Women in Retail - A Land of Opportunity

From new digital start-ups to our high street stalwarts, it's time we levelled the playing field to ensure that women are encouraged and empowered to establish, own and run successful retail businesses.

The UK retail sector is a leader in innovation. E-commerce has revolutionised how we shop and as a result, we have the highest online spending per capita in the world.

We are at the vanguard of omnichannel shopping.

When we look at the UK in particular, the defining characteristic of the consumer is they shop by mobile.

We are quick to embrace technological change and evolve our consumer habits.

Our thriving retail sector employs over 10% of the UK's total workforce. But in my view, for too long the rate of change needed to bring greater diversity in retail leadership hasn't kept pace with the innovations unfolding elsewhere in the sector.

eBay recently collaborated with Development Economics to understand the scale of female business ownership across the retail industry. Some of the findings were promising.

Online retail has one of the highest proportions of female ownership; between 2010 and 2014, 54% of specialist online retail businesses were set up by women compared to 46% by men.

It is heartening to see increasing numbers of women unlocking the potential of online retail. Our own platform offers entrepreneurs the ready-made technological infrastructure to imagine and start a retail business.

Day to day I see many examples of women who are running successful eBay businesses as their sole occupation. Around 8% of all growth in female self-employment in the UK since 2010 has been accounted for by online retail.

However, when it comes to traditional retail trade, the proportion of female owners is significantly lower; just two in five of these businesses established since 2010 are owned by women. And it's a trend that's also reflected in the leadership of our biggest retail brands.

Simply put, in an industry whose primary customer base is female, there are not enough women running retail businesses.

From fashion to grocery and home improvements, the female is perennially identified as the taste maker, the decision maker and ultimately, the buyer.

Retail analysts go to great lengths to understand and unpick what governs the female shopper's purchasing journey, producing typologies and economic portraits of 'Aldi Mum' and the like.

Yet women's influence as shoppers and spenders is completely disproportionate to their influence in the boardrooms of our major retailers, and it's time we took action.

From the very beginning, eBay has prided itself on supporting and empowering its employees, providing them opportunities and enabling talented people to thrive. Today, eBay globally employs a ratio of 42:58 women to men. Of these, 28 per cent of leaders at director level or above are women.

Five years ago, we launched the Women's Initiative Network (WIN) with the aim of attracting and engaging women to build lasting, successful careers at eBay.

We hold ourselves to account by publishing our global workforce diversity figures each year. It's a small action but it's a public demonstration that eBay is as passionate as ever about keeping its promise to breaking down barriers and bringing more women in to retail.

I encourage other retailers to formalise their commitment to female leaders. Much is made of quotas with initiatives such as the Thirty Percent Club, which campaigns on the under-representation of women at the top of corporate Britain. Employers are more attuned now to retaining female talent through maternity leave and family commitments, by creating an environment that accommodates the dual responsibilities of business and parenthood.

There is also an onus on the women already in leadership posts to motivate and enable the next generation. I've said previously that none of is as good as all of us, and I've consciously built my team on individual merit. My own leadership team is an equal 50:50 male to female balance.

I'm a great believer in mentoring, and in taking every opportunity to coach women within the workplace, to encourage them to unleash their full potential and to realise their ambitions, whatever they may be.

From new digital start-ups to our high street stalwarts, it's time we levelled the playing field to ensure that women are encouraged and empowered to establish, own and run successful retail businesses.

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