Picking a career growing up was always a tricky one.
At age 5 I was dead set on being Cinderella. By my seventh birthday I‘d matured enough to recognise the inherent challenges with that, and had settled on becoming a vet. By 10 I’d switched to teaching, by 13 it was medicine, and by 15 the law. You get the picture.
However many times I changed my mind growing up though, the idea that I couldn’t pick an occupation and aim for the very top was the only option that was unthinkable.
Because, as with most girls of my generation, a conversation about gender diversity in the workplace, and getting women to the most senior ranking positions of an organisation, seems irrelevant. It’s ludicrous to think talented women continue to face obstacles based on their gender, isn’t it?
Unfortunately that simply isn’t the case.
Look no further than The Grocer’s own Power List where women account for just 8.5 out of 100 possible spots (the half being baking guru Mary Berry who shares her ranking with Paul Hollywood), and the highest ranked woman is Dame Fiona Kendrick, CEO of Nestle UK at number 21.
This is roughly in line with the stats. In fmcg just 8.1% of executive roles on boards are taken up by women, with only an incremental improvement in retail at 8.2%, according to a study by consulting group Norman Broadbent.
Those figures seem only more staggering considering that around 70% of household purchasing power lies with women, and insight into their perspectives, perceptions, and preferences is surely crucial to the success of a brand or retailer.
For the most part this gender disparity doesn’t appear to come from conscious prejudices, although there are exceptions to that. For example, when I asked one academic heavily involved in monitoring the success of businesses in this area, what excuses CEO’s gave for such poor performance, she told me some still maintained that “there aren’t enough talented women out there”.
Thankfully that view is held by a small minority, and the bigger challenge by far lies in tackling subconscious biases that continue to block talented female candidates from promotion.
Men at the top like to recruit those that look, speak, and act like them. This hardly creates a level playing field for women in the interview room.
Tackling this may not be a conversation anyone likes having. Least of all for women of my generation who recoil at the idea of special treatment, or being singled out from our male colleagues.
But it seems that without a frank and open discussion about how we can get our best women to the top, change simply isn’t going to happen by itself. While young girls might change aspirations as often as they change socks, they’ll continue to have little idea of the uphill struggle they still face.