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How to step up and thrive as a fearless female leader

Mandy Tomlinson, General Manager Retail at Overland Footwear Group, will give a keynote speech on leading with passion and authenticity at the Women in Retail & FMCG Leadership Summit. Here, she talks us through some key issues for women in retail.

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The biggest challenge affecting female business leaders is overcoming the “fear of not being liked”, says Tomlinson. Leading a team conflicts with the desire to be a people-pleaser as it’s impossible for leaders to consistently make decisions that satisfy everyone around them. 

“Whatever decisions you make, some people will like it and some people won’t.” 

Tomlinson says she sees young women, in particular, struggling with this challenge. The key to moving past it is to ensure you’ve explained the reasoning behind your decisions to your team, and remember you’ve been promoted because of your skillset. 

“As a leader, you have to be true to who you are. Accept the fact that not everyone will love the decisions you make.” 

For women seeking to develop their careers in a dynamic field like retail, Tomlinson advises that you don’t have let the company plan your career path: “If you can own your growth, you don’t need to rely on your leader.” 

She recommends being proactive: picking up responsibilities before they’re assigned to you, saying yes to opportunities, and looking for ways to grow. Horizontal loyalty and diverse connections across departments will all help you understand more about your industry, as will external courses, books and connections. 

“The wider your skillset is, the better it will equip you to make decisions.” 

Tomlinson recommends seeking out the job description of a role you desire, printing it off, highlighting the areas where you lack the experience or skills to fill that role, then going out and filling those gaps. 

Many retailers are going through periods of transformation or budget freezes, but this environment doesn’t need to get in the way of career advancement, Tomlinson says. Leaner business means more opportunity for leaders than ever before: “Businesses that are cash tight are also looking for opportunities to improve their position.” 

Women seeking leadership opportunities under these circumstances should consider how they can help their employer find cost savings, become more profitable or more efficient, she says. 

Tomlinson says especially in retail, people can be very title-driven, but business is becoming so dynamic that new roles and titles are being created all the time. Her own role, general manager of retail, also includes responsibility across customer care, marketing and stock integrity. 

“Don’t try to get too attached to the title of the role, but think about what you want to do in this role.” 

Tomlinson says investing in people will become crucial as the New Zealand retail market gets tougher and more competitive on an international scale. She believes people are the key to remaining viable in this environment, and there’s plenty of evidence to show diversity across companies boosts earnings. 

If you’d like to learn more about thriving in a tumultuous environment, building resilience and managing change, mastering work-life balance and communicating with confidence, the Women in Retail & FMCG Leadership Summit offers an inspirational line-up of industry leaders to guide you. 

Through ICG’s partnership with event organiser Liquid Learning, NZ Retail readers can access a ​10 percent discount when booking tickets – just enter priority code AA1 at booking. 

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