I was intrigued by the recent Be Inspired campaign launch from Retail Week which aims to encourage the next generation of women leaders. The website is full of insightful interviews with female chief executives and senior leaders within the retail industry. It is a celebration of women in power and offers positive role models for future generations.
The retail industry is primarily marketed to women but as this article states, newly appointed female figures in leading roles fell from 25% in 2014 to just 15% in 2015. Working in a company founded and run by two female directors, it got me thinking. I realised we work with several companies that have women at the helm and, keen to take a leaf out of Retail Week’s book, I’d like to share their stories with you. After a quick survey of our own sector of the retail industry and its associated partners, I invited a number of key female players to talk about their career path, their experiences along the way, and who if anyone had influenced or advised them.
Children and the guilt associated with being a successful working mum is a recurrent theme and no doubt it’s a tricky balance to strike, but developments in social attitudes to shared parental care have made a big difference, along with supportive changes in the law. I’m hoping by sharing their stories these influential women will motivate the next generation of stars to shine. The UK has a new female Prime Minister who, along with a host of other international women leaders, may be welcoming the first female POTUS, Hilary Clinton to the world stage. What a time to be a woman!
To keep this blog from being labelled TL;DR highlights from the interview are below.
Top row, left to right:
Katie Coombes, Business Development Director at Maynineteen
Sarah-Jane Benham, Managing Director at Kru Live
Lynsey Hulme, Managing Director at Maynineteen
Bottom row, left to rigth:
Joanna Waterman, Senior Consumer Experience and Brand Manager at Land Securities
Kaye Walker, Head of Bewonder*
Alison Bowcott-McGrath, Director at PinPointer UK
How did you arrive at your current position?
After university, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do other than to be a business owner. It was my only ambition from a very early age. To generate one’s own income did then and still does feel like a great achievement.
I worked my way up the ranks to Account Manger before taking on the role of Client Services Director and in 2014 I became Managing Director of Kru Live and Kru Talent. The agency is now 30 strong.
What were the highs and lows of your chosen career path?
I’ve travelled to some amazing places; flying first class to Grenada, sitting on an idyllic balcony overlooking the turquoise Caribbean sea lapping the shores of my private beach, and knowing I was being paid to be there was a particular high point.
Running your own business means never being able to switch off and, as a result, I have cut short or cancelled numerous family holidays, I’ve missed weddings, written proposals during funerals, and was on-site for an event at 6 am on the day after my own wedding.
Were you guided, mentored or influenced along the way?
I have been lucky, Lily Newman, who I met on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business programme was a great mentor. John Leach, who is a non-executive director, is another trusted advisor. There is an interesting difference for me in how men and women approach being a mentor. Women tend to have a softer approach that’s considerate of emotions. I think women rely on their gut instinct and act on it implicitly. Whereas the male mentors I have known are more logical and this approach has actually worked better for me.
I had the fortune of being mentored by Guy Grainger, CEO of JLL (EMEA). Having Guy as a mentor has been a huge benefit, not least in terms of making me acutely aware of how every facet of the business feeds into one another – the idea of a team ethic, all pulling in the same direction – is vital to success.
Do you think it’s important to have role models? And why?
You cannot underestimate the importance of business mentors. The people who have ‘been there, and done that’ in terms of growing a business, raising investment, and experienced the lifecycle of a business are invaluable. If nothing else, they can save you time and money because you can avoid making the same mistakes that they made. It’s also really important to have someone who can act as a sounding board to bounce ideas off and to turn to when you need to discuss your next step forward.
Role models are vitally important. I’m lucky in that my time in advertising was filled with brilliant women in senior positions and I knew that my gender was never going to stop me achieving. I have a daughter now and it’s exciting to know she’ll grow up in a world with female presidents and prime ministers.”
Gender parity is a hot topic and of course, it’s important that any imbalance in the workplace is addressed. Women make up 50% of the population and companies these days know that’s just too big of a talent pool to ignore. At the end of the day, it’s not a battle between the sexes, it’s about working together as a team. For us, and the women we talked to, it’s simple; your team is EVERYTHING, they are your business!
It’s imperative to listen to your team, find ways to nurture their growth and development so they are motivated to want to drive the success of your business. The way I see it, there are four simple steps that every business ought to follow:
- Collaboration is crucial, communicate with your team to find out their aspirations.
It’s the cornerstone of an effective team and hosting regular forums allows individuals to have a voice when it comes to their personal development.
- Support individual strengths and nurture talent.
Promote from within wherever possible, offer training and mentorship programmes.
- Create an environment that is empowering for all, one that encourages and expects success.
If made to feel important and influential, individuals are more likely to want to make a positive contribution towards driving the business forward.
- Promote a sharing mentality to stimulate creativity.
Crowdsource ideas and opinions from the entire team, don’t limit projects to small specialised groups, particular in the development stages. Bringing diversity to the table will open up new creative channels and spark conversations that may not have been considered.