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‘Feminism in retail is about unlocking the value of diversity:’ Fiona McDonnell of Amazon

By Sasha Fedorenko September 10, 2019 - 2:46 pm

Feminism is retail is about unlocking the value of diversity,” says Fiona McDonnell, beer, wines and spirits, European director of Amazon, the finalist of the ‘above and beyond’ award category of The 2019 Barclaycard everywoman in Retail Awards.

T: Tell me about your nomination?

F: I have been nominated by colleagues for the ‘above and beyond’ category in the everywoman in retail awards for my role as Diversity Sponsor for Amazon in the UK.

It is humbling being nominated for the everywoman in Retail awards, but it will be a great boost to the many people working to make the changes happen with me, and whose energy inspires me to keep pushing.

This is something I have picked up alongside my ‘day job’ as a director in retail. Specifically, I believe it was for the development and delivery of Amazon Amplify, our plan to build a culture of diversity and inclusion covering areas such as hiring, manager metrics, policies, training and communication.

As part of that, I championed independent thought leadership research from WISE (the campaign for gender balance in science, technology and engineering) on how to boost diversity across the UK innovation industry and also chaired a cross-industry committee to draft recommendations and a roadmap for all companies to use in order to make changes.

Following from those insights as one example, I led the development of an interactive Confidence Communications programme (a part of our larger Amazon Amplify initiative) aimed at helping all our employees, not only women, to be more effective and confident in meetings and beyond, and to coach leaders on how to create more inclusive approaches in meetings.

T: How does your role inspire women to work in retail?

F: I work as a director in Amazon consumer retail business, most recently running our European Beers Wines and Spirits business, and I lead various commercial teams in different countries.

I am also a mum of two and an active individual. I try to inspire women by doing all of these things in an integrated way, trying to show that it is possible to ‘do it all’, provided that is, that you set your own priorities in a way that works for you. I also mentor and regularly speak in diversity forums internally and externally and am an active spokesperson for Amazon so I make it my job to ‘be me’, to tell my story as it is and to be the best role model I can, keeping it honest and sharing my journey the way it happens and keeping it fun.

The retail industry is increasingly attractive for women as the advances in technology and company policies, I believe, make it easier to find a way that works can fit with each individual woman’s priorities in life. There is a great deal more women in senior positions making a real impact, and that is starting to create momentum and change attitudes at the top too.

T: What are the challenges and opportunities of being a woman in retail?

F: To my last point, it is getting easier to fit work and non- work with more harmony than before, opening opportunities that may have previously deterred some women. Though additionally now that is it more of a ‘must-have’ than a ‘nice to have’ to ensure diversity in business, there will undoubtedly be more opportunity for women to move forward as the hurdles start to be removed. In tech, women are as capable as men as we saw with last week’s A-Level results for science, so as long as we can ensure we attract women, then there are plenty of opportunities to grow, and more women to help the next ones along.

T: With 26% female and 74% male being in senior positions in retail, how would you like to see the statistic changing?

F: I would like to see that figure change towards parity, quickly. Being a woman in a senior role is so important for a number of reasons.

First keeping a reflection of the customer base for all levels of the business is important and means having senior women where decisions are made too. Secondly, to provide a good example and a role model to inspire others. Not sure who said this, but there’s a lot of truth in “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Lastly, I personally find it a privilege to be in a senior position, having got here despite, it is a hard climb throughout my career.

It makes me remember that I am lucky, as so many opportunities are in some part luck, and so I extend a helping hand where possible to do the same for others. It is never too early to give back. We need senior women to steer future leaders through too.

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