The business landscape changes every day. But some aspects of industry show fewer signs of development - there is still a distinct lack of women in key roles.

The business landscape changes every day. But some aspects of industry show fewer signs of development - there is still a distinct lack of women in key roles.

When I set up my first optometry practice some 37 years ago I was acutely aware that, as a woman in business, I was likely to face challenges that a man in my position wouldn’t.

Women sometimes lack the self-belief that seems to come more naturally to men. Even now, having built up the successful Specsavers business that continues to grow day-by-day, I have moments where I doubt myself.

Women have just as much right as men to prosper in the workplace. I find it frustrating that it can be so difficult for us to get our voices heard.

In 2008 I became patron of Everywoman, which has been championing women in business since 1999, providing them with the resources, connections and skills they need to succeed.

Everywoman shares my belief that what women need is inspiration - a chance to see that they can do it too.

That applies to all industries, but of course I have a particular interest in retail. The retail sector certainly seems to be geared in favour of men, with only 5% of retail chief executives being female. However, women influence 80% of consumer purchasing decisions. So why aren’t we better represented in the boardroom?

Clearly this is something I’m keen to counter. At Specsavers we have sponsored the annual Specsavers Everywoman in Retail Awards for the past five years, celebrating the success of the sector’s female leaders and encouraging a pipeline of future talent into the industry.

Retail can offer the chance for swift career progression by demonstrating hard work and initiative. A recent Skillsmart study showed 29% of all recent graduates working in management roles are working in retail. They are attracted by the variety, flexibility and training available.

Indeed, many of our Specsavers stores are owned by female opticians, who recognise the importance of excellent customer service and high retail standards. With this in mind, I’m excited that this year is the launch of the Specsavers Everywoman in Retail Ambassador Programme.

The programme will shine a spotlight on the industry’s top female talent, showcasing role models from the sector.

These ambassadors will help increase awareness of the myriad opportunities for women in retail and hopefully drive more women to consider a career in retail.

I’ll be working with Everywoman to help identify these inspirational women in the coming months, a task I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in to. I hope that by showing women that retail can be a career and not just a job, we’ll see more women becoming decision-makers in an industry worth £311bn in the UK alone.

  • Dame Mary Perkins is co-founder of Specsavers

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