Case study

Think, Act, Report: Asda

Investigating and addressing barriers to female progression.

Issue to be resolved

All organisations face tough challenges with regards to gender diversity. 2012 (ONS) figures showed that 64% of women working in retail were in lower-paid sales and customer service occupations, whilst only 10% were in managerial, directorial or senior roles (vs. 17% for men).

In 2012, Asda faced a similar challenge, with only 21% of female workers in senior management positions. In a customer-focussed organisation, it’s essential to ensure that our key decision makers can relate to our customer demographic and that our colleague make-up reflects that of our customer base. In 2012 80% of our customers were female and 57% of our total workers were female, hence we identified an imbalance.

Action taken

As a result of this we carried out a large consultation exercise across all departments and levels within the business to identify the barriers or drivers for women, which were identified as follows:

  • Work/life balance

  • Limiting beliefs

  • Double burden (feeling responsibility for home-life and career)

  • A lack of role models to inspire them

Women in Leadership Programme

After recognising Asda’s shortcomings in female presence at senior manager level and above, we invested in designing a ‘Women in Leadership’ programme aimed specifically at female workers in roles below senior management. Workers were identified for the programme both through their managers and through our talent planning tool as having strong leadership potential.

The first year of the Women in Leadership programme featured modules devised to address the key barriers that our female workers told us stood in their way to progression, including work/life balance, limiting beliefs and the double burden of being the best at work and at home. The second year will enable colleagues to carry out a legacy project that will give the opportunity for them to pass on their learning to others and ‘pay it forward’, both to women in the business and in the community as well.

Originally launched for our female Retail and Logistics colleagues, the programme has since been expanded to include 60 of our colleagues based in our Home Offices. In the first cohort we have 260 women taking part; 200 from Retail and Asda Logistic Services and 60 from Home Offices. On 30 September this year we launched our second cohort with 270 women on the programme.

Celebrating Gender Diversity

We are committed to celebrating gender diversity within our business. International Women’s Day on 8 March was marked in the business with a whole week of activities. Over 15,000 colleagues were involved in a host of relevant activities, from inspirational careers events and mentoring in schools to fundraising for Tickled Pink and Women’s Refuge Shelters.

We have also held 2 events in our Home Offices focusing on challenges in education and employment for women. These involved presentations from our partner, Princes Trust and Teach First, and also our senior female leaders who gave colleagues a real insight into the realities women in the workplace can face. The informative, honest sessions really helped to raise awareness and motivate people to actively get involved, which has resulted in many colleagues contacting local schools and colleges to mentor young females.


Our approach will ensure that we create a bigger talent pool for the business and ensure that more women aspire to gain director-level roles. The programme is also designed to increase our female representation at General Manager and Store Manager Level in our Depots and Stores, aiming to balance our talent pool by 2016. We have already seen a rise in the number of female store managers, which has moved from 12% to 19.6% - an increase of 63%.

Going forward

We make sure every colleague in the business is educated to understand the importance of having a diverse workforce. As part of the Women in Leadership programme we have put a number of initiatives in place to support our senior management population in promoting diversity. This includes:

  • Open minds training (arming our managers with the skills to be able to understand their unconscious bias and how this may impact diverse groups progressing through the organisation): designed to identify and break down barriers to female development, given to 12,000 managers

  • Leadership & Development training week: focusing on diversity

  • Updated performance measures for directors, to include diversity-related competencies.

Published 4 November 2014