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Women Leaders in the Luxury Industry: The Future is Female

It’s a man’s world they say. It’s difficult to create a name and reputation without auxiliary labels and assumptions. It takes a capable person to be at a good position, but it takes far more for a woman to have the same. There has been a positive flow, but it’s time for a major change

Women leaders in fashion luxuryWhen I was ten, I remember I wanted to dress as a princess for my uncle’s wedding. I could not find any dress that I loved, so my mother took me to the tailor. To my surprise, the person taking our measurements and creating our garments was a man. When I wanted a piece of jewellery, the salesperson was a man. At a young age, the role of a man and a woman were ingrained in my mind to a level that I would get disturbed when the roles were reversed. Years later, I understood it is the job that matters, not the gender of the person. When I started delving into the fashion and luxury industry, the men outnumbered the women. The surge of women empowerment gaining momentum triggered the questions the ten-year-old me had, the only difference is I have some answers today.

What women want

Long gone are the times when you needed a pretty dress, a sparkling ring, and some pretty flowers to impress a woman. The woman of this day and age aspires for something more realistic and less materialistic. They want to create an identity for themselves and achieve goals and dreams. They want their name on the front door and a dignified reputation. As a consumer also, women are coming to the fore. From getting jewelry as gift to being active purchasers themselves, to buying luxury SUV’s for personal use, and booking hotel rooms for a trip with girlfriends, women know what they want. 

Anita Dongre Fashion Designer   Anita Lal Good Earth

In the fashion world, in the 1920s, came a young woman who decided to change the world because she did not the like the perception of women then. Coco Chanel, one of the first women leaders in the fashion industry, is responsible for bringing the LBD in trend as well as introducing pants for women. She was driven and resilient. She started a revolution that isn’t going to stop anytime soon. 

A good sense of the market, recognising a good opportunity, taking the right course of action and believing in yourself is what is expected from a good leader. The luxury sector has been in the reins for men for a long time, and the times are definitely changing. Ace jewellery designer, and one of the most successful women leaders in Indian luxury industry, Farah Khan said, “Women are being given their due credit and have been rising to higher positions. But to change this in broader spectrum, women need to be more aware of their rights and shouldn't be ashamed of asking what is their due.” 

Caroline Scheufele Chopard   Claudia Cividino Bally CEO North America

With increasing relevance of women empowerment or the #MeToo movements, no one can deny the role played by the social media. The rage has helped women realise their rights and gain courage to act upon it to get what they truly deserve. Mrs. Khan said, “ Women are more forth coming with regards to everything – their demands, needs, wants, discrimination, stereotypes, etc. With the advent of social media, women have gained more support, broken stereotypes and taken on roles once considered taboo for women. Additionally, education has played a big role in creating awareness about gender equality and now women are also more open to experimenting with their careers and trying unconventional options in the luxury space.” 

W for women, W for wealth

There is a different sense of freedom in financial independence. As more women generate their own wealth, they are increasingly controlling the investment of their assets. As per the Julius Baer Wealth Report Asia 2018, the vast majority of women surveyed across China (87%), India (80%), Hong Kong (71%) and Singapore (59%) are financial decision makers in their households, exceeding the US (44%).

Darcy Penick Bergdorf Goodman President   Deepika Gehani Genesis Luxury

According to the same report, luxury spending by Chinese women has increased dramatically. Harvard Business Review surveyed women across the US, UK, China, India, Hong Kong and Singapore with personal income of at least USD 100,000 per annum and investable assets of USD 500,000. Results showed that women in Asia were remarkably confident about their financial knowledge, as compared to their counterparts in the West. Asia’s economic boom over the past decade has accelerated the exponential growth of the female market – a burgeoning number of business and tech-savvy women making corporate decisions involving billions of dollars of assets.

EQ over IQ

Besides being anatomically different, there are certain abilities that differentiate these by-parts of the same species. Barack Obama agrees to it when he once talked about “the importance of more focus on putting women in power, because men seem to be having some problems these days.”

