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Do more to help women reach the top, retailers told

Retailers are being called on to address the disparity between the number of women working in the industry and the tiny percentage that break through to the top level.

More than half of the employees in the retail sector are women – a 2012 survey puts the total at 57% – but according to a second study, just 5% of them make it to chief executive level and 13% to managerial levels. Only 8% of purchasing decisions are being made by women.

And as Drapers revealed in April, there are fewer women chief executives and board members at fashion businesses now than there were a year ago.

As a result, businesses are being called on to improve work flexibility and offer more training opportunities to women in the middle and later stages of their careers.

The Women’s Business Council (WBC) this week put forward a series of proposals to government and industry leaders, calling on changes to be made throughout the industry. A launch event on Tuesday was attended by the likes of Marks & Spencer and Asos.

WBC member Wendy Hallett, founder and chief executive of concessions business Hallett Retail, said the industry had “a long way to go” in improving the discrepancy between the number of women working in the sector and those making it into senior positions.

“It is shocking,” she told Drapers.  “Even retail, although it’s more female-friendly than some  industries, still when it gets to the top it’s all men. All my contacts, the ones who make the decisions, are male.”

The WBC is also calling for the Government to create a champion role for older women “to really help businesses understand why they should retain them”, Hallett said.

The WBC’s proposals also look at the foundations of women’s careers, and this week Hallett has been attending Graduate Fashion Week and plans to work with universities on the matter.

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