Newtrade Media is calling ‘time for change’ on the inequalities and sexism women face within the independent convenience sector.

At the company’s Women in Convenience event, which took place in Birmingham earlier this month, retailers shared some of the unfair treatment they have received over the years from suppliers, trade groups and other retailers.

Opening the event, editor-in-chief Louise Banham revealed results from a survey to measure the scale of the issue and described how Newtrade Media’s titles, which include RN, Retail Express, betterRetailing.com and Better Wholesaling Insight, will play their part in supporting female entrepreneurs.

“Women in the sector simply don’t get the same recognition and opportunities as men do. Despite 33% of store owners being female, the percentage of women featured in RN this year is 16.3%. We know we have work to do. Our aim is to reach 25% by 2023 and address the balance totally by 2025. We have put new processes in place to do this,” she said.

“76% of those surveyed think women are not treated equally in the convenience channel. We asked retailers what was affecting their work life. 55% said ‘harassment or abuse’, while 49% said ‘juggling childcare’ and 39.5% said ‘male-dominated workplace culture’ has impacted their lives in convenience retail.”

Brands have a responsibility to challenge sexism and better support female retailers. Not only is it the right thing to do morally, there’s a strong business case too. By building better connections with female retailers, you will broaden your network, gain more product listings and ultimately drive sales.

Here, we’ve rounded up four key takeaways for suppliers to ensure they are supporting female retailers.

Stop the assumption that female retailers do not have decision-making power

The scenario of a rep walking into the store, seeing a woman behind the till and asking, ‘where’s the boss?’ is likely a familiar one to all female retailers. The assumption is that the store owner couldn’t possibly be a woman. Similarly, one retailer said she was told to ‘check with your husband’ before signing off on an order. Consider training your sales reps to ask: ‘Are you the decision maker?’ which is much more balanced. Better still, can you encourage your reps to establish who has decision-making ability before they step over the threshold? This will ensure the relationship starts off on the right foot.

Champion and promote the work of great retailers

Too many retailer panels assembled by suppliers still feature the same – mostly male – faces. Suppliers must ensure that women are proportionally represented on panels and avoid just working with the same notable store owners as everyone else. Can you encourage reps to share great work female retailers in their territory are doing with your marketing team? You can then ensure their stories can come through in your press releases and feature copy. Trade press journalists are always on the lookout for new retailers. By highlighting a new face, you will increase the likelihood that they will publish your story.

Address unconscious sexism

Retailers described how they are often shut out of the conversation, ignored or simply talked over. One told the story of how a rep and a male junior member of staff talked over her continuously when discussing the placement of a new product. Suppliers need to encourage their reps to be aware of their behaviour, challenge unconscious sexism and be more mindful of holding conversations with female store owners in a professional and respectable way.

Make industry event attendance easier.

According to Newtrade Media’s survey, just 12% of women feel ‘completely comfortable’ attending events. Twenty-one per cent said they ‘do not feel comfortable attending events on their own’. 16% said ‘I’d like to attend events, but I don’t feel comfortable', while 17% said they simply don't get invited. One retailer suggested suppliers could connect female store owners with other retailers from their area who are also attending an event to make travelling feel safer. When running the events, suppliers must be mindful of ensuring women in the room have the opportunity to be heard.

Fairer representation and opportunities for women in the convenience sector won’t happen overnight. But by playing their part, suppliers can lead on this important issue, tackle sexism, engage with a broader network of talented retailers and grow their sales in through independent tills. As Newtrade Media’s Women in Convenience event stated – it’s time for change. MTJ wholeheartedly supports this mission.

Interested in joining the Women in Convenience movement? Get in touch with Newtrade Media’s Megan.Humphrey@newtrade.co.uk to find out how.