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.
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.
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.