Fashion world's long runway to gender parity

Leena Nair is the second Indian-origin woman to head an international major

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Published: Wed 15 Dec 2021, 10:20 PM

Last updated: Wed 15 Dec 2021, 10:23 PM

Chanel has done it again. Leena Nair, who will be taking over as the global CEO of the French luxury group, is the third woman to occupy that position in the company’s 111-year history.

Earlier, Francoise Montenay and American Maureen Chiquet held that role. Besides, they all have the legacy of another woman at home to draw inspiration from — the late Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, an avant-garde woman who, according to the company, forged the values of the House she founded.

Nair is the second Indian-origin woman to head an international major, the other being Indra Nooyi, former chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, who also happens to be a mentor for Nair. Indian-origin professionals are heading several top multinationals, but all of them are men.

The corporate world has a long way to go when it comes to gender parity. Women constitute the pillar of the $3 trillion global fashion industry as they are the majority of makers and consumers.

According to Fortune 500, just 41 women lead businesses in 2021, up from 33 who sat at the helm in 2019 and two in 2000. Of that sorry figure, only 10 lead fashion companies. The World Business Collaborative recently cited the World Economic Forum, which said the proportion of women in senior executive jobs globally has been stuck at 24 per cent for more than a decade. In the US, for instance, just one in five C-suite leaders are women.

Studies have revealed that 80 per cent of women executives are in finance, legal and HR, but not in operating roles leading to the CEO’s position. At the end of the year, women CEOs accounted for just 8.2 per cent across all corporates.

Global entities have to embrace inclusivity in right earnest. Chanel, of course, has been an exception and Nair has been preceded by Maureen Chiquet, an American, who was CEO for nearly a decade until 2016.

After she left the group, she wrote a book, Beyond the Label: Women, Leadership & