We are surrounded by examples of powerful women, so why are there so few in retailing?
Earlier this month, I enjoyed the experience of being guest speaker at the Mansion House, when the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers installed its first female master to date, Margaret Miller. It made me think once again how things tend to look up when we have got a woman on top.
It also made me wonder why there are not more women at the commanding heights of retailing – particularly when shopping is well-recognised to be so many women’s dream job.
Women have long shown the way when it comes to running countries successfully, with a tradition of strong leaders in the UK, going back to Boadicea and on through Queens Elizabeth and Victoria to the triumph of Margaret Thatcher. Overseas, we can look to examples such as Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi. There is nothing new about girl power.
Today, the Germans have Angela Merkel, while women’s legendary ability to multitask is illustrated superbly by Carla Bruni Sarkozy. Dignified First Lady of France, recording artist, model and expert on walking in flat shoes with a stoop or standing in strategically dug trenches.
Women of glamour and compassion have dominated the headlines in recent decades. Women like Princess Diana, Mother Teresa and the would-be successor to both, Heather Mills, who looked unstoppable until she came up against another strong woman, Fiona Shackleton. If you ever get a letter from Fiona, I suggest you simply empty the tills, shut up shop and send her the keys.
Now all the UK’s hopes for the global number one spot must rest on Katie Price, the distinguished author, TV personality and role model for young ladies who aspire to have unfeasibly large chests.
Women are already prominent in the Cabinet and civil service and I expect their grip on power to tighten, despite their temporary setback in Crewe and Nantwich, when Tamsin Dunwoody and the Beauties for Britain standard bearer Gemma Garrett lost to that scion of a distinguished retail dynasty, Edward Timpson.
I have the privilege to be a judge for what will be my third year for the Women of the Future awards – an event that celebrates the success of young women in business, the media, the professions, the voluntary sector, science and technology, art and culture and as entrepreneurs. As a judge, I have met women who have achieved great things as oil prospectors, explorers, single-handed transatlantic rowers, lawyers, business creators, playwrights, concert pianists and civil engineers.
It is so obvious to see how their creativity, skills and intellect have enhanced the economy and cultural life, yet few in the business or entrepreneurs category are in retailing.
Ask anyone to name the UK’s top retailers and I bet the names Green, Leahy and Rose head the list, all Sirs – blokes. For sure, there are some high-profile women in our industry – Kate Swann and Jacqueline Gold come to mind – but where are the giants to take up the mantle of Dame Anita Roddick for the 21st century?
Whatever it takes, let us make any attitudinal and structural changes necessary to tempt more women to shoot for the top jobs in our industry. Retailing will be the richer for it.
By Lord Kirkham, chairman, DFS