The wholesale empowerment of women

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Women are reluctant to put themselves forward. In my experience, they often wait to be asked for promotions and pay rises. They would rather work it out with families, friends and colleagues than risk asking for flexible working.

This is partly down to how the wholesaling industry is perceived - it’s often seen to be a long way from embracing the relaxed corporate culture of retail. As a result, we can struggle to attract and keep the best talent, particularly, women.

Sue Knowles

Many wholesalers have and are starting to embrace the power of gender diversity, realising the positive impact it has on decision making and profits.

But statistics show we have a way to go. Females occupy 47% of jobs in wholesale [FWD], but less than 11% of senior management roles are currently filled by women [Women in Wholesale Report, 2017].

At Costco, we’ve been working hard to empower the next generation of female leaders. We introduced Journeys back in 2007 - an internal networking, mentoring and educational initiative for women. We have regular meetings with guest speakers, introduce self-learning modules, and empower and support our women. It is therefore no surprise that more than 32% of females at Costco are in management roles - well above the average for the sector. I recommend that every business offers a similar concept - or why not join others?

There are plenty of opportunities for women to connect with other female industry leaders. For example, LEAD (Leading Executives Advancing Diversity) is a free networking initiative for all women working in retail and wholesale. It’s where I’ve met some of the most inspiring role models of my career. Or why not attend Women in Wholesale, an educational networking conference that’s gathering huge interest and momentum?

My message to fellow wholesalers is that we need to support our people.

At the end of the day, you can have the best app or website on the planet, but it means nothing if the people within your business aren’t the best.

Sue Knowles is the marketing director of Costco Wholesale and chairperson of the UK LEAD Network

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