The retail sector is often deemed as demanding in terms of innovation, work-life balance, and lifestyle. What would be your advice be for future generations of female talent to navigate this sector and succeed?

At the point of promotion to a field role, Retail becomes a lifestyle rather than a job. This is a factor I always discuss with any future leader in my team. Retail is a 24/7 job these days and requires commitment as well as passion.

Therefore, finding that work-life balance is crucial to success. But how one navigates that is up to the individual, as it’s not a job with regular hours. Flexibility and adaptability are key skills to develop, along with the ability to say no. Most highly successful people in business say no more often than they say yes to additional projects/proposals.

Yet, women, in general, are not good at refusing gracefully. It’s hard to get your head up and see where you are going if you are snowed under with tasks.

The retail landscape is always evolving in terms of innovation and technology. As a leader who manages multiple portfolios, how do you keep yourself up to date?

It’s hard to stay ahead of the pack but I do try to stay endlessly curious. I always want to know what the other retailers are doing differently, which of them are new, and who is more exciting.

I find my nieces great sources of information and inspiration. Also, having a diverse team plays a big role in keeping us informed and relevant for our customers.

Every quarter, we review what our competitors are doing for the customers. Zara and Oysho, for example, have recently transformed their customer journey in their refitted stores. So, we have to keep our physical stores fresh and exciting, as more and more retailers are providing experiences in stores and pop-ups to carve out a reason for consumers to visit them rather than buy online. 

When it comes to fostering a culture that embraces sustainable practices, how do you overcome resistance within your team and stakeholders?

I worked with Anita Roddick at The Body Shop in its prime where sustainable practices were created out of necessity and embedded in the brand’s DNA. This was totally inspirational. It’s not hard to behave well with each other and take care of our planet if it comes from the top and is lived every day.

Since then, I have continued to lead by example. Running fun and educational activities to create awareness and including the resistors is a great way to gain support.

Recently, the VS team planted mangroves in Abu Dhabi and made care bags for blue collar workers in the UAE. Even the most resistant team members admitted they had fun and it felt good to do good outside the office. 

l love challenging the status quo, bringing fresh thinking to opportunities. I also find engaging the millennials in my team to lead the thinking a great way to bring everyone together. Personally, I don’t think you can force anyone to participate in something they are not interested in.

The resistance will only get more entrenched, so it’s better to let those people see what good looks like and experience some fear of missing out. Stakeholders are not so hard to convince if they can see a business benefit.

What according to you is key for female leaders to advance their careers while striving to strike the right work-life balance?

I live with my husband and four cats, and finding the balance between work and your personal life is not easy. It requires a supportive spouse and a fair division of life’s administrative responsibilities. It’s also important to be truly present when you are at home and are available for important family matters and events.

Female leaders agree that taking a proactive approach to societal issues is key in shaping ESG strategy. How essential of a trait is it for existing and aspiring female leaders to develop?

I find that females are much more engaged in ESG issues than male leaders. We are naturally more involved in communities and addressing the issues that exist there. This is just one strand of business strategy though; it doesn’t need to be separated. Values should be embedded in how the business conducts itself.