You were recently awarded the ASB Social Entrepreneur of the Year for your work with your charitable trust, RAW (Reclaim Another Woman.) As a retailer, what inspired you to
I have always been heavily involved in the philanthropy space - even as a smaller company in my formative years, I wanted to be about more than just the bottom line. I, like many others, simply sought out the bigger charities looking for a surety that my investment of time and money would be put to good use - but as the company matured I set up my own foundation, wanting to leave a real legacy that was more than just the frocks. A legacy that looked at some of the massive social problems we have in this country and at how we could apply a different lens of thinking to get some real change. A chance meeting with the CEO of the Waikato Women's Refuge led me into a world that I had so little knowledge or understanding of - the women of the gangs of this country. Whilst I had a huge admiration of the crisis work that refuge was doing, I also saw that very little change was happening - women were simply returning to their environments and their abusers, as this was their normal. The birth of my own foundation in 2012 saw RAW (Reclaim Another Woman) as our first initiative. It was simply my way of endeavouring to get real change through education for a demographic that had become invisible in my world.
What progress have you made with RAW?
The journey that we have travelled in the women's prison, working with highly recidivist female offenders who have no chance of re-integrating and securing diplomas and degree pathways for them as they lived in incubation homes in the Waikato has been one of the most incredible things I have been involved in, and believe me there have been a few. RAW has an absolute determination to remain independent from Government, to ensure that we operate autonomously and freely and get the outcomes this whole county needs and wants. Our success rate is huge after 12 months of operation - we now have eleven women (impacting on 26 children) out of prison, in education and living in incubation homes in the Waikato, and another forty on the pathway in prison to be released in the next 12 months. Given the huge need for a programme like this (there is nothing else like it) we have also started working in Rimutaka prison and we have our first male pilot for four men commencing in February this year. Already we have another twenty men on the pathway still in prison. The cost of not addressing this problem is huge, and as a retailer we know the impact of shrinkage each year - one of our women was able to secure a television when on a ‘shopping spree’.
As a strong advocate for women in business, what are your views on the data recently released by the NZ Herald that found women earn 86 cents to every dollar a man earns? Do you see any key issues in retail that need to be addressed?
There are obviously issues that need to be addressed for some women. The difficulty for me is that I have always determined my own financial returns through an entrepreneurial platform, so therefore my success will be determined by the collection that I produce each year and the leadership I provide for my company. I do feel that the pay gap can be the outcome of the journey that a woman takes in life and no matter how educated, if she stops to raise her children (one of the most rewarding things I have ever done) there will always be challenges around re-entry and monetary worth. I guess for me, life has always been about so much more than the money. Life well lived is about lives lived in balance and contributions made to others, rather than the size and location of your home and brand of your clothing and car. Maybe, just maybe, the intangibles have more value that the money, given that your family and your relationships are all that will count in the end. Until the job is worth more than the money, it will never pay more.
What are your plans for RAW for 2016?
This year we seek four large foundation partners to enable us to secure, amplify and continue this excellent work – and it would be wonderful to think there was interest from the retail sector. If this sounds like you and you would like to get in at the start of something innovative and leading edge in its thinking, getting the social change we all seek, then we'd love to talk with you. It’s important to note that we are a national model, simply located in the Waikato. Most of the women come from the Auckland and Northland area but eventually they will be from all over New Zealand.
This story originally appeared in NZRetail magazine issue 742 February / March 2016