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Editor's Comment: Diversify to maximise performance

Keely Stocker

As International Women’s Day takes place on March 8, we have taken the opportunity to celebrate women in the fashion industry this week. As our feature reveals, when we asked industry insiders to nominate their inspirational women, there is plenty to shout about. However, the lack of females in the boardrooms of retail businesses shows we are a long way from gender equality.

Just last month, it was announced that companies with 250 or more employees will have the pay gap between men and women in the business measured in an attempt to publicly highlight those not paying equally across the sexes. Employers will also be obliged to publish the gender pay gap on their own websites.

Although this helpfully turns a spotlight on the issue and forces businesses to look at what they offer to ensure they are not discriminatory in any way, it should not just be about naming and shaming. Groups such as the Women’s Business Council and Women in Retail work hard not only to promote, but also to educate leaders in how to maximise women’s contribution to business.

To make it effective, companies must be offered support, guidelines and solutions on how to tackle the gap. The Women’s Business Council in particular highlights the need to remove obstacles that prevent women from reaching their full potential and really understanding what the barriers are.

As its website states: “Companies alone can’t be expected to change business culture in its entirety – but they can shape and influence their part of it.”

It is important that businesses see the true value of having a culture that celebrates a range of skills, attributes and sexes on the board, and not just see it as a box-ticking exercise.

A McKinsey report published last year showed that a diverse team results in a business more likely to outperform.

The report said: “While correlation does not equal causation (greater gender and ethnic diversity in corporate leadership doesn’t automatically translate into more profit), the correlation does indicate that when companies commit themselves to diverse leadership, they are more successful.”

The introduction of shared parental leave in April last year could also help to shift the mind-set and encourage equality across child care as well as at work. Women in the industry such as Belinda Earl, Wendy Hallett and Diane Von Furstenberg are all cited in our feature as great examples of managing the work/family life balance. Creating a culture that gives men the opportunity to also take a substantial amount of time off for parental leave encourages this shift towards men and women sharing all forms of work.

One area that is still faring worse than retail when it comes to gender balance is technology. Hugely influential figures such as Lastminute.com co-founder Martha Lane-Fox, Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet and Apple’s senior vice-president of retail and online stores Angela Ahrendts are exceptional leaders in this sector, but female technology entrepreneurs are still far outnumbered by men.

Nevertheless, the women that have succeeded have and will continue to inspire a next generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs. Female leaders need to support aspiring professionals and mentor the next generation of talent.

One technology business that has made the commitment to equality across the business is etail giant eBay and the promise to create opportunities to all is stated publicly on its website. As it perfectly sums up: “Diversity matters. It makes us stronger, and makes us better.”

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