How can we nurture women into leadership?

How can we nurture women into leadership?

In celebration of International Women’s day, we've seen social media buzz with empowerment messages and interesting events to attend. We live in an age where we are encouraged to make our voices heard at management or board level, or be part of a girlboss movement creating our own businesses and fortunes. As we look deeper we begin to realise that often the levels of encouragement outweigh the reality of women achieving an equal work status.

It becomes increasingly clear that we need to create businesses and opportunities that nurture women and remove the obstacles they face but women also need to Lean In and develop greater confidence and self-belief and an understanding that they can follow their dreams and it is not always about climbing the ladder.  It is about being able to pursue dreams, interests and learning and having supportive organisations that provide flexible working and hours around childcare regardless of gender and if you dream is to be a CEO then go for it!

How are women doing at CEO level in the UK?

Almost 29% of FTSE 100 board positions are held by women, up from 12.5% in 2011.

If progress matches the same gains made over the last three years then a third of board positions will be filled by women by 2020 – the target set by the Government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review.

Under new laws, over 1,400 companies have reported their gender pay gaps revealing an overall pay gap of 18.4%. All companies with more than 250 employees must report their gender pay gaps by April 4 (30 March for the public sector).

Tackling the gender pay gap is part of the Industrial Strategy Government’s long-term plan to build a Britain fit for the future, with the ambition to help businesses create better, higher-paying jobs and ensure everyone can be successful in the workplace. Bridging the gender pay gap could add £150 billion to the UK economy by 2025.

At Proximity Insight we have a female CEO and our gender pay gap is currently set at 8.1% with a 3.9 % median gender pay gap. We are working to continue to improve this and we fully embrace the need for an inclusive work environment and the benefits of a diverse workforce and we offer flexible working and the ability to work remotely to all our employees.

How is the USA shaping up for women in leadership?

So it seems like the UK is progressing towards equality, not quite 50/50 but on the way. How are our US counterparts shaping up?

As of May 2018, there are 24 female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list—or just under 5% of the total list. The women run a diverse range of companies—from consumer goods behemoths like PepsiCo to defense contractors like Lockheed Martin—but they are, predominantly, white. At the moment, just two names on the list are women of colour: Geisha Williams of PG&E Corporation (PCG, +1.98%) and Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo (PEP, -0.18%). None are African American.

With only 5% of female CEO’s making the Fortune list, the USA certainly needs some affirmative action to create change.

How are businesses with gender-diverse executive teams performing?

Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation.

Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform their national industry median on EBIT margin and 27% on EP margin. According to McKinsey’s Delivering through Diversity report.

What can we do to support women in leadership?

Performance is a clear indicator that it makes business sense to have gender diverse teams, so how can we support women into leadership roles?

  1. Create flexible working because once you become a mother, it’s likely you’ll become the primary caregiver, unless you earn more than your partner, so you will need flexible working hours and practices.

  2. Be supported by a system (Government) that supports childcare costs and returning to work before the child is age three (the age they get 15hrs free childcare)

  3. Create careers that offer progression, including if the role is full-time, flexible hours, working from home, school time holidays etc.

  4. Increase the visibility of female role models who have achieved what they wanted to and in a similar position to you, i.e. with children and as the primary caregiver

  5. Changing the narrative that mothers who ‘leave’ their children to return to work are ‘bad mothers’

What does a great example of flexible working look like?

Providing childcare has helped companies like Patagonia see a great return in the form of retaining workers and increasing gender diversity.

“To support our families, Patagonia provides company-paid health care and sick time for all employees; paid maternity and paternity leave; access to on-site childcare for employees at our headquarters in Ventura, California, and at our Reno, Nevada, distribution center; and financial support to those who need it, among other benefits. In particular, offering on-site child care, we believe, is the right thing to do for employees, working parents, and the life of the workplace. At Patagonia, women make up 50% of our workforce, including roughly half of upper management positions.” Rose Marcario, CEO Patagonia as told to Fast Company. (Rose Marcario joined Patagonia in 2008 as CFO, and has steered Patagonia's profits to triple).

Another positive story shared on gives us hope, and shows us how with simple actions we can change not only the life of one woman and her family but for many.

