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Editor's Comment: Only culture change can engender equality

Keely Stocker

International Women’s Day this week gave us the opportunity to celebrate women across the industry and to push for gender equality. 

Although the initiative does seem to have become another promotional vehicle for retailers to launch campaigns focusing on women, this is not necessarily a bad thing if it increases activity aimed at promoting equality, both within the industry and to the consumer.

It has become apparent of late that there is still much work to do in this area as larger retailers start to reveal their gender pay data. Marks & Spencer, New Look, John Lewis and Phase Eight are among the high street chains that have revealed an average lower pay rate for female employees.

All have largely female workforces but also a disproportionately high number of men in senior roles within their businesses. In explaining the pay disparity they said that many female employees work part time or in store sales roles, which hammers home the point that we still need more women occupying retail’s upper levels and boardrooms.

Our interview this week is with Karen Millen chief executive Beth Butterwick, who is a leading advocate of equality in the workplace and has installed initiatives at the retailer to help drive this, including a partnership with women’s empowerment network Step Up Club. She is just one of many inspiring women working in this industry – many of whom we have also highlighted in this week’s issue – and it’s fantastic to see more and more leaders, both male and female, supporting this initiative.

The important point to remember when looking at gender in the workplace is that it is not about giving women roles simply to meet quotas, but about driving equality across the workplace and ensuring women are given the same opportunities as men in senior roles.

Flexible working, mentoring and professional development programmes for both men and women can all help to create an effective, balanced workforce with the multitude of skills and personalities that are increasingly required to drive a business forward.

Fashion has never been so competitive and now more than ever, retailers who don’t embrace change will get left behind. A diverse workforce, in terms of gender, ethnicity and sexuality, will create a team of diverse thinkers, and give businesses the ability to think outside the box, evolve with their consumers and stand out from their rivals.

However, to create this, retailers must really focus on changing their workplace culture to drive equality across the board and support women in developing their careers.

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