Diane von Frustenberg   Donatella Versace

The high Emotional Quotient (EQ) of women does get them brownie points in almost all discussions. Women leaders are innately nurturing and affectionate, increasing their tendency to empathise and relate with the third person. “With technology and AI coming into play, humanitarian aspect of business and professional life is losing its importance,” Mrs Khan said, thus highlighting the importance of EQ.

Women are great at multi-tasking as well. Remember handling the personal and professional life? Deepika Gehani, the Creative and Marketing Director of Genesis Luxury, a company widely responsible for bringing luxury brands to India, added, “It is also scientifically proven that women have better tactile acuity and they also tend to taste, smell, hear, see colors, and feel textures more accurately than men which makes women better suited for the job.” 

Diane von Frustenberg maybe known for her wrap dress, Darcy Penick for digital and international retail techniques, Stella McCartney for focusing on environment-conscious fashion, Caroline Scheufele for jewelry designs, Vera Wang for bridal dresses, Claudia Cividino for her knowledge of luxury fashion brands, Miuccia Prada for her handbags, Donatella Versace for changing the fashion world, and Nathalie Diamantis for retail skills. All of them are different and unique, but have one thing in common. They are the current leaders, creators, designers, managers, and marketers in the luxury industry. They hold the power to change the industry. With the rapidly changing consumer, their brands are still thriving. Reason? Adaptability. Women have a natural and adaptive reaction to everything around them.

Farah Khan Ali Jewelry Designer   Mira Kulkarni Forest Essentials

India has been a patriarchal society for a long time now, but the Indian woman is not far behind, neither in creation nor spend. Think Ritu Kumar, Anita Dongre, Farah Khan, Deepika Gehani, Mira Kulkarni and Anita Lal. 

Ms. Gehani said, “I feel more women are helming luxury, especially in India. I feel that it is women in India that have always been directly or indirectly buyers of luxury and therefore they are more discerning in their taste and knowledge of what works and does not work for a luxury customer. In my capacity of a creative director, I always ensure that I put myself in the place of the customer.” 

According to a 2017 study by Professor Øyvind L. Martinsen, head of Leadership and Organisational Behaviour at the BI Norwegian Business School, he concluded that women were better leaders than their male counterparts. As per the study, which assessed 3,000 managers, women outperformed men in four of the five categories studied: initiative and clear communication; openness and ability to innovate; sociability and supportiveness; and methodical management and goal-setting. This study quite efficiently sums up the importance of women leaders in the corporate structure.

Miuccia PradaDesigner Ritu Kumar   

A seat at the front table

For an industry where more than 50% of the consumer is female, they sure aren’t represented as they should. “Any great/successful organisation is about its people and today most places prefer and work hard to retain a qualified and suitable candidate, any attrition (which may be truer for senior management) represents a considerable loss to organisations, which miss out on the unique capabilities that women bring to the leadership role,” said Ms. Gehani. 

It is a long-standing fact that even though women do make up a large composition of a workspace, luxury or not, they rarely are able to climb up the ladder to higher positions.

As the diversity issue increasingly gains more importance, luxury conglomerates have designed independent solutions to ensure their cooperation. LVMH created a major internal effort in 2009 by named “EllesVMH”, which was designed to encourage skills development and network-building among female employees with a continuous goal to increase women employment in the group.

Stella McCartney   Vera Wang

Floriane de Saint-Pierre, a luxury headhunter in France, founded a digital platform, Ethics & Boards, to assess the board composition of publicly traded companies on multiple criteria. As per the European Gender Diversity Index published in 2018 by Ethics & Boards and European Women on Boards, the average female representation in the boards of 200 European companies was 33.6%. The companies, however, were led by Kering (60%), Sodexo (53.8%) and Accor Hotels (50%).

Pitfalls make you stronger and wiser

It is easy to get daunted and sceptical about your future towards the top of the company. According to Mrs. Khan, “A woman leader should definitely be fearless, assertive. A woman leader must possess grit and tenacity.” It echoes what the fabulous Coco Chanel once said: “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” Sometimes you might feel you have taken a wrong decision, but don’t give up so easily, because pitfalls make you stronger and wiser.