Female Retail

24. September 2020, Editorial

In this age of feminism, quotas and female empowerment, women and the topic of women in the workplace are more prominent than ever before. But it’s a topic that has been around for a good while now and one which affects all areas of life – and all industries. A more level playing field, more equality, more men at home... there are plenty of suggestions, but putting them all into practice is where it falls down. What do things look like in the retail sector?


female empowerment
womans quota

Is Austria a shining example?

Austria introduced a statutory quota for the proportion of women in key positions on 1 January 2018 – for supervisory boards, it is 30%. But according to a study published by EY, Austria’s supervisory boards only reported an increase in female members from 18.8% in 2018 to 23.3% last year. So there’s still room for improvement. According to Eurostat, the pay gap in Austria was  19.6% in 2018 – significantly above the EU average of 14.8%. In Austria, just nine out of 196 CEOs of listed companies are female. And there is still a long way to go before the nation’s women receive equal pay for equal work.

Despite a good education and strong motivation to succeed, women are still not receiving the same level of career support as men. One Swedish study showed that female researchers who were just as productive as their male colleagues were judged to be less competent by observers. But coming back to the original question, what  do things look like in the retail sector? It’s definitely worth taking a look at this part of the economy as it is one of the most important in Austria, with around half a million employees.

Female in retail

Ok, one point to start with: significantly more women work in retail and sales than men.


In Germany, around three quarters of workers in this sector are women. So you could be forgiven for thinking that there are also lots of women in leadership positions. But if you look at the upper echelons of management, the imbalance soon becomes clear. And even in the retail and consumer goods businesses, women are still significantly under-represented. Only around one in every five management positions is held by a woman (22%), and by the time you get to the very top, the proportion drops to just 14%. One interesting quirk: the bigger the company, the less likely it is that you will find a woman be at the head of the boardroom table.

There is a distinct lack of female managers in retail. Although 75% of employees are women, just 27% of management positions are held by females. On top of that, women only earn around 57% of the median income for men. And they receive far fewer pay rises than men in the course of their retail career. What all of this brings into sharp focus is that those calls for more equality  are fully justified. And there is no shortage of potential for promoting women in this particular industry. Retail is by far and away the most popular apprenticeship choice for young women. And around two thirds of women working in retail can see themselves sticking around in future.

The sky’s the limit

What’s known as breaking the glass ceiling is not just a refreshing idea; it also touches on another important aspect. In many cases, women face barriers – either from society or of their own making – when it comes to progressing in their careers. And although the numbers and status quo make slightly depressing reading, there are still lots of great schemes out there designed to give additional support and backing to women in retail.

One such example, the Female in Retail initiative, is a business network for women working in online retail. Its regular get-togethers give women working in the sector the chance to compare notes and share advice. PwC has also responded with its women&retail network, which brings together female managers, providing them with a forum where they can compare their experiences of the latest developments in the industry and build up their own support networks.


Platforms like these are incredibly important for female managers working in retail – once they have satisfied the demands placed on them by their careers as well as household and childcare responsibilities, there is precious little time left to manage their professional relationships, forge new contacts and set aside time to analyse the latest trends in their sector.

IKEA is also demonstrating its commitment to supporting women at the company. Here, equal opportunities is hard-wired into the business model. 50.7% of management positions at IKEA Germany are held by women. And another key aspect: parental leave is not seen as something that affects women alone, but an issue that impacts on both sides equally. The company’s recruitment policies show that this is more than just lip service, too. New employees are onboarded in line with specific values, to ensure that they stand by them. Workshops and talks ensure that any unconscious bias is addressed.

So we can see that there are already good precedents and promising ways to constructively approach the question of equal opportunities and women in retail to achieve real progress. But examples like this are often one-offs. So ladies, have faith in yourself and keep on breaking the glass ceiling!

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