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For her tireless pursuit of equality and diversity in business, Jacqueline Gold is our inaugural Retail Activist Award winner

The fantastic contribution that retail makes to society is not always recognised.

That is why a new Retail Week Awards category was created this year to shine the spotlight on people in the industry who have ‘personally championed a cause or led a campaign that demonstrates retail’s good corporate citizenship’.

We highlight all the shortlisted contenders here, but the award went to Ann Summers chief executive Jacqueline Gold.

She has been a tireless advocate of the importance of diversity in business and in particular has championed equal opportunity for women. 

Her sustained campaigning on the issue, reaching far beyond her own business through initiatives such as her Women On Wednesday, or #WOW, initiative on social media to support women in business, won the judges’ backing.

Gold says her commitment to the issue arose naturally from the start of her career at Ann Summers when she was interested in “empowering women in the bedroom” at a time when ideas about gender roles and equality were very different. “The younger generation today would have no idea of the crusade that I have been on over the last 30 to 40 years,” she says.

But her interest soon extended far beyond the bedroom and into the wider world of business. 

She says: “The last 10 or 15 years have been about empowering women in business, in the boardroom, the workplace.”

That was influenced by her own experience as a business leader. She says: “I encountered a sort of boys’ club culture, which thankfully is not something we are seeing as much in this generation. 

“Early on there were difficulties in networking and going to institutions and what we would consider normal events. 

“It was always heavily male orientated, and it was intimidating for women and I could see how that could be such a barrier for women in business and ambitious women.”

“The last 10 or 15 years have been about empowering women in business, in the boardroom, in the workplace”

Jacqueline Gold

She recalls: “As I was employing women into my own business, I would hear horror stories about difficulties they’d faced in breaking the glass ceiling in other businesses. 

“I found this astounding because I’d just started to grow this amazing army of women, whether that be in my party plan business and slowly on to my board of very talented women. For me, it was about removing the barriers that stood in their way to success.”

Gold, who is an ambassador for Retail Week’s Be Inspired campaign designed to provide role models for women in the industry, thinks retail is “better than most industries” when it comes to diversity and equality but maintains: “It’s not job done, there’s still much more to do.”

She intends to carry on her work and says: “I want women to have the same job opportunities as men, the same promotion opportunities, the same pay, the same bonus, the same funding opportunities, without quotas, without [gender pay gap] reporting, without positive discrimination and without all the things we continually have to keep doing to make this happen.”

She is confident that retail can continue to make strides, and concludes: “It’s really important that retailers, leaders in particular, shout about their success. Those that are doing it well need to be vocal about the benefits of diversity. That will help inspire change in the future. As retailers we can be the pioneer of change. How amazing would that be?”

Mark of excellence: Alannah Weston

Selfridges Group deputy chairman Alannah Weston was awarded a Mark of Excellence for her leadership around sustainability in oceans and more widely. 

Weston was inspired to kick off Project Ocean in 2011 after a conversation with a scientist friend about endangered fish. She felt that Selfridges could take a leading role in inspiring change and helping customers to “vote with their fork”. 

The campaign started with a shift to ensure that only non-endangered fish were sold and served in Selfridges and has expanded from there.

Weston also spearheaded Selfridges’ ‘Buying Better Inspiring Change’ campaign, with a commitment that 50% of its products are better for people and the planet by 2022.

Within this, its Bright New Things initiative champions designers who place sustainable innovation at the heart of what they do. 

Each season the department store will introduce at least four new fashion labels to its collection.

Weston continues to drive sustainability and keep it at the heart of the department store business. Each year new initiatives are launched and it continues to shout loudly with the hope of encouraging customers and other retailers to think sustainably.