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When I joined Co-op 10 years ago, career progression was always one of my top priorities. At the beginning I saw very few leaders in the business who looked like me. This is now changing. 

Co-op has always had a diverse colleague population in store, but we’ve traditionally struggled to transform this huge strength into benefits for the business. After 10 years, I feel like I’m starting to see positive change in this area. And more importantly, we’re starting to see more black leaders coming through the ranks. 

Last year, I attended the first ever Co-op diversity event for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) colleagues in London, and I’m proud to see the ongoing work of each of Co-op's diversity networks. 

My career journey 

Over my time with the business, I’ve worked my way up through the ranks. Four years ago, I was asked to step up to an Area Manager role as part of my development. I’ve always been lucky to have managers who’ve been committed to supporting my career development.  

Since getting my first taste of a more senior leadership role, I’ve also worked on a secondment, supporting new store openingsThe opportunities I’ve had to explore different types of roles have helped me to understand where my strengths lie, and recently, I’ve decided to focus on progressing within the store operations structure.  

Our commitment to support BAME colleagues 

Last year, I was the first Area Manager to be appointed using our new remote recruitment process. The next day another black colleagueValentine Obamwonyiwas also confirmed in his appointment to a permanent Area Manager roleI’m seeing lots of positive progress, but overall, like many organisations in the UK, the representation of BAME colleagues at senior levels is still too small.  

It’s the responsibility of all colleagues to help build a more inclusive Co-op, and I was very proud to read our recently published commitments to racial equality and inclusion. It was great to see Co-op publicly speaking out about being anti-racist and being transparent about the commitments we will all make to ensure we tackle racial inequality head on.  

As a black leader I know I can help to build those crucial connections with our communities that will help to attract more diverse talent and continue to improve Black representation in our Co-op leadership teams. 

Akeem Akinleye, 

Area Manager 

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