Helena Drakakis looks into the positive change that gender equality in wholesale can deliver
How does a company ensure it looks outwards and attracts a more diverse workforce? The issue is not exclusive to wholesale, but it is being given more airplay in the industry.
Wholesale is undergoing vast change, as networks such as Women in Wholesale (WiW) highlight the business case for a better gender balance. Within FTSE 100 companies, 25% of women hold senior management positions. In wholesale, it is 11%.
A multitude of factors are at play – not least that structures governing work have not caught up with how people want to work (more flexibly, for example).
However, one of the most interesting findings by WiW is an apparent disconnect between the beliefs of managing directors and those of HR practitioners: 86% of MDs said their company did not actively recruit females, yet 67% of HR practitioners said they did.
Breaking down barriers
So, why does such a disconnect exist? One wholesaler told BW: “As much as we would like to attract more women, all our directors are male and the majority of management is also male.”
According to Sue Knowles, marketing director at Costco, unconscious bias at the recruitment stage can be a factor. People pick the candidate who reflects their own appearance, values and experiences – so-called ‘affinity bias’. “If everyone is just like you, everyone will have the same ideas and come to the same conclusions, but that is not how great businesses are built,” says Knowles, adding that Costco management are trained in overcoming this.
Numerous studies have found barriers to gender parity occur when there is no buy-in from the top down. The day-to-day often takes precedent over any diversity strategy, the results of which may not be immediately tangible.
Birmingham-based Indus Foods believes having a woman on its board since its inception means a greater gender mix is embedded in its DNA. The wholesaler is now turning its attention to a wider ethnic mix, too. “Our strategy has been driven by having a mixed board, and we also have directors from very different backgrounds – one was a teacher, another an electrician, for example. We recognise we need new ideas. Diversity is good for business because it creates a friction where people see solutions differently,” says operations director Amir Chaudhary.
Undoubtedly, smaller companies can be more agile, as has been the case for foodservice wholesaler Caterite. “In 2012, the company’s growth was stagnant, but two young managers were recruited from Aldi and naturally the gender mix evolved,” explains marketing head Jinglin Li. Now, half of the senior management team are women, despite Caterite having no formal diversity strategy in place.
Flexible working is also embedded in the company, again supported from the top. “We trust our staff and they give back. Compromises are made, but our field staff can work remotely and we try to accommodate people’s lives,” adds Li. “Difference is the key to innovation and creativity. Practicing diversity means we have performed better and serve our diverse customer base better.”