They Advocate: We Progress (Part Three)

Throughout the month of March, our Gender Equality Network have been celebrating Women’s History Month with other Partners (employees) through their campaign ‘They Advocate: We Progress’.

As part of these celebrations – which will continue through to the end of May – they brought together inspiring women from across the Partnership, who lead with equality in mind and asked them to share their own personal career journeys and progression stories. 

In this three part blog series, we’ll be sharing their stories with you in the hope that they can begin to inspire you on your own career path too. Once you’ve read through part one below, head back to part one or part two to hear from more of our inspiring Partners. 

Laura, Director of Online

“My career journey began graduating from University with a Software Engineering degree. Back then, just 2% of my class were Women and I felt I always had to work harder to prove that I was just as good as my male colleagues. In 2023 only 19% of software or computing graduates are Women so there is still a long way to go.  After university I was selected to join M&S as part of their graduate programme, this was in the IT department which was predominantly male, I did however,  have two amazing Women leaders as role models. I learnt so much from being around them, they had a huge impact on my confidence, belief and also prospects as they gave me the opportunities and a platform to grow and show people what I was capable of.


“In 2023 only 19% of software or computing graduates are Women so there is still a long way to go.”


After M&S I joined a boutique consulting firm and then onto a digital innovation agency working with leading retailers and global brands to develop customer first online and omni-channel experiences. Again, I worked with an incredible woman who was at the top of her game and wanted to support women to thrive. She was my mentor and gave me some amazing opportunities. I loved working as a consultant, the work and people I interacted with was diverse and stretching, I learned a lot about how to control my inner critic, stay resilient and to not be afraid to ask for help when thrown in at the deep end with clients. It was during this phase of my career I became conscious of the gender pay gap, before then I was aware it was a thing but it had never been something I dwelled on, I perhaps naively just believed if you do as good a job as your peers you will be fairly rewarded, fairness had always been a core value of my upbringing and so I never really questioned it until this moment.

I joined Waitrose in 2016 and since then have been leading the reinvention of, it’s been a challenging but exhilarating experience growing the business and leading through some tough times during the pandemic. Over the years I’ve come to learn that I am not alone, there are always people who are going through similar challenges and by opening up I can learn from their experiences, share mine and acknowledge that it’s not always easy or plain sailing. I’ve also come to realise that I have a responsibility to do all I can to change the experience for the next generation, so assuming positive intent always and speaking up is the only way to slowly but surely raise awareness of the experience for women and other marginalised groups.”


Christina, Director of Finance & Strategy

“I come from a long line of female headteachers – going right back to when women weren’t allowed to be in charge and had to fight to go to college and have a career. I never wanted to teach, but I have always been very proud of their achievements and wanted to honour their legacy of hard work and pushing boundaries. My Great Grandmother Lilly was a suffragette and Emmeline Pankhurst has always been an inspiration to me – I named my daughter after her. She had total focus on her goal and her unwavering commitment in the face of anger, ridicule, and a sustained campaign of state sponsored violence against women is truly inspirational.

Her campaign included women from all walks of life and the lives of all British Women today are different because of what she achieved. I started out as a graduate trainee at Marks and Spencer and my first boss was amazing. She was a working mum whose life always seemed to be so busy, but she never compromised on the quality of performance, and the way she negotiated prices with those who tried to intimidate her was awesome – polite and to the point – she was always the one in charge. She frequently took a chance and let me do things alone – like leading a buying trip to Hong Kong on my own at 22. I was terrified, but her belief in me pushed me forwards. The hardest part of my career was after I became a mum: juggling work and home and feeling that you never get any of it quite right is exhausting. It took me a long time to refind my confidence and a way to accept good enough is good enough. If you can get to work with two matching shoes and nothing sticky in your hair – and go to bed at the end of the day with everyone alive and well, and no serious dropped balls then that’s a pretty good result some days! Shared Parental Leave is one of the most important things we have done – real equality comes from shared experience – the best bits of life and the hard parts.


“My advice to women starting out would be don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t achieve.”


I joined the Partnership 18 years ago as a Business Manager. I have worked in Buying, Distribution, the Chairman’s Office and now Finance and have been lucky to have always felt welcomed and valued for what I could bring wherever I have worked – and often even more so in rooms dominated by male voices. I am grateful to both the men and women who have championed my career and supported me along the way. But that doesn’t mean I am naive that we have achieved the total equality we seek in the Partnership. Not everyone has had my great experience and there are unseen barriers we still have to break. Closing the gender pay gap over 50 years after the first equal pay gap is a good place to start.

My advice to women starting out would be don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t achieve. The greatest skill is calm quiet confidence in yourself. Our greatest inheritance from the women that came before is that there are now women in all careers – paths to follow, sources of advice and inspiration. There is no need to feel alone – asking ‘can you help me?’ can be the simplest route to somewhere new.”


