The gender agenda doesn’t just benefit women in wholesale

The gender agenda doesn’t just benefit women, it feeds into wider goals that we set as an industry, argues Elit Rowland.

Has anyone seen the new Star Wars film? Did anyone notice that it had the franchise’s first-ever female storm trooper, part of an ‘elite guard’? What a groundbreaking moment in film history. I thought so anyway. And she’s not the only example of women breaking the mould in the gender agenda.

The subject of ‘women in leadership’ is popping up everywhere right now, and some of the world’s greatest businesses and brands are on board.

Microsoft has established a thriving female-only conference, and Forbes has just announced its first-ever women-only digital network, to help women advance in their careers. The UK civil service has a popular ‘Women into Leadership’ event, which supports women at all levels to enhance their skills. Within our own Government, we’ve now got our second-ever female Prime Minister. So where is wholesale placed in the gender agenda?

Unfortunately, we’re a bit behind. I’ve been on the wholesale circuit for a few years now and I love it – inspiring people and incredible businesses. I’ve spent pretty much every day interviewing entrepreneurial wholesalers which inspired me to set up my own business, working in wholesale of course. The industry is great at banging the drum about big issues like technology, but there is radio silence when it comes to the shortage of women in our sector.

To address this, I am organising the industry’s first Women in Wholesale conference to offer women of all levels an opportunity to network and develop their skills. Contrary to rumours, there will be no burning of bras or female witchcraft. Instead, we will highlight the industry’s top women and address key themes including how to balance life and leadership, how to retain talent, and how concepts like mentoring can make a big impact to even the smallest businesses. We will have presentations that demonstrate the importance and value of women in leadership roles, which I hope will inspire and motivate our delegates.

I thought long and hard about having our male colleagues at the event. Much of the inspiration I’ve taken in my career has been from male mentors like Bill Laird and JJ Food Service’s Mustafa Kiamil. Despite that, with fewer female role models, women are at a stage where they need to build their confidence within the industry. So, this is an important way to mark this new era for women in wholesale.

The great news is that the gender agenda doesn’t just benefit females. It feeds into wider goals that we set as an industry, including how to attract and retain talent. The ultra-demanding millennial expects a career that supports a healthy work life balance. Forget about the 9-5pm week we have grown up with. They do not ‘compartmentalise’ work and home. The pace of technology and digital media has made it easy for the two to merge. Our approach to careers must reflect that, and employers who get it right reap the rewards.

Take Innocent Drinks – they offer a package that’s so attractive that a large percentage of their employees end up staying long enough to get married (to each other!) and have ‘Innocent babies’. There is a lot wholesale can learn from a businesses like that, and Innocent’s Sam Simister will be speaking at our event, among others.

The world is changing and it’s never been a better time to be a woman working in wholesale, or a woman working in many industries for that matter. The only way is up. Are you coming?

Elit Rowland, a former editor of Better Wholesaling and now a wholesale communications specialist, is the organiser of Women In Wholesale, which takes place in London on 18 October.


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