He also assembled a crack squad of retail shareholders, mostly all middle-aged women who will meet with the board regularly to advise what they should be focusing on to improve their clothing sales. But, as one of the first candidates said in correspondence “maybe they should just get a mum to do it, to understand what mums want”.
Elsewhere, while industry veteran Sir Ian Cheshire declared earlier this year that retail chief executives weren’t fit for purpose and said retailers had to move away from “overtly masculine boards”, the Debenhams chairman missed an opportunity to promote a woman, Suzanne Harlow, to the top role and instead chose outsider Sergio Buchers.
So what is holding back the promotion to the top?
Fiona Davis, a director of Women in Retail, identified three “excuses” that were stopping women from claiming the top job, based on a survey of more than 70 retail chief executives.
The first is the “numbers disadvantage”, because with few role models for women, it perpetuates a vicious cycle, as the pipeline of prospective candidates fills with similar personality types.
Carol Kane, chief executive of online retailer Boohoo, says she has not encountered any barriers herself, but admits “I never had a female boss and I would have liked one”.