At this time every year, International Women’s Day reminds us to reflect on and celebrate how far women’s rights have come thanks to the collective efforts of people around the world.
But, perhaps more importantly, it brings ongoing issues surrounding gender inequality to the forefront, prompting reflection on what else needs to be done to achieve a more gender-balanced society.
As a woman working at a senior level in the fashion industry, this issue is close to my heart and inspired me to co-found my own business, Oh Polly. Given the industry is driven and enjoyed by women, it’s important that we’re given the opportunity to break into the top tiers of management and demonstrate our capabilities and talent.
While gender inequality affects women across the world, the retail industry provides a startling example of the imbalance which affects some sectors more than others.
Despite being an industry primarily focused on female consumers, driven by a predominantly female workforce, fashion brands are among the worst offenders in the country when it comes to gender imbalance in the workplace. Although 85 per cent of all retail purchases are made or influenced by women, only 24 per cent of retailers have a female chief executive.
This imbalance is not just limited to the unequal distribution of senior management positions among men and women, it extends to disparity in salary for individuals who are performing the same role. The only difference is their gender.
The true extent of this was revealed last year when British companies employing more than 250 people were forced to report their gender pay gap data.
Fashion houses attempted to explain the glaring differences in their figures by arguing the data was skewed due to fewer women holding senior positions. However, this only served to further demonstrate the extent of the gender disparity which exists given 10 per cent of board positions within the retail sector are held by women although they account for 60 per cent of its three million strong workforce.
Global figures corroborate this with a recent report by McKinsey & Company, The Glass Runway, reporting that only 14 per cent of leading womenswear brands are run by a female CEO.
Heritage and high-street names alike have helped to perpetuate the dominance of men in senior positions, with the likes of Dior and Givenchy only employing their first female senior designers in 2016 and 2017 respectively, and the powerhouses of Topshop and Ted Baker being led by male CEOs.
The good news is the astronomical rise of economical e-commerce platforms and social media has opened up opportunities for many female entrepreneurs across industries. Rather than fight their way up the career ladder at an established organisation, more and more women are starting their own businesses with forward thinking cultures embedded at their core.
By integrating flexible working practices, implementing policies which eradicate gender pay gaps and ensuring women are well represented on the board, these businesses are creating an environment in which female employees can thrive.
At Oh Polly we were determined to integrate similar practices into our business model from the outset and I truly believe this is the driving force behind our success.
The impact of our flexible working policies is reflected in the makeup of our global senior management team where 59 per cent of positions are held by women. In the UK and LA, 70 per cent of our leadership team are women and in Bangladesh, a country where women in managerial positions are rare, we employ two female sample managers.
In China, 66 per cent of leadership positions are held by women including our most senior role held by our head of operations. Despite only being in her early 30s, she has built our business in the region from the ground up in just two and half years.
Furthermore, it has allowed us to ensure there is no gender pay gap among workers in the same roles regardless of whether they are based in China, Bangladesh, the UK or America. From a productivity point of view, a diverse leadership team that understands their customers helps to propel businesses towards achieving better results for their shareholders.
As Creative CEO I believe it’s crucial women are well represented in our creative team, from design through to marketing, truly representing our slogan For Girls, By Girls. It’s important that our customers feel understood by the team that creates their clothes.
Claire Henderson, Creative CEO and co-founder of Oh Polly.