Women in Retail

  • Female leaders of the future – has retail really bridged its gender divide?

    With a 27% rise in female retail executives since 2019, and more women than ever before featured in Retail Week’s 2020 Retail 100, which maps the leaders who are transforming the industry, how far has retail really come in bridging the gender divide?

    We caught up with Helen Galletley, Service Transformation Manager at Tesco, Chloe Bebbington River Island’s Social Media Marketing Manager and Eiko Kawano, Group Experience Director at Publicis Sapient, at RetailEXPO's Virtual Conference, who shared their experiences of climbing the corporate ladder and what’s still to be done to ensure diversity in retail for the future.

    Retail role models will shape the next generation of female leaders

    While much has already been done to address the gender divide and paygap in retail - with Burberry announcing earlier this month that now over half (56%) of its highest paid quartile in the businesses are female – many still feel a lack of representation of women in senior management roles leave many aspiring leaders of the future without the role models they need to succeed.

    Tesco’s Helen Galletley noted that this was particularly evident when she started out in her career, saying she felt she couldn’t see other female leadership examples ahead of her:

    “I feel role models are important and I wasn’t represented a number of years ago and I think that is why it took me longer to get to where I wanted to be. I didn’t fit the model of being argumentative or bossy or ordering people around. There was a perception that was what you needed to be like, but that has changed. It can still be a battle to be heard but there are more role models now.”

    For Eiko Kawano, Group Experience Director at Publicis Sapient, visibility of female role models is key to inspiring the next future generation of retail leaders. She said: “We need to find the leaders of the future and give them visibility and show them who they can look up to in order to have the next generation feel comfortable stepping into those leadership roles.”

    Mentoring schemes should be driven organically

    Despite the Telegraph reporting that in 2019 almost two thirds (63%) of women had never had a formal mentor, all three of the RetailEXPO panel members had had some form of mentorship - with varying levels of success.

    And, it seems the recipe for success when it comes to mentoring schemes is those relationships that formed organically, rather than through a formal process – with Tesco’s Galletley admitting the best mentor she had had started out by having a catch-up over a glass of wine, while Publicis Sapient’s Kawano said the person she valued most as her mentor wouldn’t even realise she had that role as it had never been a formal agreement.

    One of the reasons this organic approach to mentoring seems to work so well boiled down to trust, according to Galletley:

    “You need to feel safe with the mentor and that you can trust them. The best mentor I had was completely unconnected to the role I had. Once a quarter, she would take me out of my environment, with store and head office visits. It wasn’t necessarily structured to help me advance my career, it was more for personal development.”

    Chloe Bebbington, Social Media Marketing Manager at River Island, said mentorships shouldn’t just be about climbing the corporate ladder, but instead should focus on broadening horizons:

    “It’s a fine line and important to think that people are involved all need to be agreeable parties. We work with the Fashion Retail Academy and have a scheme set up. The difficult part is allocating people. If the mentor is super keen to give information, the mentee also has to be super keen as to what they want to get out of it. Everyone involved has to be agreeable parties.”

    Diversity in retail reaches further than gender

    And, while there have been improvements to the number of women in leadership roles in retail in the last 20 years, there’s still more to do to address diversity issues more broadly within the industry.

    Earlier this month – despite having appointed chairman, Sharon White, in February – John Lewis was criticised for its lack of diversity at board level, with just six of its 158 UK management team coming from ethnic minority backgrounds. This is something newly appointed White is determined to change, commenting: “The John Lewis Partnership was formed with equality for all at its very heart and we know we still have work to do to become a more diverse and inclusive workplace.”

    Additionally, in a letter to staff sent in light of the international Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, John Lewis acknowledged it needed to do more to ensure its “partnership is a place [that] truly reflect[s] the communities it serves.” Similarly, the BLM has prompted M&S to take ‘urgent action’ to address racism and diversity in its workplace – in an open letter to staff, its CEO, Steve Rowe, recognised that the actions taken by the retailer to date weren’t sufficient and committed to a “much overdue review of our approach to diversity and inclusion.”

    For further insight you can watch the full Women in Retail panel discussion from RetailEXPO Virtual Conference on-demand here.