More than 35 years ago, a programmer at SAS had a hard time managing both her career and her new baby. Rather than risk losing this employee, the company hired a nanny—and has offered childcare on-site ever since.

If you think about it, happy parents are likely to stay with an employer that values them and their family. If childcare can be provided then surely that would help with staff retention.

What’s it like to be a woman in tech?

According to Tech London Advocates, Women In Tech:

14% of the tech workforce is female

9% of venture capital goes to women-led companies

34% higher ROI for women-led tech companies

This shows very low stats for women working in tech, or who receive VC funding, however, the women who are working in tech get 35% higher ROI. So, if women drive higher ROI for tech firms surely it makes business sense to have more women in tech leadership?

Proximity Insight clearly feel that it makes sense to have women in leadership roles. A company created by two male co-founders, who had the foresight that they needed a strong leader to take the business to the next level, hired a female CEO, Cathy McCabe, with incredible retail and tech experience. Since I have been working with Proximity Insight, I experienced first-hand how we all pull together, men and women to achieve what needs to be done. We have a common business goal, clear values and we care about each other.

Not only does Proximity Insight have a female CEO, we also have a 50/50 split across men and women in the team. Working across all roles including Head of Sales and Head of Marketing, women within Proximity Insight are creating a business that delivers for our partners. Proving the 35% higher ROI stat to be true!

The reason we have been able to grow in this way is because of the leadership team placing importance on collaborating to getting the job done, but also supporting us as individuals. A company that believes in nurturing talent, aspirations and our lives outside of work too.

As a mum of a three-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy, I started working with Proximity Insight when my son was 9 months old. This has only been possible because Cathy understands what it takes to bring up children whilst rising in her career. Proximity Insight’s co-founders, Kris Moyse and Matt Lacey also have young children. Flexibility is key to our work lives and respecting time with family.  Not only for childcare reasons but also because we work across three different time zones, UK, AUS and USA. Perhaps the timezone adds to the understanding that time, country or other commitments create no barriers we still deliver, and in a way that inspires both internally and externally.

Here’s hoping there are more companies with values like Proximity Insight in the future. And let’s take it upon ourselves to inspire and nurture everyone around us, women, men, girls and boys.

Take a look at our CEO, Cathy McCabe's post sharing her experience of working in retail and technology.

Do what you love....

Do what you Cathy McCabe, CEO, Proximity Insight

I don't think of myself as a woman in retail or a woman in tech and I certainly don't think of myself as a vendor or a supplier. I do think of myself as a retail aficionado who has had the great fortune to have enjoyed a hugely diverse and rewarding career in retail since the age of 15 when I first worked as a Saturday girl in the Wood Green branch of Woolworths.

It therefore pains me to recognise that at a time when the industry is changing so significantly retail is still considered such an undervalued career. I gave a lecture last week to a group of students and I was somewhat surprised that out of a room of 40 people only two people were actually working in retail and only one of them was considering pursuing a career in retail. I strongly believe that you can learn so much by working on the shop floor and those skills are hugely transferable regardless of where your career path takes you.

So let's encourage more young people to spend time in retail or hospitality. It is not just about serving people and filling shelves - it is about running a business, working collaboratively, teamwork, the excitement of a new store opening or a new product launch, managing numbers, analysing data, understanding a P&L, communication - the list is endless. I fondly remember my initial management training course at W.H.Smith "MOFA" when I was promoted to run my first department. At the time I was overwhelmed at the amount of content I had to consume to pass my course but that training was fundamental and provided me with the basics to move onwards and upwards. I am grateful to have had such a great foundation.

I worked really hard to forge my career path from that first Head of Department role but I feel that I have also been extremely lucky. Lucky because I have been able to try lots of different roles, learn new skills and to understand what I am best at and along the way I found something that I loved doing.

I have been lucky in the sense that my career in retail allowed me to raise a family as well as enjoy a successful career spanning shop floor to shop tech. Bringing up a family is hard regardless of gender and circumstances and you realise early on that you can’t please everyone all of the time. I was lucky that I had a great support network and my retail career allowed me to flex my hours to meet the demands of bringing up a young family.

