Flexible solutions to ‘Moving up in retail’

Moving up in retail logoOn shop-floors throughout the UK, women dominate the workforce. They take on all sorts of different flexible shifts to suit opening hours. And to suit their own needs too: the ability to work flexibly is one of the top reasons why people choose the retail sector as a place to work.

But move your attention up to the first rung of retail management, and the gender balance shifts dramatically. Why are retailers failing to progress the expertise of so many of their best saleswomen?

The answer, according to a new Timewise report, Moving up in retail, is that flexible working options are rarely offered at managerial levels. Talent is wasted because retail staff who need to work part time or flexibly are trapped in junior frontline roles: they cannot take their flexibility with them into store management.

Our report explores the findings of a pilot study with Pets at Home, the UKs largest pets supplies retailer with more than 430 stores and 8,000 employees. The pilot, conducted in partnership with Timewise and supported by the UK Futures programme, looked at the potential impact of redesigning retail management roles on a flexible and part time basis.

Pets at Home pilot study

We found that, while many women do move up within Pets at Home, the ratio of men moving off the shop floor into assistant manager roles was double that of women. The lack of flexibility in management roles was a major contributing factor: two thirds of participants agreed that more people would be interested in promotion if they could work part time or flexible shifts.

Timewise helped Pets at Home to explore the challenges and opportunities for increasing flexible working opportunities at managerial levels. Next, a job redesign process was undertaken, which identified two viable options: job-share partnerships and a four-day-week. These options have now been made available for store management roles.

A lesson from America

Pets at Home have yet to assess the long term impact of their changes, but in another pilot in the US the results are already in. Technology products retailer, Best Buy (1400 stores and 125,000 employees), trialled giving employees flexibility over working time and found that their voluntary turnover rates reduced by 90% and productivity increased by 41%.  

Vital strategy for any sector needing gender diversity 

Employing women in decision-making roles is particularly important in retail because 85% of all retail purchases are made or influenced by women. Many other sectors have similar needs to reflect their client base. And gender diversity in senior roles is in any case proven to boost profits - by 15% above industry average, according to a 2015 report by McKinsey & Co (‘Diversity Matters’).

Any employer who wants to tackle staff attrition rates, particularly female attrition, should take a good look at the improvements that flexible working can bring. The impact goes beyond retention – flexible options also affect who gets promoted in your business, and who gets hired.

Timewise Jobs has an excellent record for finding high calibre candidates for part time and flexible roles. 75% of our candidates are women, and 73% have professional or managerial experience. Our products and services can be viewed at our recruiter site.