Barracuda Events: “What Glass Ceiling?”

Female leadership and the imaginary glass ceiling in retail

We recently held an event, attended by female managing directors, chief executives and senior directors from across the retail landscape to explore whether the glass ceiling for women is real or imaginary.

An informed, provocative discussion followed where history, culture, leadership and gender characteristics were explored.

We agreed that conviction, courage, competence and cadence were the defining attributes in a leader. We then explored the key behaviours of men versus women around these attributes. There was consensus that a woman’s strength was around competence and cadence, whereas unlike their male counterparts, they find conviction and courage frequently more challenging.

Courageousness in women is often interpreted as being difficult or aggressive whereas the same traits in a male are viewed as a differentiating leadership quality.

With conviction, it was felt that women are more inclined to overly seek counsel when setting a strategic direction, keen to achieve consensus. This is unlike their male counterparts who it was felt tend to feel less need in this area and will instinctively act with conviction.

Women at some point in their lives are still seen as responsible for both young and old dependants. Despite the progress that is being made from a societal perspective, inevitably this still impacts on career progress.

Loyalty was also a key feature of the debate, with the general feeling that women have a greater concern for the end cause and in a business situation want to feel like they are making a difference and adding value, as opposed to the male position of generally focusing on their career from an individual perspective and satisfying their own personal goals.

Interestingly there was fierce agreement that there is not a glass ceiling despite all of the above, it is women that put the constraints on themselves rather than having the courage and conviction to be more assertive about their own progression.

The corollary to this is that quotas are not the answer; indeed they may even inadvertently exacerbate the issue.

There was agreement that women need to understand and celebrate their own value and worth, whilst supporting each other to ensure that the imaginary glass ceiling remains just that – imaginary.

Sue Malti, Director and Victoria Nightingale, Associate Director, Barracuda Search Ltd

Retail Week – 20 October 2014