Retail setting the example for gender diversity in the boardroom

Retail is an incredibly fast-paced and action-driven industry.  Survival has always been dependent on the ability to adapt to constantly fluctuating changes and consumer demands. However, the pace of that change has never been more furious than it is today.  The most successful retailers, those that are not only surviving but are thriving, are those that that have pinned their success on a commitment to increase gender diversity amongst their leadership.

The recently-published Hampton-Alexander FTSE Women Leaders Review paints an encouraging picture of gender diversity within the boardrooms of FTSE companies. The number of women on FTSE 100 boards has exceeded 30% for the first time. There are more women on the boards of FTSE 250 companies and women on FTSE 100 Executive Committees has, for the first time, passed 21%.

Retailers are the leading lights of those FTSE companies evidencing increased gender diversity in the boardroom and amongst operational leadership, with four of the top five from the sector.

Leading the way in the FTSE100 is The Burberry Group, with 58% of Executive and leadership positions occupied by women.  They are closely followed by Next Plc and Marks & Spencer at 45%.  WM Morrison completes the top five at 42 % (pipped by Severn Trent in fourth at 43%).

Nonetheless this still leaves a large number of retailers with a lot of work to do to increase the percentage of women in leadership roles.

In ‘The Commercial Advantage of More Women in the Boardroom’ compiled by Elixirr and Women in Retail Founder Karen Richards and Director Fiona Davis, it was found that despite 60% of retail employees being women, boardrooms across the sector average only 10% female representation.  Clearly there is much to be done.

The benefits of having women lead retail and consumer businesses are self-explanatory.  Women represent a significant proportion of consumers.  85% of purchasing decisions are made or influenced by women.  Why therefore aren’t more women involved in the strategic decisions that most impact the bottom line?  Surely having more women make decisions related to retail business operations, can help retailers outstrip competitors in this highly cut-throat environment.

Achieving greater gender-balanced leadership is not isolated to retail and consumer businesses, it is an issue that affects all industries and organisations.

There is still a long way to go and a great deal of work to be done before we can say we have truly reached balanced gender leadership in the boardroom.  However, with a staggering 85% of customers and 60% of retail employees being women and retailers leading the way amongst FTSE100 companies, the sector is incredibly well placed to become the example to all of executive gender diversity best practice.