I feel I have also been lucky to have had amazing role models and mentors throughout my career who have helped me to find my path, given me opportunities and helped me to grow.

My first boss, when I was age 18, Carol Hubbard, taught me all about the customer and the importance of excellent service and those principles still remain despite the huge changes in the way in which we purchase in today's digital and social world.

I have also worked alongside inspirational female role models such as Angela Ahrendts, Stacey Cartwright, Christine Cross, Suzy Ross and with great colleagues, many who have become good friends, too many to mention individually.

How to make the most of digital influence in physical retail

What customers expect yet retailers find hard to provide

Our path to purchase has been completely transformed due to the increase of digital interaction. We know that customers expect a unified experience at every touch point. Communications that are generic coupled with inefficient services such as incorrect stock availability and inconsistent delivery are not what a customer wants to experience.

However simple these issues appear to the customer we know that there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make customer experience as seamless as possible. From our work with a large number of global, luxury brands we fully understand the essential requirement for brands to join up the digital and physical dots and here are some thoughts around the importance of taking insight and actions from digital breadcrumbs.

Why should we use digital interactions in a bricks-and-mortar store?

We know that ‘nearly 80 percent of luxury sales today are “digitally influenced”, meaning that, in their luxury shopping journeys, consumers hit one or more digital touch points.’ These influential factors can include online browsing, adding products to a wish list, seeking advice from a personal stylist via WhatsApp or looking to social channels such as Instagram for inspiration.

One way in which we can make the most of online digital interactions is to utilise them in the physical retail environment. With the visibility of these digital interactions, retailers can look at how important they are in the path to purchase. They also help us to build up a picture of how their customers interact with the brand and how engaged they are making it easier to remain relevant and personalise content, communications and products to suit the interests of the customer.

While luxury e-commerce is growing fast, the portion of personal luxury goods purchases that happen online — now about 7 percent of total — is expected to plateau at about 20 percent by 2025. This means that, for the foreseeable future, the vast majority of sales will still take place in physical stores, which have yet to really benefit from the insights that can be gathered from digital data.

What is reverse omnichannel and how can it help?

We need to match the experience of online to that of the experience in-store, something that is often called reverse omnichannel. Previously we have used physical stores to inform online, now we are using online to inform store experience.

We build up data of many digital interactions yet we are not so good at learning from these interactions and capitalising on them in-store. Creating a flow of information between digital and physical is certainly a challenge, particularly if you consider all the different platforms we need to have visibility of and integrate with. However, once we have the ability to make the most of data thanks to innovations, such as clienteling, we begin to support the customer in a way in which can exceed their expectations.

What this means in practice is the need to equip in-store sales associates with information collected from online so they can then become part of the digital journey too. Clienteling utilises data from customer service management platforms, marketing platforms, online platforms and enables data to be visible where it is needed, in-store. If we consider the huge proportion of sales still taking place in physical stores we become acutely aware of how important the role of sales associate remains.

In-store Influencers are the key to unlocking retail’s potential

In the past year there have been significantly reported benefits form working with influencers. According to The State of Influencer Marketing in Fashion, Luxury & Cosmetics, influencers create great results.

  • 89.6% confirmed that the activities they carried out with influencers effectively generated brand awareness for their companies or products
  • 73.3% highlighted that influencer campaigns are effective for building customer loyalty
  • 69% find influencer marketing effective for driving sales

If we put these figures into context with someone who is directly engaged face-to-face with a customer eg the sales associate becomes “the in-store influencer” then I’m sure the stats would be even higher. An intimate personal relationship can be an extremely powerful thing, especially if that relationship can be enhanced by online insights.

Another interesting concept is that the customer through their tendency to share their interactions with the brand on social media become part of the influencer landscape. Like the digital word of mouth, it’s one of the best ways to create brand advocacy and business growth.

So next time we think about digital influence we must also remember to support our in-store teams to be part of the digital journey too. We know it works for our customers so, make it work for you too!

Why not download our case study with David Jones to find out how we help them to get closer to their customers.

