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Drapers Next Gen: Change in culture is key to gender equality, says Ann Summers CEO

Ann Summers chief executive Jacqueline Gold, has said changing culture is the most important factor in achieving gender equality in the workplace.

sarah welsh oasis jacqueline gold ann summers wendy hallett beth butterwick karen millen next gen 2016 cropped

sarah welsh oasis jacqueline gold ann summers wendy hallett beth butterwick karen millen next gen 2016 cropped

Women at the top: Oasis brand director Sarah Welsh, Ann Summers chief executive Jacqueline Gold, Hallett Concessions founder and managing director Wendy Hallett MBE, and outgoing Bonmarche and incoming Karen Millen chief executive Beth Butterwick

Speaking at Drapers Next Generation conference today at London’s 30 Euston Square, Gold said creating the right environment to support women is crucial and it can be more difficult to change the mindset of larger, more corporate, retailers.

“Culture is the main challenge, some businesses are very female supportive and see the great amazing talent in the business, but some businesses don’t recognise the great value women bring. You need leaders to see the value of having both genders as companies need both genders to outperform.”

“I feel passionate about empowering women. I started my career wanting to empower women in the bedroom and now I want to empower them in the boardroom,” she added.

Beth Butterwick, outgoing chief executive of Bonmarché agreed that change in culture has to come from the business leader: “You have to be open-minded and facilitate that change for your business – it’s our responsibility.”

She added: “As a leader you have to empower women to believe in themselves and to surround themselves with role models. Talking about it will help to change the tide.”

Hallett Retail founder and managing director Wendy Hallett said being proactive and aware of your employees’ situations can help bring about these changes.

“You have to identify what’s going on – whether it’s the need for flexible working hours or working from home – and encourage people to stand up and ask for what they need. You have to encourage people to push the boundaries.”

Hallet said wanting a better work-family balance encouraged her to start her own business.

“My early career in retail was very male dominated, it has moved on now but gender is absolutely a reason for me wanting to run my own business. I had two young kids and I couldn’t get flexible working hours at my senior level and that’s what I wanted so I set up on my own.”

Oasis brand director Sarah Welsh said strong female role models in the industry have been vital throughout her career: “I’ve never had the feeling that being a woman has held me back in my career. I’ve been lucky enough to have had amazing influences while making my way through the ranks. If you’re passionate about what you do, anyone can succeed.”

None of the panel agreed with having quotas for females on boards of businesses.

“My board is half men and half women, and all of them are there because they are the right people for the job. I don’t know any woman who would want to be on a board for anything other than her own merit,” Gold added.

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