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Retailers need to be ahead of the curve in ethics and diversity

Retailers need to be ahead of the curve in ethics and diversity
Two leading retailers were challenged on the way that the industry has handled a number of topics, including ethics, the environment and diversity 

At a conference where ethics and diversity have already been discussed at length, James Rhee, Founder of FirePine Group and Executive Chairman & CEO of plus-size fashion brand Ashley Stewart, and Neela Montgomery, CEO Crate and Barrel, were challenged to share their views on difficult issues facing the industry at World Retail Congress yesterday morning.

Discussing topics such as diversity, environmental impact and the changing face of retail leadership, Montgomery said: “The world of retailing is changing anyway, regardless of the diversity debate.” According to Montgomery. “Store operations used to be about execution, now it’s more about experience design.”

On the topic of companies being defensive over their record in hiring women, Montgomery was clear: “Are you really looking hard enough and how willing are you to take a risk on hiring new talent?”


Rhee added: “When you look at the future at a really selfish retail point of view, all the numbers are pointing towards self-spending women. And if you agree with the democratic bet that has happened over the last few years, then why wouldn’t you hire women?”

“Getting into private equity from a minority point of view, it’s not easy to make it into the boardroom.” Montgomery said. “With a diverse group of people, it usually takes longer to come to a decision. The debate however, is far richer and therefore more than worth it. You should see it as a comprise between the two and with that, get to a better result.”


On ecommerce and the effects on the environment, Montgomery said: “To be honest, we are not quite there yet. This is the one area where you have to be ahead of your customers. Sometimes you have to not be consumer-centric and think about the environment first.”

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