Giving back at Duffys Forest wildlife rehabilitation centre

Our Sydney team recently got involved in a 'giving back' day by helping out at the Duffys Forest wildlife rehabilitation centre that rescues, rehabilitates and releases sick, injured and orphaned native Australian animals. It had been a while since the centre had any volunteers so the weeds were well overgrown. We got stuck into it by pulling out weeds and anything that didn't belong in the enclosed areas. After hours of hard work pulling out weeds, mowing, pruning and watering trees, the grounds had been given a new lease of life. We even got to see some baby joeys jumping around, and Jo was happy to cradle a baby possum that had been rescued. All in all, it was a great day of team bonding, landscaping and hanging out with native Australian wildlife.

Our Sydney team hard at work helping make a home for the Kangaroos
Proximity Insight orange trainers getting dirty at Duffys forest wildlife rehabilitation
Kangaroo happy in its new home

The future of retail: how to survive and thrive by getting closer to your customers

Retail footfall persists in decline, with a continual increase in store closures and companies going into insolvency. Yet, with 81 per cent of UK consumers seeing the physical store as vital to the shopping experience, there’s no reason why physical stores should not continue to play a key role.

So why have we seen a decline in retail footfall if customers still want to visit a physical store? A possible answer is because retailers have found it hard to change and embrace innovative ways of getting closer to their customers. It is clear that customers find today’s traditional physical store experience somewhat bland and uninspiring.

What's the answer? Watch our Telegraph Business Reporter video to find out. In the interview Cathy McCabe, CEO, Proximity Insight and Siobhan McKeating, Co-owner and CEO, Brissi discuss how by getting closer to the customer we can build relationships that drive engagement and sales.

Accompanying the video is a great online article which features three key ways to get closer to the customer.

In order to really understand what is important to your customer, you need to get close to them, and you cannot do that without data. However, customer expectations are higher in today’s digital world. The customer will inevitably ask: do you really know me? Do you really care?

Customers can see through algorithms and generic email marketing. If you don’t use the data that customers share with you appropriately, there is no value exchange and the customer will switch off. Technology offers retailers the opportunity to scale one-to-one conversations, globally.

Three key ways the Proximity Insight platform helps brands

Knowing the right way and at what point during the customer journey to capture data is essential. Understanding whether data is valuable or not is key to getting to know your customer. Make the capture frictionless, compliant with global data privacy regulations, and easy to complete so you can carry on the conversation beyond the sale. Make sure your brand’s unique value exchange is clear.


Customers crave relationships not transactions. From preferred preferences to sharing inspirational products and stories, allow technology to facilitate conversations that are engaging and meaningful. Technology can act as a reminder to reach out, but it should not replace human interactions. Automate the tasks and reminders not the conversation.


To inform the relationship we must understand what metrics and insights the data is driving. What does each customer purchase journey look like, and how can we best support how the customer wants to interact with us? Through analysis we can learn and adapt our approach – we help you to apply human intelligence to data insights.

Innovative technology can support traditional retail principles

Innovation and agility are part of our core company values. But innovation is not just about creating the best technology platform, it’s also about understanding the right time and place to use the technology. Technology can support traditional retail principles, such as exceptional levels of service and a passion for relationship building. By focusing on relationships and the value that they offer the customer and the retailer we use technology as an enabler, not as a replacement for human interaction. Technology enables the customer to be present all of the time, allowing sales associates to directly influence sales whether the customer is in-store or online.

To continue reading the article head to Business Reporter.

Drapers Fashion Forum 2017

Drapers Fashion Forum 2017. See you there Thursday, 12 October

We'll be at Drapers Fashion Festival on Thursday, 17 October. We look forward to catching up and hosting you during our presentation with MATCHESFASHION.COM at 3pm.

Retail stores are in the middle of a perfect storm as physical and digital collide. During this session, you’ll see things from a customer's perspective, immersing yourself in a journey of discovery. We’ll explore the challenges faced by sales associates when striving to provide exceptional customer experiences, while also looking at the changing role of stores and new standards for customer engagement.


NYC NRF 2017 Wrap Up

NRF 2017 in New York City was bigger and better than ever, with over 35,000 attendees and 500 exhibitors. All the usual technology vendors like Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, IBM and Intel were there to demo the latest offerings to retailers from all over the world. After the acquisition of Demandware (now Commerce Cloud), Salesforce is quickly becoming a serious player in the retail space, and their presence increased dramatically at this year’s show.

