All credit to the retail sector – it genuinely champions female business leaders today

International Women’s Day (Sunday 8th March) has got me thinking about our sector.

In 2020, can we be proud of how female leaders are represented across global retail? My conclusion as someone who has run a retail technology marketing business for over 20 years, and has watched the industry evolve dramatically in that time, is that, yes – we really can.

Success stories that sparked change

In my early days I was inspired by Anita Roddick, who founded The Body Shop and ran her business with raw passion and a dogged commitment to sustainability and fair trade – talk about a trailblazer! I also admired Martha Lane Fox, founder of, for grabbing the world’s attention at the dawn of the ecommerce era.

But these were very much female success stories in an otherwise male world, where the likes of Philip Green, Archie Norman, Gerald Ratner and Tim Waterstone dominated the news headlines. Very few women ascended to retail – or retail technology – C-suites, and of course today they are still under-represented.

Women leaders in retail are no longer the exception

However no-one can deny that the mood music has changed enormously. The numbers of women in powerful executive roles in retail suggests we are heading into a golden age for female retail leaders. In senior positions today we have Sharon White at John Lewis &Partners, Annie Murphy at Walgreens Boots Alliance, Bridget Lea at Sainsbury’s North, Helen Milford at Marks & Spencer, Jo Whitfield at Co-op Food, to name just a few.

In retail technology, women are also excelling in high profile jobs and inspiring others: Jill Ross, MD for Retail at Accenture; Debbie Johnson, Retail Business Lead at Dell Technologies; Jessica Murphy, CCO and Co-founder of True Fit; Kim Melvin, Senior Director, Global Retail Marketing at Sensormatic Solutions; Kim Sivillo, President of BounceX; and Anna Lilja Pálsdóttir, CFO at AGR Dynamics.

In retail research and consultancy we have amazing women too, such as Andrea Bell, Director of Insight at WGSN, and Anusha Couttigane, Principal Fashion Analyst for EMEA at Kantar. Who can resist the infectious enthusiasm of women like these?

Momentum is building

Best of all, a pipeline of future female leaders in retail is being very deliberately nurtured, by the industry, for the good of the industry. Just consider the impressive line-up of women delivering keynote addresses at the NRF 2020 show this January, championing opportunities for women in the sector, and encouraging the next generation of business women to take risks, and have the confidence to shine.

From Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass discussing innovation and strategic transformation to Gwyneth Paltrow describing the challenges of launching Goop, the big message was that women are taking their place at retail’s top table, and making a serious go of it.

Career paths being mapped out

Here in the UK, media events have been advocating ‘women in retail’ in recent years. We’re looking forward to seeing Caroline Baldwin, Editor of Essential Retail, host the Women in Retail Networking Breakfast at RetailEXPO in April.

Then there’s Retail Week’s excellent Be Inspired programme. This has been running for several years now, specifically to promote gender balance at all levels across retail and encourage women to fulfil their career aspirations.

Charlotte Hardie, Group Content Director at Retail Week, who launched Be Inspired says: “It’s not about just putting a group of women in a room together to talk about gender diversity. We want to do something that will make a difference in the future.”

The mantra of International Women’s Day is: ‘An equal world is an enabled world.’ It’s billed as a time to celebrate women’s achievement, to raise awareness against bias, and to take action for equality. I for one am incredibly proud to be part of an industry that is making progress on all these fronts.



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