Morrisons aims to boost senior women in grocery retail industry

You might think that supermarkets in the UK, whose customers are 70 per cent female, would have more than the average number of women at board or senior management level. But you’d be wrong.

Out of Tesco’s executive board of eight, just one is a woman. J Sainsbury’s has only two women among the 10 members of its operating board.

One of the most senior women now in UK food retailing is Judith McKenna, promoted earlier this month from finance director to chief operating officer at Asda. Before her 15-year career with the retailer, McKenna held finance roles at Allied Domecq, the spirits and wine group, and beer maker Carlsberg Tetley. She also trained as a chartered accountant with KPMG.

McKenna’s promotion comes at a time of enormous flux at the company that has lost its chairman, Andy Bond, along with chief operating officer Simon King and marketing director Jon Owen, all within the past few months. Seasoned supermarket watchers told the FT her promotion, effective from September, indicated she was being lined up for a bigger role within Walmart, Asda’s parent company

Morrisons has no female executive directors on its board of nine – just two non-executives – but the company aims to change that. It has pledged to more than double the number of women in senior management to 30 per cent by 2014.

“It is vitally important those leading the sector are representative of our customers, most of whom are women,” says Norman Pickavance, group human resources director.

Extending diversity targets to the holders of key business relationships may prove an effective accelerator for change. In an innovative move last week, Morrisons, one of the UK’s “big four” supermarket groups, hosted a conference for 200 of its biggest suppliers, where it was suggested they, too, should commit to employing more women at senior levels.

The grocery retailer is not prescribing specific targets for its suppliers to meet, but is inviting them to set their own goals and report on progress towards them.

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