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Why do so few women hold key positions in fashion?

2 Dec 2015
Grishma Jashapara

Fashion is largely a women’s world so why do so few women hold key positions?

Grishma Jashapara, Managing Partner at Fusion Associates explores the subject.

There is no doubt that there has been a growing improvement in opportunities for women at all levels within the industry over recent decades.


This is a result of several factors:  

  • A general cultural shift in perception on the capabilities of women in the workplace.

  • A conscious effort towards creating a better gender balance driven both by internal company Value Statements on diversity and by external legislation in certain countries where there are legal requirements to promote equality.

  • A growing realisation within organisations that a more even gender balance positively impacts a company from a commercial standpoint. Statistics show that the top performing companies in the FTSE 100 all have a greater gender balance at senior executive and board level.

  • What women want and what is expected of them has changed, with a trend towards a greater focus on career. They no longer see themselves as merely the secondary or supplementary earner in the family, they have careers and ambitions in their own right.

  • Although the desire to change is there, successfully following through holds it’s own challenges.

    As an Executive Search firm we work with our clients on key hires from middle management through to Board level positions. The biggest challenge to introducing diversity we have found is at the senior executive/board level. This is primarily due to the time lag between the aforementioned opportunities and ambitions coming into play, and the experience that has been accumulated. There is a significantly smaller pool of female candidates to headhunt from. 

    This is exacerbated by the fact that women may choose to have career breaks when they have children so the experience they have built up during a 20 year period before they achieve a senior executive capability would have been interrupted for a few of those years. Also their priorities may change for a period of time with a greater focus on family as opposed to career. For a CEO or General Manager type role, where a breadth of experience across multiple channels and functional areas is essential, this gap in years could prove crucial and put them at a disadvantage.

    Another factor that plays a part in reducing the pool of female candidates available is relocation. We headhunt globally and more often than not, our roles will require the person to relocate. We have found male candidates are more open and able to relocate. Even if they do not relocate the whole family, it is not uncommon for them to base themselves in the country of work during the week and travel home for the weekend. Women are less likely to commit to such an arrangement if they have children.

    In spite of the challenges, it should be noted that although the pool of female candidates at senior executive level is smaller, we have found the calibre to be extremely high. This is presumably because, in the past, due to preconceptions and prejudices, they have had to be better than their male counterparts to progress and achieve the position they have.

    Although we operate within Fashion and Sport, we also headhunt out of a range of other industries and we have found no perceptible difference on one industry having a better gender balance than another, except perhaps within Beauty. As a sector, Beauty does appear to have more female senior execs, however this may be because of a traditionally female-skewed bias of entrants into the industry.


    There are of course also differences between individual companies depending on their company culture and also, on a wider scale, regionally. Southern Europe for example seems to lag behind Northern and Western Europe on addressing gender balance. Also, larger corporations are taking greater active strides on addressing diversity; this may be partly due to external perception as they are in the public eye and therefore have greater accountability.

    In conclusion and from our experience, there is progress being made however this is easier to see with the newer generations of women where the opportunities for them have started earlier. As they progress through their careers we can expect to see this reflected better at board level. There is still a long way to go and we may never see a 50/50 gender split due to practical considerations such as family however there is evidence that we are going in the right direction.


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