John Lewis has been accused of a lack of diversity at the top with just six of its 158 senior directors being people of colour.
The Partnership has three directors from an ethnic minority, including its chairman, Dame Sharon White; its strategy director Nina Bjatia, who was appointed by Dame Sharon; and Bérangère Michel, director of customer service. It declined to identify the other three top managers.
One black employee, who did not want to be named, said: “It’s something that it’s widely spoken about within the minority community within John Lewis among themselves, but people generally do not have the courage to speak about it within management and leadership.
“With the movement that is happening it has given a lot of people a lot of courage to talk about it at the moment.”
The criticism comes in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a police officer in the United States.
In an internal survey, John Lewis staff who identified as black gave significantly lower scores when asked about what working for the Partnership was like compared to their white counterparts.
Asked if they agreed with the statement “I am comfortable being myself at work”, only 35pc of black workers agreed, with people identifying as Chinese scoring even lower at 31pc and those of mixed origin 29pc. More than four in five (84pc) of those who identified as white agreed, according to documents seen by The Telegraph.
Similarly, another statement – “I am treated with fairness and respect” – scored low, with only 25pc of black workers agreeing compared with 85pc of white employees.
In response to the criticism, Dame Sharon said: “The John Lewis Partnership was formed with equality for all at its very heart and we know we still have work to do to become a more diverse and inclusive workplace. It’s a sign of the Partnership’s values that we are able to have an open and honest debate with our Partners and that we truly want to reflect the customers and communities we serve.”
John Lewis, which also owns Waitrose as well as the department store chain, said it had begun an internal investigation to understand why ethnic minority workers had given such low scores in the staff survey and what action could be taken.
The staff member added: “You can outperform your peers but still not get the recognition as you are fighting an internal cronyism, which becomes a barrier for progression for anyone who is different.”
The low proportion of senior management from ethnic minorities is in line with a lack of diversity at a senior level at most British businesses.
A February update to the Parker review, a report into ethnic diversity in the boardroom, showed that people of colour held only 178, or 6.8pc, of 2,625 director positions in FTSE 350 companies.