Retail Week Be Inspired – Reliving the most empowering event of the year

We are still so awestruck by the truly inspirational speakers, and the knowledge imparted yesterday, it’s hard to even know how to begin to recap the Retail Week Be Inspired conference.

But recap we must!

What is Retail Week: Be Inspired?

For those who have never attended, Be Inspired does what it says on the tin; bringing together 800+ retailers and a whole host of rousing speakers from a variety of backgrounds to motivate us, captivate our minds and buoy us to be the best version of ourselves.

Sounds a bit twee doesn’t it? On paper, yes, but while you’re there you can’t help but get swept away in the positivity, shared experiences and all around joie de vivre!

Retail Week - Be Inspired - 800 retailers

Oh yes, and did I forget to mention, the day is all about empowering women in the workplace? That may have a little something to do with our invigorated disposition!

In fact, we were so empowered that one of us even decided to leap out of our comfort zone and get up on stage!

While taking part in a confidence training workshop, our very own Business Development Manager, Holly, jumped on stage as a volunteer. It wasn’t long before she had a room full of 800 retailers shouting and whooping for Pi “The most kick ass SEO software out there!” Go on Holly!


Other key themes of the day involved diversity, equality and mental health; all discussed from differing perspectives from those within the industry, and those far-removed.

CEOs of major companies, the likes of TJ Maxx, Sainsbury’s, Google, Co-Op and Jack Wills took to the stage to share anecdotes and learnings, while comedians, confidence trainers and cognitive psychologists gave us a broader, more novel interpretation of what it takes to succeed as a woman at work.

Without further ado, here’s a recap of the day’s events, with full panel Q&As and some brilliant takeaways…


Maggie Alphonsi – Overcoming your fears and maximising your potential

Up first was surprise guest speaker: former Rugby Union player, and current sports pundit-cum-motivational speaker, Maggie Alphonsi, discussing her experience as a woman in a typically male dominated environment and her goals for success.

Maggie told us of her struggle to try to ‘Fit in’ and progress in this environment by trying to adopt ‘Laddish’ behaviours. Over time she came to realise that she wasn’t fooling anyone and was, if anything, ostracising herself by trying to be someone she wasn’t. The learning here was to be the truest version of yourself when trying to achieve your goal; being someone else wastes time, energy and doesn’t earn you respect in the long run!

The point that resonated with us most in Maggie’s talk was her life tip of ‘Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable’: Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to, paradoxically, feel more confident and able to handle (what you may once have deemed) a difficult situation.

Maggie Alphonsi’s tips:

Lynda Petherick – With great power comes great responsibility

Next up was Lynda Petherick discussing the vital importance of sustainability in retail. Lynda heads up the fashion, luxury and beauty business for Accenture, but is also a huge personal advocate for responsible retail.

She shared with us some really quite sobering facts about the damaging effects of human consumption on the planet.

Did you know:

  • 800 tonnes of clothes…
  • 235m garments…
  • 260 thousand tonnes of food waste…
  • 1.5m tonnes of plastic packaging…

Go to landfill every year? We certainly didn’t.

According to the UN, we only have 11 years before our impact on the planet cannot be reversed.

Lynda also told us of ‘Earth Overshoot Day’, which marks the day in the year when we have consumed our annual allowances from the resources of our planet. It’s not in December or even October – it is now the 29th July.

We were dumbfounded to hear that by 2050, we will require 3 planets to sustain us.

Conde Nast Traveller recently published the article ‘14 places to visit before they disappear’ including the Venice, The Great Barrier Reef and The Dead Sea.

But Lynda confirmed that it’s not all doom and gloom. Sustainability and responsible retail can be a real opportunity and USP for those working in retail right now.

  • 63% of customers want companies to take a stand on topics close to their heart
  • Trust is the ultimate currency: Customers who trust your brand spend 31% more
  • Those practising responsible retail grow 50% faster than other brands

Lynda implored the 700+ retailers in the room to create a movement, and adopt ‘Circular thinking’ to drive significant change in a profitable way.

She punctuated an inspiring talk with 3 last tips:

  • Don’t overthink it – otherwise you’ll never start
  • See the space and jump in
  • Be true to yourself and what you believe

PANEL: The best advice I’ve been given

Retail Week - Be Inspired

Suzanne Harlow, Chief Executive, Jack Wills

  • Formerly Executive Director at Debenhams.
  • Brought into Jack Wills at a very difficult time, to essentially save the company.

Cassandra Stavrou, Founder, Propercorn

  • Founded Propercorn in 2011 as she was frustrated with the lack of healthy snacks.
  • Tesco catapulted Propercorn into the public sphere.
  • Propercorn now sells 3m sold packs per month, and is officially the ‘Fastest growing grocery product’.

Jo Whitfield, Chief Executive, Co-op Food

  • Was the first ever female CEO of a grocery chain.
  • Was VP of Asda for 8 years.
  • Chair of Grocery Girls: A female empowerment and networking group.