The theme this year was a typical one: the future of retail and how the environment needs to shift to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving consumer.

In his keynote, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich described how customer insight will transform retail by creating opportunities to predict customer behavior. This will reinvent the store experience and transform how retailers utilize analytics.

"Data is at the heart of the customer relationship, and it’s driving transformation."
Read more


Why Method Acting is a beacon’s best friend

During my long and un-illustrious acting career in the 1990s, I had the pleasure of studying under the legendary Australian actress Bunney Brooke.

To prepare for an improvised acting piece, she would sit right up next to you, the aura of her last cigarette invading your space and speak right into your ear. Her voice soft, yet deep, and potent.

With eyes closed, she would build the character she wanted you to emerge as in incredible detail. What clothes you were wearing, what your last conversation was and with whom, what was in your fridge, what smells were in the house, what you thought about the Prime Minister.

She stripped me away to a shell and was now putting flesh onto my bones.

I remember being fascinated by this because up until that point I had adopted the more facile practice of acting that included two words, “play” and “pretend.”

Emotional depth is crucial for believability and thus audience engagement.

When I then became a conceptual creative in the advertising business, I quickly realized how my brief foray into method acting could play superbly into my craft.

To feel the pulse of our audience in a deeper, more emotional way, a technique that I have termed Method Concepting is extremely effective.

In the following example, let’s say I want my audience to take notice of a TV commercial. Channeling Ms. Brooke, I will ask my teams to close their eyes and empty their mind. Onto that blank canvas, I begin to help them build out this person in incredible detail. Where are they sitting? What kind of seat? What kind of TV do they have? What are they watching? What’s next to them? What’s on that table? What have they just eaten for lunch? What’s the last thing that made them smile? Angry? What’s that smell? The questions go on and on, and often take you on a tour of their entire home.

The beauty of this method is that everyone in that room visualizes slightly different variations of the target. This fertilizes the creative output.

Only when you’re truly, madly and deeply in the mindset of the target, can you really create something you know will get their attention. That itches their scratch. That won’t piss them off. That will seduce them into your message. That will spur them into action.

When we consider creativity around iBeacons, Method Concepting soars even higher. Because while we’re building the emotional truths inside a participant, we’re also examining their behavioral drivers at that moment. Your mindset is very different walking into Bergdorf Goodman than it is walking into a gym.

We’re not just understanding our audience on a deeper level, we’re becoming them, like an actor does, without having to emerge from the exercise and physically manifest the character. (If you’d seen me act, that’s a very good thing.)

This inspires us to create experiences in retail that are unforgettable, effective and additive to every participant, the world over, in any retail environment.

Sam Saunders, Head of Creative for Proximity insight, shown above playing the barman in the hugely popular Australian soap opera All Saints. He is a speaker at the 2015 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity where he will reveal Method Concepting to the world’s creative community.


Mobilization of in-store staff: Retail Highs and Lows

Each Christmas, retailers unintentionally pit shoppers against each other in a grueling competition. How quickly can we shop and exit before becoming overwhelmed by the sickly slivers of mall Christmas music tuned just one octave too high and played one beat too fast? That is assuming we can find what we’re looking for without help – holiday staffing is frequently insufficient and under-trained.

These types of experiences are so horrible that they destroy the relationships that brands spend so much time cultivating. And today’s modern retail powerhouses are not about to let that happen. In fact, this a monumental time of opportunity and change for customer service in brick-and-mortar retail; we are about to see the wide scale deployment of mobile devices like iPads, empowered with enterprise apps, all to benefit the customer experience.


Much has been written about the proliferation of mobile devices as a research and purchasing tool for customers. Consultants, who just love to bet on technological trends, are frothing at the mouth to get mobile devices into the hands of sales staff. Their logic? Mobile tech in customers’ hands has vastly increase sales, so mobile for sales associates should do the same. More technology in store will magically mean more sales.

In reality though, there is no magic. Technology won’t change the role of the sales associate; it will make them astonishingly better at the tasks they had all along: providing the customer with convenience, personalization, customization, and efficiency. Only hand-held mobile devices can deliver this depth of experience with available technology.

