Simon Hannah on supporting women in wholesale

Simon Hannah

BW: Do you think wholesale is behind the curve in terms of gender parity and does the industry provide a supportive culture for women?

Simon Hannah: At JW Filshill (where Simon is managing director), we enjoy great staff loyalty and always look to promote from within so many of our senior management team have worked their way up through the business, starting off in jobs that are not traditionally attractive to 16 and 17-year-old girls. 50% of our staff have been with us longer than 10 years.

The very nature of wholesale is that many of the jobs available – certainly in our business – are manual and physically demanding for order pickers, drivers and replenishment staff, so there’s not that same pool of male versus female staff coming through the career path from the warehouse. Most of our administration and cash office staff are female. A number of our senior sales team are female, particularly in our KeyStore and national accounts team. The culture we have is about loyalty and encouraging talent regardless of gender.

BW: Does wholesale attract women, progress them and retain them adequately?

SH: I think we need to look beyond the male-female ratio and accept that attracting talent into wholesale in itself is a challenge without bringing gender into it. This is something the industry is working very hard on in Scotland through the Scottish Wholesale Association’s mentoring programme.

Wholesale is a fast moving and exciting sector which deals with some of the biggest brands in the world, it provides career progression and a long and varied career – this is the key message that we need to get out there in terms of raising awareness and attracting the best talent to our sector.

BW: How many women occupy senior positions at Filshill? Would you like to see more? If so, why?

SH: Currently we have no female board members. However, when we were recently interviewing for a finance director we interviewed a shortlist of four – two men and two women. We appointed Keith Geddes because he was the best candidate – gender didn’t come into it. My primary objective was to find the right person for the job.

Within our senior management team of seven, two of them are women. The others have all progressed through the business from warehouse roles.Three of the nine members of our Works Council are female and come from different departments across the business.

We also have three extremely talented female buyers and there are also incredibly hard-working and successful females in our sales team.

BW: Do you think there are barriers to women’s leadership in wholesale? If you do, what are they?

SH: I can’t talk on behalf of anyone else’s business but no, I don’t think there are barriers. We have many women at Filshill who hold very senior positions and do an excellent job for us and that’s the key point to bear in mind. They are doing a great job because they are committed to the company and passionate about what they do – it’s not because of their gender.

BW: What current structure do you have in place to support women at different stages of their career?

SH: We don’t have anything in place to support women specifically – we support all our staff regardless of gender. In a family business the support for our staff is often not only in terms of their careers but also in their personal lives too.

BW: What method do you believe brings in and progresses the best female talent – are quotas and targets desirable or a seamless senior leadership pipeline?

SH: We base who we employ on ability and skills regardless of whether they are male or female. In fact, I think the key word in the question is ‘talent’ – not female. I also believe most women would want to a job based on their ability and skills rather than their gender.

BW: Do you think gender parity takes care of itself, or do you think there should be a company strategy in place to achieve it? Does Filshill have one?

SH: I don’t believe a strategy is necessary for our business.

BW: Do you have in place, or would you consider, a female mentoring scheme?

SH: No, we don’t have one, in Scotland we are fortunate in having the groundbreaking Scottish Wholesale Association mentoring programme. It’s been hugely successful and is gathering pace, giving the industry north of the Border a competitive advantage in terms of nurturing our talent. Fiona Ritchie, our impulse buyer, is currently participating in the scheme and is working closely with one of the most talented females in the industry, Clare Bocking from McCormicks Uk Ltd.

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