Known as one of the most influential women in Australian retail, Erica Berchtold is CEO at The Iconic and was previously managing director of the sports division at Super Retail Group and general manager at Specialty Fashion Group. Here, Berchtold discusses the valuable insights she has gained during her career, what the next generation of women needs to thrive in the workplace — and why everyone needs to learn how to do “a virtual eyeroll”. Editor’s note: This interview
iew originally ran in the March 10, 2021, edition of Inside Retail Weekly. It has been lightly edited. Inside Retail: What advice would you give to your younger self? Erica Berchtold: Keep the faith: You’re going to feel that sometimes you are treated unfairly because of your gender, however, don’t let it dismay you and during these times, lean into your well-developed resilience as things will begin to change. Give back to your support network: These are the people who you celebrate with during the good times and lean on during the bad times. Your family and friends will keep you grounded and will often be your biggest cheer squad, who aren’t afraid of telling you a few home truths when required. Never forget that it’s a two-way street and being busy doesn’t excuse you from nurturing those relationships. Learn how to do a “virtual” eye-roll: Sometimes you’re going to be thinking, really in this day and age we still have to put up with this stuff? In times like these remember to just get on with being you and remember that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. IR: What are some of the challenges for working women that continue today and what can leaders do to help support them? EB: Something that I’ve continued to witness first hand is women falling mercy to the ‘I’m probably not ready yet’ syndrome. Particularly when it comes to leadership roles, many women can hesitate to throw their hat in the ring. Throughout my career, I’ve learnt to always back yourself and give it a go, even if you think you aren’t ready, or qualified. The experience of applying for that job can be incredibly useful even if you don’t get it. And guess what? You just might! To me, leadership is about using your voice to drive positive change. This extends to creating an inclusive environment where women are empowered and supported to actively put their hand up for leadership roles. I refuse to believe that there aren’t enough talented women out there to create a more equal balance in the workplace. It’s also important for those in leadership roles to remember that the wants and needs of each working woman is unique. The idea that every woman wants to have a family isn’t applicable to everyone in a room. And supporting women in the workforce needs to be a bigger conversation than just being about ‘work and family life balance’. IR: Working parents have wanted flexibility for a long time and coronavirus has finally changed that in a lot of workplaces. What are your thoughts on how the pandemic has impacted on how working families and workplaces operate in that regard? EB: There is no denying that the past months [in the pandemic] have been unlike any other, with the ways in which we work being no exception. For many, Zoom meetings and sharing screens became the norm, and the lines between home and work blurred even further as your colleagues had insight into everything from your decor, pets to children. At The Iconic, we’ve always prided ourselves on fostering an agile workforce and advocating a culture rooted in flexibility. Since our early days, we’ve firmly believed that initiatives such as flexible working and parental leave across the board are essential enablers for our people to better integrate The Iconic into the unique needs of their daily life. We were early disruptors in the way people shop, along with being disruptors in the way people work. If anyone was going to flourish under unusual circumstances, it was going to be us! For The Iconic, [the pandemic] has been an incredible business accelerator. As it did for the majority of businesses, [it] forced us to rethink and reset the ways we work, and we’ve embraced even more agile ways of working to achieve even greater market responsiveness as we continue to help drive the future face of retail in Australia and New Zealand. While it was important for us to enforce physical distancing during this time, this didn’t mean we had to be socially distant, and we introduced a number of initiatives to ensure our staff continued to feel connected, inspired and supported. These included regular company-wide team regroups over Zoom to ensure transparency and clear communication, and the introduction of a ‘lunch siesta’ between 12-1pm with no meetings to be scheduled each day, offering our staff a designated period to digitally switch off. Ultimately, Covid-19 has reinforced the value of agility, flexibility and creativity for so many businesses. For The Iconic it has shown that our infrastructure, processes and most importantly, our people are able to adapt and thrive in this ‘new normal’. Like many other ANZ organisations, we will continue to offer our teams increased flexibility, which includes initiatives like a permanent hybrid working model for our staff that are able to complete their role offsite. These teams have the flexibility and freedom to choose how they work, when they come into one of our hubs and when they prioritise remote working. Regardless of what people’s home life looks like, the future of work for us is all about empowering our people to work how they want to work and supporting their unique needs vs. enforcing cookie-cutter policies. IR: What’s the role of men in achieving more gender equality in the workplace, particularly when it comes to the leadership gap? EB: I look forward to a world where we eventually have more balanced gender representation and there is no longer a need to ask these sorts of questions. However, the current reality is, men are the larger share of leaders in corporate Australia, so the role they play in driving progress is key. Whilst some of my previous roles haven’t had the strong female representation present within The Iconic C-Suite (5 of the 8 are women), I have been fortunate to work with male leaders who have encouraged me in stepping up the corporate ladder and valuing the diversity of thought that I bring to the table. Particularly when I look at the past 10 years, it has been forward-thinking and empathetic male leaders that have truly been some of my best advocates and supporters. Luck may have been on my side here in landing such great role models, but what I see as key is to focus on the role of men, just as much as we do women. In that regard, it’s important to note that it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, just women championing diversity and gender balance, but an equal ownership between both genders to help drive progress. To me, diversity of thought brings more effective decision making, and this can only be a good thing when it comes to running businesses to yield performance and engaged teams! I strongly believe that in order to achieve real results, gender equality has to be something the entire business and all team members believe in and make a long-term commitment to. Organisations need to walk the talk, as barriers are dissolved over time through collective action and personal responsibility from the top down. For example, when it comes to supporting women in the workplace, this needs to equally extend to things like empowering men to be able to step up across key parenting roles. E.g. normalising it for men to leave early to do school pick-ups, take paternity leave etc. I think Covid-19 accelerated this learning and the normalising of this, and as leaders it’s our job to make sure we don’t regress.