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Women’s absence from boardrooms is a fashion faux pas

Caroline Nodder

I had two meetings last week with two very senior and powerful women within the fashion sector and at both meetings the issue of male domination within the industry’s boardrooms reared its head.

I had two meetings last week with two very senior and powerful women within the fashion sector and at both meetings the issue of male domination within the industry’s boardrooms reared its head.

When I joined Drapers from the licensed retail sector I expected to see a sharp increase in the number of female directors, since my research had suggested that the lower levels of the career ladder in fashion, and indeed further education courses in fashion, tended to attract more women than men.

I was surprised to find that this is not the case. And while there are a few incredible and inspiring women at the very top of the ladder – Jane Shepherdson at Whistles is a name often quoted in this context – they are in a minority in the fashion business.

The reasons for this, as expounded by my two contacts last week, lie with many businesses’ inability to flex working hours for women who choose to have a family. But they also lie with us women ourselves – so many bright, brilliant women I know have accepted pay cuts and demotions after they return to their career after having children because they feel it’s the only way to get back into the working environment. In effect they are conceding the point that after kids your child-addled brain isn’t up to much.

Yet my own experience – and I don’t have kids by the way – is that some of my best, most inspiring bosses in the past have had young kids at home. It hasn’t stopped them running a magazine in exactly the same way as they did before.

My own view is also that you don’t have to be a super-bitch to survive in the boardroom either. Alpha females might be the way to go in Dynasty but in real life the culture of a company can be hugely improved by maintaining a good mix of senior women, and men of course, in the boardroom.

One of the trade’s leading female bosses, Wendy Hallett of Hallett Retail, has been asked to sit on a government advisory group looking at how women can be better served by the UK business world – her own company has championed women from the start and as she says herself, it is vital that we work to dispel a lot of the unfair cultural norms around part-time workers, for example.

It will be interesting to see how this issue evolves, but at the moment many companies are undervaluing their female staff and might well be overlooking future leaders just because of their sex.

I am not, I hasten to add, suggesting there should be some form of positive discrimination in recruitment in order to give women some kind of advantage. I am merely suggesting that a level playing field should be in place and that the blinkers should be taken off by employers when it comes to working mothers.

Readers' comments (1)

  • It goes to show 'bitchiness' can only take you as far. For ultimate success, one must have substance; strategic thinking and leadership besides other qualities .

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