Emma Watkinson, Chief Executive, Silk Fred

  • Setup SilkFred, a platform for independent fashion brands.
  • Raised £150k and crowdfunded a further £145k to grow the brand.

Q: Was there a key moment where someone helped elevate you, or a dramatic shift occurred at work?


  • When I came back from my second maternity leave – I felt invisible, left-behind and had a real crisis of confidence.
  • My CEO said “If you want to get on, you need to delegate better and take more time to learn. Fill in the gaps in tech knowledge and experience, and start to push yourself into a more comfortable position.”


  • I spent two years trying to gain access to the manufacturing industry. Doors were constantly slammed in face.
  • An ‘Expert’ in industry who knew manufacturing world told me: “Go get your old job back”. He gave me a vote of no-confidence.
  • I went out, bought an old cement mixer, cleaned it up and spray-painted it, then tumbled the popcorn in there myself. I went around promoting Propercorn and finally landed a manufacturer.
  • The biggest lesson I learned was to believe in myself.


  • My dramatic shift was when I had to be brave about an opportunity and was pushed out of my comfort zone: When I worked at Asda, I was given the opportunity to run retail operations at George. And I immediately thought: Why me?
  • I’ve learned you need to stretch yourself, learn and take chances to gain confidence.
  • When it comes to being a leader, you don’t have to be an expert; your role is to listen, take heed and apply your experience.

Q: When it comes to personal development, what tips do you have?


  • Keep a record of what you have achieved, and have the courage to ask when you don’t know.
  • Set career goals – don’t boil the ocean – I wanted to do everything but have learned to be more practical and break goals into bitesize chunks.
  • Have short and long-term goals to motivate yourself.
  • Ask yourself: By this time next year, what do I want to have done?
  • When you have a tumbleweed moment, this yearly goal keeps you on track.


  • It’s not about what, it’s about who: ’What do I wanna be when I grow up’ – we need to start changing that question to ‘Who do I wanna be when I grow up‘.
  • Ask yourself: ‘Who do I want to be in the workplace?’ ‘What do I want to be known for in the office’, ‘What strengths do I want to be acknowledged for?’
  • Don’t wait to be handed a development plan. Be proactive in creating your own.


  • Identify the opportunity that no one else is seeing, put yourself on a fast trajectory and set personal goals.
  • I admire a practice put in place by Facebook…
  • On 31st Dec 2019, say to yourself ‘As I look back on the past 12 months I am most proud of’
    • Personal achievement
    • Professional achievement
    • Community achievement
  • Try to continuously improve on this every year.


  • Don’t be too fixed about your development. The best roles I’ve had have been unplanned – not a tick-box career path.
  • Know roughly, and be open to opportunities.

Melanie Eusebe: We need to talk about diversity

Award winning business strategist, entrepreneur, author and founder of Black British Awards, Melanie Eusebe took to the stage after the break to talk diversity.

She kicked off by telling us of recent report findings by Nielson on the retail opportunity presented by diverse audiences of women; referred to as the ‘Unicorns of FMCG’

Latina women in the US are huge consumers of tech and social media, for example, while Asian British women are big trend setters on social media.

‘The thing is. I don’t see these women. Where are they?’ Eusebe asks.

There is a huge amount of work still to be done to showcase diversity in retail.

‘We need to bring people along with us – we can all be unknowingly ignorant when it comes to someone ‘other’ than ourselves.

Eusebe wills us to ‘Vote with our purses’

‘According to a report by McKinsey’s, diverse companies do better. They deliver better results and are more innovative.’

Using the example of a London makeup brand with only white caucasian models, Eusebe tells us retailers aren’t going to get any sales if they don’t represent different audiences and demographics.

‘As a company, you need to signal that you’re not just open to diverse and inclusive groups, but that you’re welcoming.’

Kiri Pricthard-Mclean – Confidence: It’s yours if you want it

Things got funny. Kiri Pritchard-Mclean showed us just how confidence is ‘Done’, with some priceless anecdotes and topical punchlines.

Some of the content is possibly NSFW, but you have it on good authority that it was suitably hilarious.

What we will leave you with is this:

  • Think about your USPs.
  • If you have ‘Imposter syndrome’ – you’re probably doing something right. It means your reflective, humble, and grounded. If you don’t have it, you’re probably Boris Johnson.

  • Be your own best mate.
  • Be like a child: Try, fail and find what you want to do.
  • Have the confidence of a man telling the story of how he ended up with a mango shoved up his -ahem- we’ll leave that one there, shall we….

PANEL: Man, I lead like a woman – Lessons in leadership

Retail Week - Be Inspired - Man I Lead Like a Woman Panel

Bridget Lea, MD, Sainsbury’s North

Annie Murphy, Global CCO, Walgreens Boots Alliance

Naomi Kasolowsky, Group Insight Director, Tesco

Polly Browne, Head of UK Retail Video & Display Sales, Google


Q: What do you think it takes to be a good leader?


