With Be Inspired back and bigger than ever for 2019, we look back at some of the insights from retail leaders at last year’s event.

Get a mentor

Regardless of your role, seek out a mentor. This can be within your organisation or outside. Mentors can provide guidance and can help find solutions to career problems.

Karen Millen chief executive Beth Butterwick says: “Don’t do it the hard way, surround yourself with good people and get advice.”

Network, network, network

Build your network and if you’re invited to an industry event, go to it. The contacts you make can be valuable allies and can open doors throughout your career.

Sue O’Brien OBE from headhunting firm Ridgeway Partners advises those nervous of meeting strangers to read the FT or Retail Week before attending and simply ask fellow attendees what they thought of one of the articles. 

Know your self worth

A recurring theme of the Be Inspired conference was women not recognising their own self worth.

This can impact women asking for pay rises or putting themselves forward for promotions.

Mintel revealed earlier this year that on average 42% of men feel confident about asking for a pay rise compared with just 22% of women. 

Wilf Walsh, chief executive of Carpetright, urged Be Inspired delegates to demand a pay rise if they felt they deserved it.

A lack of confidence also impacts women’s day-to-day roles. Ann Summers chief executive Jacqueline Gold urged attendees struggling with confidence to write an email to themselves detailing all the great things they’ve achieved in work and their personal life and to read it before a big meeting to reaffirm their talent.

Don’t be afraid to brag

Bragging need not be unbecoming: if you’ve done something great don’t be afraid to let people know.

“Women don’t necessarily have the confidence to put themselves out there. It’s really important to take the time to brag about what you’re achieving,” says Hobbs chief executive Meg Lustman.

Boden chief executive Jill Easterbrook says bragging actually helps your manager understand what is really happening in their team.

Gold urges women to shout about their success. “We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to each other and we owe it to the next generation.”

Think like an entrepreneur

A panel of entrepreneurs gave Be Inspired attendees a glimpse into their mindset. “It’s about having an idea that isn’t necessarily conventional, pursuing it with passion and having a set of values, and recruiting people that understand these values,” says Nayna McIntosh, founder of Hope Fashion. “Follow the customer and be nimble.”

McIntosh, a former M&S director, says entrepreneurial spirit can be deployed in a large organisation.

Alison Lowe MBE, a serial entrepreneur and founder of Start Your Own Fashion Label, cites a large American organisation that aimed to embed an entrepreneurial mindset by encouraging ideas from all corners of the business.

An ’ideas room’ was introduced in every part of the business where colleagues were encouraged to write new ideas on post-it notes. The best then get discussed at board level and employees who have ideas taken forward are financially rewarded.

Ask for help

The best leaders are those who realise they are not experts at everything, and instead surround themselves with brilliant people, Be Inspired delegates heard.

Figleaves boss and former Ebay executive Miriam Lahage says: “Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.”

Fiona Dawson, Mars global president, concurs and says the FMCG giant tries to take the stigma out of asking for help. “We talk a lot about [it] at Mars,” she says.

Demand flexibility

Women are more likely to reach their career ambitions if they can work flexibly, particularly if they have family commitments.

Dawson says that a fifth of women leave the workplace because they have had a flexible working request turned down.

She urged women not to rule out opportunities because they want to start a family. She revealed that earlier in her career she had turned down a role because she wanted to have a second child before being talked around by her mentor. “Don’t select yourself out for reasons which could’ve been fixed. Amazing things are possible if you just ask,” says Dawson.

M&S clothing, home and beauty managing director Jill McDonald says technology and remote working has made it easier for women to balance motherhood and a successful career and urges employers to offer flexible working options.

O’Brien says one way men can help empower women in their business is to normalise flexible working by asking themselves to work part-time.

Don’t give up

Delegates heard from Gold about never giving up on your dreams.

“I’ve been arrested twice, had a bullet through the post and taken the government to court,” says Gold, referencing her battle to bring sex toys into the mainstream.

“Adversity can make you a lot more resilient and a lot stronger.”

McIntosh says persistence pays off when it comes to getting buy in from senior leaders within big organisations. “Be persistent and straightforward,” says McIntosh, who has launched her own fashion brand Hope, aimed at the over 50s woman.

Be Inspired

Be Inspired Logo

Retail Week’s annual Be Inspired conference on Wednesday June 19 is designed to promote and encourage women to fulfil their career aspirations.

Bringing together men and women from across the retail landscape, the event inspires through the stories of others, opens eyes to career opportunities and fosters a culture of career confidence.

Join us at The Brewery in London to hear from a line-up of amazing speakers, with content entirely based on the feedback from our Be Inspired community.

Visit beinspired.retail-week.com to find out more and book your place.

Be Inspired: Leaders reveal secrets to career success