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Exclusive: Fewer women being given top fashion jobs

The poor economy appears to be reinforcing the glass ceiling in the UK fashion industry, with fewer female chief executives at top retailers and brands now than a year ago.

In the past 16 months, eight women chief executives have been replaced by men at fashion businesses including Aquascutum, Gant, Jaeger and White Stuff.

Research by recruitment firm CTPartners and Drapers shows that since January 2012 there have been 25 chief executives appointed to fashion businesses with a turnover of £50m or more, and just three of those were women. One of those, Teresa Tideman, chief executive of the Jacques Vert group, returned to the industry from Disney. Just one, Fresh Channel’s Liz Evans, was promoted.

Representation on boards has also declined. Despite having three female board members in 2010, New Look now has none. There are also no women on its executive team of five.

After Kate Bostock’s departure last year, Marks & Spencer now has just four women on a board of 15, down from five out of 14. Two of Next’s 10 board members are women, while neither Arcadia nor Matalan have any female board members.

Primark’s parent company Associated British Foods, Sports Direct and Shop Direct Group each have just one woman on their boards.

Sarah Lim, partner and head of CTPartners’ UK retail and consumer practice, told Drapers the tough trading environment had made businesses more conservative.

“There is less willingness to consider people for whom it might be a step up,” she said. “Within a tough climate people are not prepared to take risks.

“One would love to say we are going through a period of change, but the reality is that it isn’t happening quickly enough,” Lin added.

She highlighted Burberry – the largest fashion business to have a female leader in Angela Ahrendts – as one of the few to ensure a strong pipeline of future bosses, both male and female. Beyond that it was an “industry-wide problem”.

Angela Spindler, who leaves her role as chief executive of The Original Factory Shop to join home shopping retailer N Brown in July, told Drapers it was “disappointing the pace of progress has slowed”.

“There is a talent pool of 50/50 men and women, so why aren’t women getting there?” she asked.

Spindler said it was a “shared responsibility” and urged women to “stick their heads above the parapet”.

“Ultimately, people have to be right for the job but there are plenty of women out there who are capable,” she said.

Readers' comments (6)

  • I'm sorry but this really is the most ridiculous thing I've heard in a long time. Baseless sensationalism.

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  • As a women in a leadership poisition in the industry I find this really shocking. It is statistically proven that companies with greater diversity are more successful financially regardless of the ecconomic down turn. I really think that this has absolutely nothing to do with tough times and this is just an excuse. The ony way to change this is for business leaders both male and female to take a strong position and have a clear diversity policy.

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  • As a women in a leadership poisition in the industry I find this really shocking. It is statistically proven that companies with greater diversity are more successful financially regardless of the ecconomic down turn. I really think that this has absolutely nothing to do with tough times and this is just an excuse. The ony way to change this is for business leaders both male and female to take a strong position and have a clear diversity policy.

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  • I don't think this tells the real story. Plenty of businesses have Directors and Department Heads who are female...and the are the people actually running the companies. Surely a well researched piece needs to report on how much female impact there is in a business rather than just reviewing the board (which is an easy search on a website)? Would really prefer this to be a deeper dive article rather than a sensationalist headline in the style of the Daily Mirror.

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  • As a female who owns and runs a successful business I think its important to focus not on the gender of the people at the top but focus on getting the right "people" in top positions, regardless of wether they're male or female.

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  • It is a total disgrace that in 2013 there are still thousands of women working at all levels of the fashion industry except at the top.

    The glass ceiling in this industry is far worse than in many other typically male dominated industries. What could possibly be the reason for such discrimination in a business where women are such a large proportion of the end consumers?

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