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Calls for action to get women in top retail jobs

Flexibility and empowerment, along with an element of positive discrimination, could be the recipe to enhance gender diversity at the top of fashion’s biggest retailers, a new report has found.

Jacqueline Gold

Jacqueline Gold

Jacqueline Gold

Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of Debenhams, said women can be reluctant to put themselves forward for roles if they don’t feel they have enough experience, while often men will.

“I have had to virtually order very capable (female) regional managers to apply for ops director roles because they felt they weren’t ready when they were more than ready,” he said.

“There is an underlying issue here that does require a bit of positive discrimination. The people making the appointments need to be aware of this inherent bias.”

Meanwhile Fiona Holmes, managing director at lingerie retailer Figleaves, said: “I have not made up my mind on positive discrimination – maybe this is way to do it, to make a difference. Change doesn’t happen quickly unless you make it.”

Networking group Women in Retail carried out the report with consultancy Elixirr to explore why around 60% of retail employees are women, yet they make up 20% of executive teams and just 10% of executive boards.

Almost three-quarters of the 70 respondents, both male and female, across 44 UK retail companies, said more needs to be done to improve gender diversity within their own companies.

Jacqueline Gold, chief executive of Ann Summers, argued that smaller retailers are often leading in this area, while big retailers tend not to be as close to people at lower levels within the business who are making a difference.

“Traditionally, the industry was all about retail operations, which brought on a very tell and do style, which led to big charismatic autocratic personalities,” said Angela Spindler, chief executive of N Brown. “This was the traditional profile of successful leaders, who tended to be male. So breaking through that is a challenge.”

Women in Retail is calling for retailers to redress the current business model to offer a culture of “inclusivity, empowerment and flexibility” for everyone, including men and the millennial generation.

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