her career. Despite all her achievements in the workplace, she was often made to feel like a token promoted to make up Retail Co’s aspirational targets.
Samina’s lunch break was now over and she still had a long day ahead of her. She emptied her tray and started walking back to her office, reluctantly passing three of her colleagues chatting in the corridor. The last thing she needed was more ‘well meaning’ comments…
1. What are some of the issues that Samina seems to be facing in relation to her work and recent promotion?
2. What are your views on the positive action initiatives that Retail Co. has put in place?
3. What challenges is Samina facing in balancing her work and personal life demands?
4. Could these challenges be influenced by different factors for example, race, religion, gender or age? Do you think Samina’s experiences may be different from those white women or ethnic
minority men in her organisation? Why or why not?
5. How important is mentoring in one’s career? What issues could people from minority groups face in selecting a mentor?