Women in Retail, the networking community group for females working in the retail industry at board and senior director level, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and is launching a new programme for emerging leaders alongside a new website.
Women in Retail
Another day, another evening of Christmas drinks at a private members club in Mayfair. Events like this are happening up and down the smart streets of London right through the month of December, but there was one thing noticeable in The Library at The Savile Club last week: the absence of men.
Drapers was invited to the annual Women in Retail Christmas drinks last week to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the members group, which was founded by Karen Richards in 2005, and also to hear more about the new emerging leaders platform to support the next generation of women entering retail leadership roles.
The group was launched by Karen Richards, whose CV boasts stints at homeware and kitchenware firms Le Creuset, The Pier and Waterford Wedgeford, when she and a group of friends and business associates found themselves wishing they had a female network of connections that they could learn from and be inspired by. The group now has approximately 100 core members and a database of more than 700, who attend six events each year including breakfast meetings and evening drinks, often with a presentation from a retail expert or inspirational speaker to share their stories.
It is led by a trustee board which includes lingerie brand Panache global sales director Denise Shepherd, Selfridges finance director Katrina Nurse, John Lewis former HR director and non-executive board member Laura Whyte, and head of retail at Pennies Digital Charity Box and former Homebase commercial director Carolyn Simons, among others.
Fiona Davis, managing director of consultancy firm Brand Inspiration and former brand director at both the Early Learning Centre and Ann Summers, was a trustee and became a business partner and co-director this year. She helped to secure sponsorship from Barclays Bank and business consultancy Elixir to help the group grow its remit further.
This next stage will be the new Emerging Leaders programme, which aims to provide a platform for women entering leadership roles to share their experiences and meet other like-minded women in the retail industry. The first event will be in the north of England (either Leeds or Manchester) in April.
Women in Retail is also preparing to launch a new website at the start of next year, complete with editorial content and a community section to enable easier networking.
But is there still a need for women-only networking groups in 2015? Davies believes there definitely is.
“The majority of retail purchase decisions are made by women and the majority of people in junior to mid-level roles in retail are women, yet the majority of people on boards are men,” she says.
“The Lord Davis report [about women on boards] has recently been reflected on, mainly in the non-executive community – and the numbers have not shifted there much at all. We’re embarking on a piece of work talking to women in senior roles in retail about that, looking at whether there is enough being done and being considered about gender diversity, not because it should be for quotas but because it makes commercial sense to have women in those roles.”
On the evening, Women in Retail trustee and Selfridges financial director Katrina Nurse was quickly introduced to fellow finance director from Harvey Nichols Manju Malhotra, who was a first-time attendee.
“If you go to finance events, it is often just men,” she says. “This is a really nice informal way to meet other women working in similar roles.”
Karen Millen chief creative officer Gemma Metheringham, who was catching up with Asda’s vice president of product development design Fiona Lambert, agrees that it was a good opportunity to meet with people who have similar challenges that you might not otherwise get to see.
Anna Pangbourne, director of the Fashion and Textile Children’s Trust, adds: “It’s not a huge group and feels very friendly so it’s never intimidating, which some networking events can be.”