IWD 2021: 8 inspirational female retail leaders that #ChooseToChallenge

Imogen Wethered
by Imogen Wethered

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, we decided to showcase some of the inspirational female leaders in the retail sector that we’re lucky enough to be working with on a day-to-day basis.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge, which is all about encouraging people to challenge themselves and others on their thoughts and actions when it comes to gender bias and inequality.

On the IWD website, it says: “We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.”

So, in the spirit of celebrating women’s achievements, we thought it would be worth acknowledging the accomplishments of these 8 female leaders (in no particular order) who that have reshaped the retail sector in the last year with some incredible retail initiatives:

Hilary New – VP, Global Retail Excellence – Pandora

First up is Hilary New, the Vice President of Global Retail Excellence at Danish jewelry retailer, Pandora. Having joined the company mid-2019, a mere months before the pandemic forced the world to go into lockdown, the former Burberry director and her team were quick to come up with a number of creative initiatives that have driven sales and delivered exceptional customer experiences.

When stores were closed, the company continued to pay store associates in full throughout the pandemic, and when stores reopened, Pandora introduced a virtual wait line system so that customers could remotely join a line for service or book an appointment in advance.

The company reported a strong final quarter in 2020, thanks to growth in online sales – its first sales growth in three years.

Clare Forbes – Head of IT EMEA & Global Service Manager – Dr Martens

Having previously held prominent IT roles at the likes of retail and banking giants Specsavers and Visa, Clare joined the team at British footwear brand, Dr Martens – Airwair International, towards the end of 2020. Despite having only been in the role for half a year, she has played a vital role in integrating the brand’s digital and customer service initiatives into one smooth, omni-channel customer experience.

The brand recently joined the Premium Segment of London Stock Exchange’s Main Market, sharing the following statement on her LinkedIn profile: “I feel privileged to have been part of this historic moment in our company’s history. I am proud to say, that I work with this amazing group of people and this fantastic brand. A truly momentous time!”

Rebecca Hosgood – Head of Partnership & Innovation – Dixons Carphone

Next on the list is the recently appointed Head of Partnership and Innovation at electronics powerhouse, Dixons Carphone.

Having been with the company for close to a decade, Rebecca is now responsible for enabling the technology and business teams to gain insights into customer and colleague pain points and implement new digital initiatives that improve the end-to-end customer experience and increase efficiency.

However, during the first lockdown, Rebecca was responsible for rolling out one of the UK’s first curbside click and collect services in May 2020, and is now available across hundreds of stores. This and many other initiatives have helped secure Dixons Carphone’s position as a leader in retail customer experience.

Sarah Esler – Digital Product Lead – Brown Thomas

Luxury department store retailer, Brown Thomas, has been leading the way in regards to digital innovation for a while now – but over the last 12 months, it has truly excelled. The Selfridges owned business has launched everything from virtual beauty mirrors (the first of its kind in Ireland), to in-store and curbside click and collect services, to virtual appointments for beauty and styling tutorials, to queuing and appointment booking systems to ensure customers have a safe and engaging journey.

Behind many of these brilliant initiatives is Sarah Esler, who has recently been appointed to Digital Product Lead. During the lockdown period, Sarah has been a strong advocate for the need to create powerful omnichannel experiences that truly resonate with modern consumers.

Harriet Entwhistle – Retail Director, North America – Vacheron Constantin

Another prominent retail leader who has shown a great deal of innovation and grit is Harriet Entwhistle, the Retail Director, North America at Swiss watch and clock retailer, Vacheron Constantin.

Harriet is unique in that her experience on the shop floor is equally as impressive as it is in the head office – having worked on the shop floor in Gucci, Harrods and John Lewis. This level of understanding of retail operations at a granular level clearly helped Harriet and her team overcome several challenges, such as continuing to attract the attention of luxury customers and drive sales while stores were closed, and to provide safe, engaging experiences when stores are open.

Carla Raven – Senior CRM and Insights Manager – Benefit Cosmetics

Carla Raven isn’t a stranger to the spotlight. In the 2018, she was awarded a spot as a digital trailblazer in the BIMA 100 list, which recognizes the most influential people in digital and tech.

Now heading up the CRM and Insights team at Benefit Cosmetics, Carla has driven a number of innovative initiatives over her time at the well-known US beauty brand. For instance, Benefit Cosmetics customers can now book complimentary 20 minute 1-2-1 consultations with top makeup artists.

Benefit Cosmetics has recently been making waves in the retail sector for debuting its “Lash Factory,” – a virtual event that supported the launch of its They’re Real! Magnet mascara. The event included a photo booth, a custom Instagram filter and virtual try-on with AR,

Julie Langford – Digital Technology, Brand Senior Business Consultant – Nike

During Covid-19, Julie Langford and her team have carried out a number of brilliant digital and in-store initiatives that, combined together, have created a powerful omnichannel customer experience.

And while she has demonstrated plenty of innovative flair in the midst of a global pandemic, Julie has been coming up with ways to ignite the Nike brand for almost five years now. She is responsible for overseeing the larger plan, technology capabilities and day-to-day cadence of multi-platform, cross-functional Nike and vendor teams.

Julie also stands out for her volunteer work, having received the Presidential Volunteer Award for dedicating +35,000 hours to a variety of important causes. She also co-chairs the Nike Women of STEM, and acts as a technology consultant for Nike’s Stretch diversity and inclusion initiative.

Caroline Yazdanjoo – Digital Project Manager – Burberry

The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on all retailers, but the luxury sector has been especially hard-hit. The industry prides itself on its ability to provide a highly personalized customer experience, which is a particularly hard feat to master when store associates are standing 2 meters away, wearing face masks, and behind a sneeze guard glass window…

Burberry has been different in that it has driven a number of brilliant initiatives designed to create engaging and interactive customer journeys that are also safe and instil consumer confidence. For instance, consumers wanting one-on-one service (such as personal styling advice) from a consultant in-store can easily book an online appointment. And when stores are closed as they are now, consumers can have a similar experience online by scheduling an online appointment with a sales consultant.

Leading the charge in the UK is Caroline Yazdanjoo, the Digital Project Manager at Burberry. Caroline joined the prominent luxury brand at the beginning of 2019, and before that, held prominent e-commerce and business analyst roles at Crabtree & Evelyn, New Look, Debenhams and Ted Baker.

These are some of the many inspirational female leaders we have the fortune of working alongside – they have all made a huge difference to the retail sector before, during and beyond Covid-19.


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