Retailers are now delivering in-store convenience, personalization, customization, and efficiency through clienteling systems. Clienteling systems provide sales associates with a customer’s profile on a mobile device, such as an iPad, in real time, allowing them to qualify each customer despite possibly never having served that customer before.

Salesforce developers are pioneering clienteling solutions that can be delivered as either Salesforce1 customizations or through bespoke native clienteling enterprise apps. Retailers such as Burberry, Stuart Weitzman, Designs Within Reach, and LL Bean are implementing strategies now. Some of the features at the edge of development are listed below:

Product Recommendation Engines: This tool estimates a customer’s preference for different items in the current season, and guides sales associate recommendations by analyzing a customer’s on-line sales history, in-store sales history, browsing habits, and wish lists,

Product Catalog Real-time Inventory: This functionality allows associates to help client review products not in store or sold out, and see real-time availability information, meaning retailers can insure they never lose a sale even if the product is out of stock.

Black Book Replacement: Key customer profiles are stored as part of the integrated CRM database, replacing the little black book or a disjointed back office CRM.

Private Personal Shopper: Hyper-personal one-on-one communication between clients and associates both in and outside of store furthers the VIP shopping feel.

Appointment Scheduling: Much like Apple’s Genius Bar appointment, retail clients can book their preferred sales staff, and associates are alerted when clients arrive for a pre-booked consultation.</ol>

Look Builder: Enabling clients to build looks by combining previously purchased merchandise with in-store items reinforces brand loyalty and can reduce returns.
New clienteling technology means that identifying the customer will become less cumbersome. Rather than waiting until checkout to learn a client’s name and account details, sales associates - through proximity awareness technology such as iBeacon - will know exactly who is in the store and in their vicinity. The second I walk in the door someone will fetch my pearl stud earrings. They will know where I am inside the store. I will no longer have to fight to get what I want.


The downside is that the roll out of this technology will take time. Customers, staff, and legislators are weary.

Retailers already track our data, but we are not used to them using that data in real time. How do retailers reassure customers that this won’t be harmful and why would I want to opt in?

The answer is by offering enormous efficiencies and value to our experience in exchange for that data. And industry standards will give customers confidence, which is why the industry codes and guidance currently emerging on use of locational data, IoT, and cloud are garnering such attention. Participants are closely watching legal cases in the US and UK for guidance but the landscape is quite treacherous still.

A great illustration of the difficult path companies must tread on the new frontier encompassing data-privacy laws is that of start-up Movvo. Movvo uses cell-phone signals to provide foot traffic analysis in malls in Europe. It is technically impossible to link cell phone signals back to individuals (part of Apple’s iOS 8 update was randomizing the unique MAC addresses of its iPhones to prevent personal tracking using technologies such as Movvo’s), so in essence what Movvo has developed is a much better version of the common door counter used in malls today - no new intrusions into privacy - no chance that customers will be affected. Nonetheless, strict data-protection regulations in Movvo’s European markets meant they needed to seek independent certification to operate.

So even though there is no risk of privacy violations, Movvo has had to spend two years obtaining a license to demonstrate they were using personal data in accordance with European data-protection laws. In addition to a being subjected to an enormous ongoing audit process, Movvo had to create an algorithm that scrambled the customer data so people could not be personally tracked by comparing phone data with closed-circuit video. And finally Movvo had to hand out fliers to shoppers telling them that they are being monitored.

Movvo huge undertaking marks just baby step towards the future in terms of some of the advancements I am discussing. Peter Thiel, founder PayPal, and Palantir, and leading hand in investing in Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yelp, has repeatedly gone on the record to cite that bureaucratic legislation is stifling innovation. When you look at Movvo as a test case for the industry, nothing could be more true.

The smart brands are putting an emphasis on “privacy by design” in their products and how they interact with their customers. Regulatory and adoption issues will be overcome in time. Brands that tread cautiously and use their client’s data to improve their experiences first and foremost will be richly rewarded.

I dream of a day when holiday shopping is one most relaxing times of the year. Until then, see you at the mall!