And then there was one . . . sole woman in top FTSE job

A piece published on the website of Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them), the political party of which I’m the chairman, in September 2019:

piece in today’s Times:

“It’s very lonely,” Karen Hubbard quipped on her position as the sole female chief executive of a large, listed retailer. “There is certainly not a lack of talent . . . The biggest issue facing women is confidence.” [J4MB emphasis]

The boss of Card Factory claims the status as the only female chief after a drop-off in the number of women at the top of publicly listed retailers, dragging back efforts to address their boardroom representation.

Véronique Laury, former chief executive of Kingfisher, the B&Q owner, is being succeeded by Thierry Garnier today. Angela Spindler left N Brown, the plus-size fashion retailer, last year, while Jill McDonald quit as chief executive of Halfords in 2017 for a brief stint heading Marks & Spencer’s clothing business. Of the 25 main-market listed retailers, there are six times as many chief executives called Mike and Steve as there are women.

“It is surprising that there are no more women chief executives running FTSE 350 companies today than there were in 2011, despite good progress at board level and elsewhere,” said Denise Wilson, chief executive of the Hampton-Alexander Review, aimed at increasing the number of women in leadership positions.

Just under 60 per cent of the near-three million retail workforce is female. An estimated 80 per cent of purchasing decisions are made by women, with female shoppers often making calls on home interiors and buying clothes for their male partners.

Outside the FTSE main market, there is the same issue: Bonmarché, led by Helen Connolly as chief executive, has been taken private by Philip Day, the retail tycoon. Boohoo’s Carol Kane recently stepped back from her co-chief executive role to hand the reins to John Lyttle, the former Primark chief operating officer. This leaves one Aim-listed retailer, Sosandar, an online fashion brand, whose co-founders Alison Hall and Julie Lavington run the business.

A recent report by Korn Ferry, the headhunter, that includes private companies with sales above £50 million showed that 76 per cent of retail bosses were male, despite a record quarter of chief executive positions being filled by women last year. These included Melinda Paraie at Cath Kidston and Liz Evans at Fat Face.

Ms Hubbard, 55, who was born in Australia, said: “It’s very lonely to be one of the few women at the top and when times get tough you should make sure that you have a diverse workforce.

“There’s certainly not a lack of talent and it’s not childcare [being an obstacle] because at this age we’ve already gone through all of that.” Ms Hubbard added that when she spoke to other senior women about taking the next step up, often they would say that they wanted extra experience. “No other male would say I’ve not got enough, I need to do another 12 months,” she said. She called for there to be more women in the City “talking about business issues, rather than women’s issues”.

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