For our latest ‘Five minutes with..’ interview, Berwick Partners Fran Grant enjoyed a coffee and a chat with Faye Roth, CIO of McColl’s Retail Group. Faye is a vastly experienced CIO with a demonstrable background in leading transformational change across business and IT. Faye is motivated by helping consumer facing organisations become data driven and enabled through the use of technology, and she is passionate about collaboration and empowering teams to deliver. Here, we find out more.
What do you think makes a successful leader?
I think there are a couple of things. Firstly, and most importantly, you need to create an environment where people can collaborate. As a leader you don’t have all the skills and you can’t fix all the problems yourself, so it’s imperative to provide an environment where people feel comfortable speaking up and sharing ideas. Secondly, diversity is important. But again, there needs to be a collaborative, open environment where such a diverse team can speak up, otherwise there’s no point. Being a leader is a bit like being a conductor in an orchestra – it’s all very well having a violinist and a cellist, but you need to make sure they’re playing or ‘working’ in sync together. As a leader it’s also important to look further ahead than your team, so you can identify obstacles as they arise and grab the reins if needed. It’s good to empower people but you need to be able to draw from your own experience, and step in and take direction, if you see fit.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for female leaders?
I think there are several challenges. If you get the job, you’ve then got to win the respect of the people around you – it’s not given automatically. With a spotlight on diversity, there can be scepticism, people can assume you got the job because you’re a woman and it was a box ticking exercise. You have to prove you can actually do the job. Whilst women are making it onto more shortlists, there is still a lot of unconscious bias in the interview and assessment process. I once experienced a two hour long psychometric assessment only to be told I wasn’t ambitious enough. Looking back, my answers were quite modest. Men and women are different in the ways we assess our own ability – I think typically men can be vocally stronger about their capabilities, where women tend to be more muted in their description of what they can do or what their aspirations are. There is also a challenge known as the female condition – companies are targeting themselves to make 50% of their leadership teams women, but it’s not always realistic. Many women choose to stay at home to care for children or older family members or run the household (which is a job in itself) – it can be a challenge. In addition to this, the menopause is another huge implication for women who reach a certain age. It can have a variety of side effects, from hot flushes and irritability to an impact on confidence and cognitive ability. For some women this is a massive hurdle and can cause them to hold back or even step out of the workplace altogether. This is one reason why flexible, or hybrid working is good – it allows women to attend medical appointments or manage symptoms in private, without an impact on their work – they can still do their 8 hours! I’m a huge advocate for educating boys to be a ‘partner in life’, rather than ‘the breadwinner’. Perhaps it could even be a focus in schools.
How do you maintain your leadership development and growth? Do you have any success habits?
I’ve found as I’ve progressed through the ranks learning can slow down as you have become the trusted pair of hands. This can mean fewer opportunities to take on new challenges. I see the value in attending relevant conferences and keeping abreast of modern-day thinking. I also seek feedback from my teams. I endeavour to create environments where individuals can give open, honest feedback about what they need or what works for them. Then it’s important to reflect on it, do your own retrospectives, be truly honest and objective about yourself. And you have to want to do better and look any challenges in the face.
What are the biggest challenges in retail?
Uncertainty. The retail environment has been disrupted for years, and certain retailers have fallen by the wayside. They’re operators, looking at what’s in fashion now or what’s trending, but they need to look at horizon two and three. Retailers can’t continue operating the way they have in previous years, looking at tomorrow, next week, next year – they need to look much further ahead. The world is very uncertain. Covid challenged the things we took for granted, and the war in Ukraine challenges our safety. We need to imagine what shoppers of the future will look like, what the world will look like. Retailers must adopt a more strategic mindset then build flexible, adaptable organisational infrastructures that will enable them to pivot.
Fran Grant is a Consultant in our IT & Digital Leadership Practice specialising in recruiting Senior Technology and Digital professionals in Retail, Retail FS, Leisure and Hospitality, with a UK wide remit.