• Senior executives from 44 retailers including Tesco and John Lewis were interviewed about inequality on retail boards
  • Inflexible hours as well as a lack of role models and confidence were cited as chief causes for gender imbalance
  • Sir Ian Cheshire said retailers needed to move away from “overtly masculine boards”

Women are put off going for senior positions in retail because of a lack of flexible working and role models in the sector.

Seventy senior retail executives from 44 different UK retailers including John Lewis, Tesco, Asos and Boots were interviewed for a study by Women in Retail and management consultancy Elixirr.

Retail bosses were asked why women only make up 10% and 20% of retailers’ executive boards and teams respectively, despite 60% of total retail employees being women.

The lack of progression for women in the retail sector was attributed to three main causes – lack of flexible working hours, accessible female role models and confidence.

Debenhams chairman Sir Ian Cheshire said: “Leaders in retailer need to accept that displaying traditional ‘superhero’ behaviour is no longer what works. The retailers that will gain commercial advantage in what remains a tough retail environment are embracing a more collaborative, thoughtful leadership style – moving from overtly masculine to less obviously so.”

Setting gender balance targets, considering more female candidates for senior positions an appointing a member of the executive who is responsible for driving diversity on a retailer’s board were all suggested as ways of counteracting inequality in retailers’ management teams.

Retail Week’s year-long Be Inspired campaign has been created to inspire and promote the careers of successful female retail leaders. The campaign focuses on highlighting high-profile role models in the sector as well as engaging with future female leaders of tomorrow. Campaign ambassadors include Jacqueline Gold, Angela Spindler, Suzi Spink and Mary Turner.