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Leaving ‘old school’ behind on International Women’s Day

08.03.2016

To celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) and as part of our diversity and inclusion strategy – we hosted a breakfast debate today, marking the first in a series that will take place throughout the year. Our panel included Gabriella Oakley from Inspiring Women, Sally Clare of Ambition Group and Mairi McHaffie from Coaching Squared.  The session was broadcast to our Reading office and all our shopping centre management teams around the UK and given the property industry has a reputation of being ‘old school’ when it comes to gender parity it produced some healthy debate.

Diversity and inclusion is a key priority for us as a business and we have made strides in this over the past year. Of the 135 new employees recruited in 2015, 66 were female and of these, over a third were employed in professional or senior professional roles. There is strong evidence that a diverse workforce delivers increased productivity and profits and on a personal level, working with colleagues from different genders and a range of backgrounds and nationalities, makes it a much more enjoyable and interesting day in the office. By having colleagues with different skill sets and not conforming to ‘a type’ it makes us more creative and innovative, and crucially, we’re better able to adapt to change. And in the world of retail the pace of change is getting ever faster, so we need to be able to embrace this to outperform. As a retail business we also know that in the majority of cases, women wear the ‘shopping’ trousers, so getting a better understanding of our customers makes great business sense.

IWD 2016 celebrates the contribution women make alongside recognising that there is in some cases still work to be done on gender parity. Our session covered a host of topics, but the stand out points for me were:

–        Gabriella Oakley from Inspiring Women emphasising why visibility and positive role models are so important, especially to children and teenagers – “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it”

–        Sally Clare highlighting the opportunity to redefine success in a business context – “What should you aspire to and the skills you need, rather than are you the right fit”

–        Mairi McHaffie offering some great tips and Ted Talks homework on how being positive can get you noticed

–        The session ended with an engaging Q&A and an insight into how colleagues see the future. One of our male general managers commented that as the father of two daughters he was encouraged by the debate but was saddened that the potential of his mother was never really recognised – no doubt a sentiment that many of us can identify with, but one that inspires confidence for future generations.

I’m encouraged that the session has already inspired some colleagues to volunteer with Inspiring Women and hopefully it won’t stop there. IWD has made us think, and if I’ve taken anything away from the session, it is that this thinking should be a daily occurrence not an annual event.