While fashion and retail has traditionally been an industry predominantly catering for women’s needs, many of the senior roles in major businesses are held by men.
A study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, titled Unravelling the Fabric Ceiling, proved almost 80% of students at the world’s leading fashion schools are women. Nearly 75% of the workforce in clothing stores are female and as women are responsible for almost 80% of fashion-related purchases (remember women are responsible for the lion’s share of the family spend), these female shop assistants are more than likely serving female customers. So, although there are now many more women in middle management, it is startling that only 12.5% of the apparel companies on the Fortune 1000 list have female CEOs. Break those stats down a little more and PWC reports that of 61 womenswear companies in the Fortune 1000, 75% had male-dominated corporate teams.
So, given these statistics what’s the secret sauce as a woman to land yourself a place on the executive board at one retail powerhouse and CEO at another? According to Holli Rogers - who is currently the chief executive officer at Browns and in 2019 also added Farfetch's Chief Brand Officer to her already busy schedule - lots of smiles (even on those days when it may be through gritted teeth), but above all hard work, tenacity and importantly, support from key women who provide mentorship.
Perhaps also an openness to making mistakes: “I make mistakes all the time, not any particular one that I could call out. The point is that you learn from them and you keep going and continue to grow.” So, conversion of learning into opportunity for personal growth is one of the key ingredients for her success.
Rogers began her career on the Neiman Marcus buying programme in New York selling accessories. She then moved to Chanel, in wholesale sales for ready-to-wear, before joining Net-a-Porter as a founding member in 2002. At NAP Rogers quickly became fashion and buying director and launched and drove the buying direction for both The Outnet in 2009 and Mr Porter in 2011. So, from humble beginnings on the shop floor to becoming a founding member of an e-commerce giant, Rogers shares her advice on handling life in the workplace.
It is ok to not be an expert in every endeavour you take on. For example, when I joined Net-a-Porter we were all just figuring out what luxury online retail meant. Then when I joined Browns I had to change up my way of thinking, because I had to also consider a physical retail space. You can learn all kinds of things from other people, as all our points of view and experiences are different, so being open is key. To me that has nothing to do with age, it’s about diversity in general. I learned about TikTok from my nephew and Facebook from my father. It has always been important for me to work with people from all over the world, from varying upbringings and cultures as well as age.
It’s easy to get swept away in the idea of what working in fashion means; I try not to get caught up in the perceived glamour that comes with a career in the industry. For me, work is all about the projects I am involved in, the people I work with and, ultimately, what you end up producing, whether that be on your own accord or through collaboration. I think I can thank my dad for thinking that way. So many people suffer from imposter syndrome, sometimes it takes a deep breath to remember you are not alone. One cliché that does particularly resonate in fashion is dress for the job you want not the job you have. And show you have a point of view; personal style is a part of that.
Having an open dialogue helps to make brave decisions. Talk to your boss if you want a promotion or to move within the company. Be proactive and don’t be afraid to talk to other people about your progress, both inside and outside your organisation. That could be someone from HR or even more senior leaders to seek advice. When people know you they can be better advocates for you.
When it comes to money chat, I think it is important to be respectful of the process. Business budgets always need to be considered. Also, be aware of timeframes. Boldly asking for a raise in the middle of the year might not set you up for success. However, putting a thorough case together to explain why you are asking and being able to justify your position could spell success. Seek out advice from people you trust, to identify the best time to broach the subject.
If you have an interest in something, then follow your gut and explore your passions even if that means having a side hustle for a while. I have been lucky enough to have worked in fashion my whole life. I have so much respect for someone who can just start fresh and follow their dreams.
At Browns we think it is ‘cool to be kind’ and being friendly is being kind. I always endeavour to know people’s names and I also think honesty is really important. Being direct and transparent will get you respect. If you’re in a managerial role and need to give feedback, honesty is key and whether the person is going to feel deflated is definitely down to how you phrase and deliver constructive criticism.
There’s no doubt that as a manager, this is something that I think you have to continually work on. No two people are the same, so there needs to be a clear understanding of the individual’s needs.
Work and life can be hard to separate at times, but I guess it depends on the role you have both at work and at home. I think you should always strive to bring empathy and kindness to both situations. We all know things happen in our private life that sometimes impact our work. However, for me it is important to be transparent and share your thoughts with close colleagues so people know where your head is at and can provide the necessary support. We are all human and everyone has their own struggles. Just know that things will get better, as they always do.
In 2003 after I relocated to London and joined Net-a-Porter, I decided to take a year-long sabbatical. After years of travel and long hours it was the right thing for me to do for myself. When you feel like you are reaching burn out, this is always the right time to take an honest look at your work-life balance. In truth, only you know when you need time
Sometimes when you're busy working towards a goal you forget to stop and appreciate the journey. If you suffer from arrival fallacy make sure you stop and assess what it is that you expected. Is the role what you expected or are you already looking for what’s next? Reflection is important as it gives you the opportunity to go out and find what you’re looking for. But remember, it’s all part of a journey and sometimes things need time.
On the other hand, don’t stick around to wait for something to happen. For me it’s always been important to not feel static. When you are no longer getting what you need out of the job and you know you are not giving your best, it’s probably time to move on, because that means the company aren’t getting the best out of you either.
If you have a good relationship with your boss, there is no harm in being open. It could also give them a chance to re-asses your position. I think if you are clear that you aren’t getting what you need and want from a position or not seeing any upward mobility then there is a case to be transparent about looking around to move on.
All my idols are women; all are pioneering. They have done things their own way and not always adhered to the constructs of what it means to be a CEO or senior leader. Remember to follow your own path and not to dwell on what others are doing around you. Think creatively and always be open to change. You can have very clear goals; flexibility in how you get there is key.
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