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Engaging Men in Gender Diversity in Retail

New study of the LEAD Network suggests ways to engage male senior executive retailers in gender balance

What can be done to engage men in the mission to create a better gender balance in retail companies? To cast light on this question the LEAD Network, a foundation that seeks to advance the position of women in the retail and consumer goods industries, recently published a report identifying how retailers can improve gender diversity in their companies, particularly by engaging more men at the Senior Executive level.

While in the past, gender diversity tended to be seen as a female problem that was the responsibility of women to solve, today there is a growing appreciation that it is in fact an organisational issue that requires the active engagement and input from both sexes.

The report Engaging Men in Gender Diversity: Perspectives from the C-suite of leading retailers takes an in-depth look at the extent to which men are engaged in promoting gender diversity in their companies and sets out achievable objectives to encourage gender diversity. For the study, Ernst & Young, METRO AG and the LEAD Network conducted interviews with 33 executives (25 males and 8 females) from 14 retail companies. 

Gender Diversity drives future business succes

The report also refers to recent studies emphasizing the evidence that gender-balanced leadership drives better business results. McKinsey&Company sees a 47% increase in average return on equity and plus 55% average earnings before interest and tax for companies with top quartile female board representation. Credit Suisse found some 4% higher Return on Equity (ROE) for companies with at least one woman in their boards, Catalyst assumes a 34% higher total return to shareholders. Ernest & Young reports a survey which shows that about 79% of executives in consumer products and retail companies (CPR) recognise that gender diversity improves business performance.

Finally there are estimations showing that if women's participation in the global economy were equal to men's the global GDP would get a $28 trillion boost by 2025. Even in western and eastern Europe, adding women to workforce could result in +9% GDP increase by 2025.

Veronika Pountcheva, Global Director Corporate Responsibility METRO AG and LEAD Advisory Board Member: “Gender diversity is no longer a niche issue for women to work on. Retailers are operating in a period of immense disruption and rapid change that requires a diversity of thought and style to win through. At METRO AG, we aim to chart our own progress along the internalization curve and expect other retailers to do so too. Adopting the recommendations outlined in the report will be a catalyst for change.  Sharing best practice across the industry will help retailers address this strategic issue and get the gender balance right.” 

The report details three principles for retailers to take away

  • Lead from the top, with the Board and C-suite (Senior Executives) fully engaged and talking about the issue, acting as role models, and ensuring the business case for gender diversity is understood by the whole organisation;

  • Build a new culture where there is a healthy work/life balance for all employees, and design sustainable processes, practices and architecture that will help future-proof the company;

  • Use the right language to include and inspire, for example referring to ‘parental leave’ rather than ‘maternity leave’, and sharing stories of varied career paths and working practices.

Moreover, the study identified six key barriers to male engagement and proposes action that can be taken to overcome them:

  • Tackling society’s assumption that women should take the lion’s share of family responsibilities by enabling men to play a greater role in family life. This involves developing a new work/life concept for employees at all levels, with measures such as flexible working, parental leave, part-time roles and job shares.

  • Transforming the 24/7 working culture of the retail industry to allow both men and women a healthier work/life balance and help attract a new generation of talent into the organisation.

  • Creating an inclusive leadership culture, where senior men model desirable behaviour such as leaving early on a particular day to pick up children from school.

  • Making sure there is a strong pipeline of female talent so that male leaders do not struggle to find suitable candidates.

  • Tackling unconscious bias, for example challenging the stereotype that women have ‘softer’ skills that complement men’s abilities.

  • Paying women equally to men for equivalent work, not only as a matter of fairness but to prevent male managers from devaluing women’s contribution because they are paid less.

 - The full report is available via the LEAD Network. Please contact mick.broekhof@lead-eu.net  -

Women of Europe Awards

On 29 November 2017, the  European Movement International and the European Women’s Lobby will celebrate a new edition of the Women of Europe Awards. The awards are handed out annually to honour women striving to advance the European project in their professional or private capacity. The President of this year's jury is Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. As Member of the Jury, Veronika Pountcheva, Senior Vice President at METRO AG, together with Véronique Willems, Secretary General of UEAPME, will hand over the Award in the category of Women in Business.

METRO's "Women in Trade" (WiT) organisation will be also present during the ceremony and inform about our company's network and activities in the field of gender diversity.

Ahead of the gala, the debate "Perspectives on diversity" will allow for an in-depth discussion on the role of diversity in Europe's future seen from different points of view. METRO's perspective will be represented by Ms Pountcheva in the panel discussion.

Women in Trade (WiT)

As part of diversity management, METRO AG promotes equal professional opportunities for men and women and is working towards increasing the share of women in leading positions.
However, promoting diversity and equal opportunities at METRO is not restricted to specific targets. The employee network Women in Trade (WiT) has now over 300 members who work together to:

  • drive cultural change in the company;
  • establish life phase-oriented employment;
  • increase the share of women in management positions.

WiT has also put in place a mentoring and coaching Programme to help METRO's female employees to build-up career-boosting contacts and create opportunities for personal growth.

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Information about the author

Veronika Pountcheva is Senior Vice President and Global Director for Corporate Responsibility at METRO AG and Member of LEAD Advisory Board