Are Women in B&M Treated Fairly?

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Happy International Women’s Day: here’s to strong women everywhere.

I know I’ve never hesitated to do the things I wanted in life, and have not seen any gender barriers blocking me. I grew up in a very female household; I went to an all-girls school; most of my bosses have been female; I’ve seen two female PMs and only lived under a Queen.

It certainly appears on the surface that women are able to have it all, with the same opportunities as men. But is this 100% true in retail? Sadly, the answer is no. When it comes to women in the workplace, retail is still operating in the dark ages.

There is an age-old industry joke “where do all the women in B&M go after they’re 40?”. It’s actually not funny in the slightest: the industry fails to support them, is the answer.

For some reason, while the rest of the world is embracing the benefits of flexible working, retail remains staunchly Monday to Friday 9 to 5 (well, 8 till 6.30, but that’s not such a catchy line!). And this inflexibility means that women returning to work after they’ve had children have no way of striking a balance in the lives they want to have. Four-day weeks are like the Loch Ness Monster – heard of but rarely seen. Three-day weeks are just an impossibility.

The industry argues that meetings come up all the time and everybody needs to be physically present. I can only hope that as technology improves it becomes possible for people to participate in meetings virtually. Because the sad truth of the fact – as I said, it’s a really UNFUNNY joke about women over 40 in B&M – is that the industry has trained some incredible people over the years, who simply have to step aside once they start a family because they just can’t make it work.

I know plenty of former merchandisers now running their own little enterprises. Sandwich shops. Baby clothing businesses. Various crafty creations. There must be some seriously well-forecasted stock levels on avocados and packaging. Some very expertly controlled critical paths. And some suppliers living in fear should they not deliver on time….!

I spend much of my week discussing salaries, and time and time again see that there is a pattern of men earning more than women in merchandising. I attribute this primarily to the fact that men are (in my experience) much more assertive when it comes to requesting a pay rise. I caught up with one of my very favourite merchandisers recently, and was trying to encourage her to push for promotion and the salary she deserved. Her response was that she really liked her Senior Merchandiser and didn’t want to upset her. I’ve never heard a man say that sort of thing. And the biggest irony of all is that on a daily basis, a merchandiser is negotiating with suppliers on delivery dates and discounts, demonstrating confidence in trade meetings and firmly stating their case regarding the forecasted profitability of a new collection. Yet in many cases they don’t put these skills into action and request more money for themselves.

So on International Women’s Day I say this: be proud of what you do, fight for the life you deserve….. and go and get that pay rise!

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