Ceira, Head of Learning, Inclusion & Belonging

“I started my Partnership career 19 years ago in 2004 and started on the graduate scheme in Longfield in Kent. Throughout my career I have worked in various roles including, Customer Experience Manager, Partner Capability Manager, Head of Development and Wellbeing and I am currently the Head of Learning, Inclusion and Belonging. I feel very proud to do the job that I do and work with extraordinary Partners everyday who are driven to make a difference and to support the Partnership to achieve its commercial and customer aims as well as improving the Partner experience.  

One woman I admire is Serena Williams. I find her ability to overcome challenges, her unwavering determination, and capacity to positively impact others empowering and inspiring. Her unparalleled dedication and dominance in tennis, overcoming obstacles and adversity with resilience and determination is incredible and she has set the tone for those who came after her. As a trailblazer for women and minorities in sports, she has shattered stereotypes and paved the way for greater diversity and inclusion. Growing up I absolutely loved Steffi Graf but Serena took tennis to another level and made it so accessible to others. 


“I am also a big fan of building networks and in putting yourself in positions to meet people with kindness and empathy!”


My advice for those looking to progress would be to be proactive in seeking out opportunities within your current role or area of work. Explore challenging opportunities and contribute to team initiatives. Keep an eye out for roles or projects that align with your career aspirations and leverage your skills and experiences to make a meaningful impact for you, your team and the Partnership. I am also a big fan of building networks and in putting yourself in positions to meet people with kindness and empathy! I was very lucky as a young graduate to have people who stepped up and supported me, who saw my potential and didn’t let me waste my talent- to them I am very grateful.” 

Carollee, People Proposition, Planning & Risk Lead

“In June 1996, I started as a weekend Selling Assistant at a John Lewis Branch. In 1998, I joined Peter Jones while completing my degree at Brunel. Roles included Special Sales, Customer Accounts and Financial Accounting. I applied for roles often described as “out of my reach” and I was not deterred by being the youngest in the team. Following my graduation in 2001, I became a Section Manager within six weeks. In 2004, I left the Partnership (after having my son) and secured a Recruitment Consultant role in the City. I gained experience in recruitment, engineering and training, which were male-dominated industries. In 2007, I returned to the Partnership as a part-time Section Manager at Oxford Street (while working full-time in the City). In 2011, I secured the full-time role in Head Office of Training Manager in new branches and then Specialist Manager in the same team. In 2014, I completed Prince2 and secured a Project Manager role in Retail, I then progressed to Senior Project Manager and then Resource Manager in the Change Profession. For periods of time, I’ve been the only black Level 6 Partner in the team and can be the only Woman on the call, but this hasn’t deterred me, it has spurred me on to work even harder. In 2023 I completed CIPD Level 7, and I am currently on a secondment in the People team, as People Proposition, Planning and Risk Lead.  


“Only you can make the changes if you want to make it happen.”


I have had strong Women help shape my life, including my mother and grandmothers, who were trailblazers. I work/ed for exceptional Women who inspire and encourage me to go against the grain. Katherine Johnson is an inspirational role model for all Women. Katherine was one of the first black women to work for NASA, mastering complex manual calculations and helping pioneer the use of computers to perform tasks. All achieved while she faced civil rights in America during a time when women struggled in many industries. 

My advice for progression is the glass ceiling only becomes one if you allow it. Only you can make the changes if you want to make it happen. Progression is just about stepping up to the next level but using every opportunity and role to grow! I would encourage women across the Partnership to take a leap of faith, try different roles to support their progression, and not be discouraged from joining male-dominated areas such as technology and IT.”


Jane, General Counsel and Company Secretary

“I remember on the first day at my secondary school the Deputy Headmistress welcoming all the new girls and telling us that the education we would receive would open any opportunity we wanted to follow career wise.  At the time I was not so sure – I was still grappling with the fact that my parents (with much personal sacrifice on their part) had decided to send me to the UK’s oldest academic girls’ school and had high expectations of me.

Looking back now, the focus on hard work and learning that my parents instilled in me was the foundation to the career journey that I have been on since.  Prior to joining the Partnership, I spent 25 years working my way up from being a graduate trainee in a major international law firm to becoming one of the youngest partners in modern times at that firm and a recognised expert in my field. 


“It was the opportunity to do a unique role in a business that I had long admired and whose principles aligned with my personal values that was the clincher.”


Given the successful career I had built in the competitive City environment why would I choose to take a risk and move to a very different role at the Partnership?  It was the opportunity to do a unique role in a business that I had long admired and whose principles aligned with my personal values that was the clincher. I wanted to continue to challenge myself and find a way to use my skills and experiences to try to help the Partnership in a period of significant change.

Along the way in my career I have learnt the importance of good sponsors, finding work and teams that I enjoy being part of and having the confidence to be myself.”



As part of a three blog series, you can hear from more inspiring Partners in parts one and three. Click here for part one. Click here for part two.



Find out more about careers in the John Lewis Partnership at

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