  • Throughout my 30 years experience, I’ve come to learn there is not just one perfect model of a leader.
  • Leaders can be introverts, extroverts, male or female.
  • To be a good leader, I think you need to:
    • Create an environment of trust and inclusion
    • Have a high sense of self awareness
    • Actively seek feedback
    • Know your own strengths, weaknesses and skill-gaps
    • Surround yourself with people who compensate for your shortcomings


  • I’m a super curious person, so I like leaders who I can learn something from, who challenge me and who encourage me to learn and grow.


  • What makes a good leader? Consistency. It sounds like the most boring thing in the world, but it is what I value most.
  • You know how these kinds of leaders will react in all situations: good and bad.


  • What actually stands out to me more in some cases is ‘Negative leaders or role-models’.
  • Experiences with ‘Negative role-models’ are often much more powerful than with positive ones – it’s these people that help you work out who you don’t want to be.

Q: How do you practice diversity and inclusion in your workplace?


  • I’ve taken on enormous responsibility to ensure women don’t hide who they are at work.
  • I personally hid that I was a mum, out of fear it would hinder me in my career. I don’t want anyone to have to feel like that now. Things have changed.
  • We have created a team environment: who we are, or our ‘true self’ is embraced in the team. We want to know the whole person.


  • We practice diversity in who we hire, and who we retain.
  • When there’s hidden feelings, as leaders, it’s your responsibility to actively engage with colleagues and seek that out. Bring out their diversity.
  • I don’t know if you ever did the colour personality test, but I’m a true yellow, meaning I act and react on feelings and emotions – and at Google, I am one of few. In meetings I realised my team weren’t being forthcoming on subjects I knew they had a great deal of knowledge on. One day I asked them ‘Is there anything I can do to improve those meetings to encourage more participation’. It turned out, for some, those meetings could be pretty overwhelming, with a lot of information to digest. Now I make sure I send over the agenda far in advance, so that the team has more time to digest information and come prepared.
  • Moral of the story: Ask how people prefer to receive and digest information. Diversity is also about diversity of thought – actively seek that out. Work out how your teams function best.


  • We prioritise emotional wellbeing through check-ins; we get any anxieties out on the table, and work on building our relationships.
  • After sessions, we always ask: Did you feel like you could make a big contribution?
  • This way we make sure we continuously improve.

Q: What do you think Millenials and GenZ’s prioritise in the workplace? How do they differ from other generations?


  • To millenials and gen z’s, work is part of their identity.
  • They value emotional intelligence, and psychological safety.
  • Work is part of who they are, so workplaces need to create space for feedback.


  • Senior, middle-aged leaders have a lot to learn from younger generations.
  • The millenials and gen z’s I know show unbounded enthusiasm, knowledge and confidence.
  • The onus is on us, as senior leaders, to learn from these ‘Reverse mentors’.
  • Immerse yourself in what matters to them, and what you need to do to adapt

Q: If you had the chance to go back in time, what would you say to your 21 y/o self?


  • Understand what you love and loathe, and pay attention to that.
  • Have a bit more fun and embrace learning, push yourself, and put yourself out of comfort zone.


  • Be driven by the potential of success, not fear of failure.
  • Have belief in the power of authentic ‘You’.
  • Authenticity has it’s moment right now. Leverage it.


  • Be less hesitant to ask for help, don’t hide weaknesses: embrace support.

Louise Greenlees – TJX Europe – The continued need for female confidence

Retail Week - Be Inspired - Louise Greenlees

Louise Greenlees’ talk was the perfect way to end an uplifting and thought-provoking day full of positive, empowering female ambassadors.

What it means to be a woman

With real relatable insight in what it means to be a woman, Louise impressed the emotional and cognitive load that women bear on top of maintaining a career; the recurrent doubt that plagues our minds, the idea that we need to ‘be’ or ‘act in a certain way.

Culture and inclusion

But the real takeaway of the talk centered around the importance of culture and inclusion – to involve both women and men.

Workplaces need to not just support the development of women, they need to offer more flexibility for men; encouraging them to take leave when it comes to domestic responsibilities, and paternity care – to redress the current imbalance in gender roles and responsibilities.

Handling gender bias

‘Don’t get drawn into negative scenarios – it will slow you down. As unfortunate as it is, subconscious bias still exists – don’t get stuck in potholes if it’s well-meant.

Instead, focus your energy on providing support and lifting up those around you. Take the initiative to embrace and shout about gender equality, diversity and bias in your workplace.

Louise finished her talk with a recent study from Accenture, proving that when women advance, so too do their male colleagues and peers; which we feel perfectly encapsulated the sentiment of the day:

‘When she rises we all rise’.