IWD 2020: A list of British retailers led by female CEOs

Over the last decade there has been a mere increase in female boardroom representation, indicating that retail still has a long way to go to achieve gender equality. As International Women's Day nears, Retail Gazette highlights the female execs already making a difference.

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IWD 2020: British retailers female CEO MD
We shine a spotlight on those who are paving the way for future generations.

1. Dame Sharon White

Last month Dame Sharon White assumed the role of chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, the colleague-owned retail giant that operates the John Lewis and Waitrose chains.

She replaces Sir Charlie Mayfield, and despite not having any retail background, she joined the partnership at a tumultuous time, with declining profits and a slew of senior management departures – such as former John Lewis managing director Paula Nickolds.

However, since joining the partnership, White hasn’t been afraid of making changes, hinting at possible adjustments to the head office restructuring plans put in place my Mayfield, as well as store closures and job cuts.

Dame Sharon White is the chair of John Lewis Partnership.

2. Anya Hindmarch

Anya Hindmarch is an English fashion accessories designer who founded her eponymous label and retail chain and grew it into a global business.

She returned to the helm of Anya Hindmarch in 2019 after stepping down in 2011, and regained co-ownership this year, leading a turnaround.

Anya Hindmarch.

3. Natalie Massenet

The co-chair of online luxury retailer Farfetch is Natalie Massenet.

Massenet founded Net-a-Porter from her Chelsea flat in 2000 and since then has had a stellar career in retail.

In 2017, she stepped down as executive chairman of Net-a-Porter in the wake of its merger with the Italian online retailer Yoox.

She subsequently joined the board of Farfetch, taking on the role of co-chair to work alongside its founder and chief executive José Neves.

Natalie Massenet, Farfetch Co-Chair.

4. Helena Helmersson

She may not be British, but one cannot ignore the significance of having a woman as the boss of H&M Group – the world’s second biggest fashion retailer.

Helena Helmersson became the fashion giant’s first female chief executive at the end of January this year.

Helmersson was promoted to the role to replace Karl-Johan Persson, who has gone on to become chairman of the Swedish conglomerate.

Helmersson previously held the positions of head of sustainability, global head of production and latterly as chief operating officer.

H&M Group owns many well-known retailers that are present in UK high streets and shopping centres: Arket, Weekday, Cos, Monki, H&M Home, & Other Stories, Afound and H&M itself.

Helena Helmersson, H&M Group CEO.

5. Julia Straus

Sweaty Betty promoted its managing director Julia Straus to the role of chief executive last year.

Straus joined the British activewear retailer in August 2018 after three years as chief executive of US beauty brand Tula.

She took over from co-founder Simon Hill-Norton, who stepped aside to become chairman and is credited for accelerating Sweaty Betty’s digital and international growth.

Julia Straus, Sweaty Betty CEO.

6. Maria Raga

Maria Raga has been the chief executive of Depop since 2016.

She previously held the position of operations vice president at the London-based social shopping app.

“We want to make a place for people to really express their creativity and do something meaningful,” Raga told Retail Gazette during an interview in 2017.

“That obviously limits the group of people using Depop but at the same time there’s a lot of opportunities.”

Maria Raga, Depop CEO.

7. Karen Hubbard

Karen Hubbard was appointed chief executive greeting cards retailer Card Factory in 2016.

After moving to the UK from Australia in 2008, Hubbard held a number of senior roles at Big 4 grocer Asda, including executive director of property, format development and multi-channel from 2009 to 2014.

Prior to this, she worked at BP for 14 years in retail operations roles.

Karen Hubbard, Card Factory CEO.

8. Jacqueline Gold

Jacqueline Gold is the chief executive of Ann Summers.

She has been in that position since 1993, and is credited for transforming the retailer into a more female-centric, female-positive business.

She is also regularly named on various lists that honour the most powerful women in UK retail.

Jacqueline Gold, Ann Summers CEO.

9. Alannah Weston & Anne Pitcher

Alannah Weston has been the creative director of the luxury British department store since her family bought it in 2004.

She was named deputy chairman of the Selfridges Group in 2014, and was then promoted to chairman in 2019.

Meanwhile, Anne Pitcher was appointed group managing director of Selfridges Group back in 2011, having previously worked for the department store as buying and merchandise director.

Just last week, she was named as a finalist in the Bold Woman category for the Veuve Clicquot awards, a prestigious award that honours the impact of female leadership across the UK.

The Selfridges Group owns luxury department store chains in Canada, Ireland, The Netherlands and in the UK, the home of its iconic Oxford Street flagship.

Selfirdges group MD Anne Pitcher (Image: Veuve Clicquot Awards/PA Wire)

SPECIAL MENTION: Helen Dickinson

She may not head up a retailer per se, but her role within UK retail is still highly significant.

Helen Dickinson was appointed as the chief executive of the BRC in 2012.

Dickinson leads the team and sets the strategic direction of the BRC and has been working with retailers for over 25 years.

The BRC itself has more than 5000 members, which make up 60 per cent of the UK’s retail market share.

Helen Dickinson, BRC CEO.

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