Women make up 60 per cent of the retail workforce, but only ten per cent of executive board members are female.
For decades women have been regarded as the backbone of retail. Dating back as far as the 1950s, female homemakers have made important decisions regarding household purchases. Even today, brands would be unwise to ignore their purchasing power and market influence.
With this in mind, the lead-up to Christmas 2016 saw many of the UK’s largest retailers go head-to-head in a bid to attract more customers to their stores over the festive period. These companies served up popular ad campaigns that were talked about heavily in the press and across social media.
Marks and Spencer (M&S) and Boots, in particular, have been praised for using women as the key focus in their festive promotional campaigns. By celebrating the achievements of women (be it the half a million women across the UK who work over Christmas in the case of Boots, or Mrs Claus in the case of M&S), the retail sector is successfully highlighting the importance of women in the sector.
However, with male chief executives employed by both Marks and Spencer and Boots, the question remains, is enough being done to address the need for more senior women in the retail sector?
A recent article in the Telegraph noted that the UK retail sector contributes £339 billion to the UK economy and employs 2.8 million people nationwide. While 60 per cent of the sector’s workforce are women, surprisingly, only ten per cent of executive board members are female. These thought-provoking statistics demonstrate that more needs to be done to encourage women into senior positions within the retail sector.
In 2016 John Lewis appointed Paula Nickolds, the first female managing director in the brand’s 152-year history. Nickolds has worked for the retail giant for 22 years, having joined as a graduate trainee in the haberdashery department at the Oxford Street store in London.
In her new position, Nickolds will become one of the few female bosses in an industry where more than half of the employees are women. Only a handful of women, including Veronique Laury, CEO of B&Q owner Kingfisher, and Katie Bickerstaffe, CEO of Dixons Carphone’s UK and Irish business, hold similar senior positions.
Strong female figures such as Nickolds are essential in reducing the gender gap across, not just the retail sector, but all industries. More needs to be done to help promote and encourage women hoping to progress into senior leadership roles.
This type of encouragement should start at an early age, ensuring women receive the support they need in order to progress into senior positions.
Growth and change take place in industry when existing ideas and preconceptions are challenged. Therefore, it is important that the retail sector – and other similar industries that are perceived as ‘male-dominated’ – are doing everything they can to create opportunities for female leaders. Challenging existing perceptions of certain industries is necessary for a positive future.
The retail industry, like other sectors, would benefit greatly from more diversity at the top, and without it, businesses are failing to realise the potential of an evolution that could result in a strong and prosperous future.
About the author
Jo Sellick is the managing director of recruitment specialist, Sellick Partnership.