I have had the pleasure of meeting countless whip-smart female leaders in the fashion retail industry, who are running innovative and successful businesses.
Wherever possible we celebrate these women in Drapers, as we have this week by making the inimitable Jacqueline Gold and her senior team the subject of this week’s Drapers Interview.
And yet, our exclusive research shows only 28% of board positions at the top 21 listed fashion and footwear retailers in the UK are held by women.
To put this into context, it is thought around two-thirds of the retail workforce are women. Evidence of a glass ceiling mounts when you consider that only 19% of those on fashion retail boards hold executive roles.
It frustrates me when companies defend themselves by saying they appoint on the basis of merit – it implies that they considered female candidates, and found they were simply not as good as the men. This seems statistically highly unlikely, and smacks of a hangover from the days when businesses were almost exclusively run by men, and some people believed women did not possess the required abilities or temperament to lead.
Even if it were true, and there was no gender bias at play – conscious or otherwise – it would beg the question of why female candidates for these roles are considered lacking. Are there gaps in their experience? Why?
Which leads me to another factor that continues to disadvantage women: the ongoing inequality when it comes to childcare. Women still tend to be the ones to take extended career breaks when they start a family, and many return to work in part-time roles.
UK high street retailers have been relatively slow to embrace shared parental leave. Admittedly, take-up has been very low across all industries. It is a flawed system – many families would be financially worse off if they shared their leave. But only when childcare is more evenly split will the gender disparity at board level even out.
By embracing more progressive parental leave policies, and introducing flexible working, fashion retailers would be able to recruit from a much wider talent pool and, importantly, better retain good staff.
In news this week, we focus on the ongoing fallout from the Covid-19 coronavirus. At the time of writing Italy has implemented a nationwide lockdown, as the crisis continues to escalate in Europe. In the UK, retailers are calling for government support with rates, employees who are in isolation and cashflow.
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