Not enough is being done to encourage women into senior ecommerce positions, according to experts at the Drapers Fashion Forum on November 27.
Mathew Dixon, co-director of luxury retail recruitment agency Hudson Walker International, asked if enough is being done to attract women and make ecommerce seem like a credible career. “I find it’s mostly men in pure ecommerce directorship roles, who often have to oversee strategy for women’s fashion when they are not necessarily a ‘fashion’ person,” he said during the Global Talent Challenges roundtable.
Retail headhunter Sue Sugden agreed ecommerce is currently male-dominated because it started life as a technical IT role, but said the merging of technical and commercial is where women will really shine.
The importance of explaining a career in ecommerce to girls before they reach university was highlighted by Jaeger’s HR director Liz Jewitt-Cross, who believes more women will come into these roles over the next three or four years.
A lack of real understanding at board level is seen as a barrier to attracting future ecommerce talent. “The people at the top struggle to understand what coders and developers are doing,” said Sugden. “But I think this is a temporary thing. The traditional structure of retail – moving upwards from graduate or management trainee level - is irrelevant now. This is new discipline which is moving very quickly.”
Dixon agreed there is a real lack of education amongst board members. “The top 5% of ecommerce specialists are in enormous demand, but if they believe the chief executive or board don’t understand their role, they don’t want to join the company. It’s about how talent is nurtured,” he argued.
Jewitt-Cross said, in general, retailers are struggling to retain digital specialists: “Young people are coming through with different expectations of work and how they should be remunerated, a mindset which is challenging the ‘experience = value’ model.”
Head of recruitment at Jacques Vert Group Kate Dixon advocates nurturing young talent and communicating your USP to encourage them to join your company rather than a competitor. Dixon also highlighted the additional challenges faced by an international ecommerce team, such as working across numerous languages to translate product content.
The London College of Fashion, which has a high international cohort, advises retailers to engage with young talent early through year-long placements in industry. LCF client team manager Adam Watling suggested offering placements in ecommerce, as well as more traditional roles like garment technology.
It will be crucial to strengthen the UK skills base if British retailers like Jaeger are to increase their made in the UK production. Jewett-Cross confirmed that, in the next five years, Jaeger wants 15% of its product to be UK-manufactured. For Dixon, a local supply chain perfectly dovetails with ecommerce strategy. “If you can detail your provenance story, your ecommerce content is sorted.”