Very few women at senior executive levels in retail sector

Less than 15% of the most senior executives in Europe are women, survey finds

Women are “seriously under represented” at the most senior executive levels in the grocery, retail and consumer goods sectors despite being the most important target market for retailers and brands, according to new research.

The analysis of top-tier management committee roles at 150 of the biggest consumer brands and grocers across Europe was conducted by Dublin-headquartered industry publication, European Supermarket Magazine (ESM).

A synopsis of the study will be released to coincide with International Women’s Day on Tuesday. ESM found that less than 15 per cent of the most senior executives in Europe are women. Here, the proportion drops to less than 9 per cent of top management roles at the companies analysed.

Senior tier

The researchers focused on the proportion of women on the most senior tier of each company, variously called the “executive board”, “operating board” or “executive committee”, the term favoured by ESM. Irish companies in the study include



, where Siobhán Talbot is managing director,

Kerry Group


Valeo Foods

and cider maker C&C. Big international brands surveyed include L’Oréal,





More than a third, or 55, of the companies surveyed have no women at executive committee or equivalent level. These include C&C, Lakeland Dairies and Kerry in Ireland. Internationally, it includes Bacardi, Constellation Brands and Intersnack, the German group that owns Tayto here.

Gender balance

Among the most gender-balanced management teams is Kimberly-Clark, the company behind Kleenex and Huggies nappies, where five of the eight most senior executives are women. Seven of the 16 members of Diageo’s executive committee are women, and a third of L’Oréal’s senior team is female. Of the 150 companies sampled for the survey, however, just four, or less than 3 per cent, have 50 per cent or higher female representation.

ESM chairman and Dublin-based publisher Kevin Kelly said women are the “most important” consumers targeted by many of the companies surveyed. “Leading retailers and suppliers should take a step back, and examine ways to improve their gender balance – not as a token gesture, but as a means to bolster the future performance and profitability of their businesses,” he said.

He said companies were assiduous in detailing how much and why senior executives get paid, but there is little about the diversity of their senior management teams.“If they hire senior women they should shout about it,” he said.

A high proportion of the 202 women, among the more than 1,350 senior executives at the companies surveyed, hold roles in areas such as human resources, marketing and also as company secretary. The researchers did not analyse company boards of directors or non-executive roles.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times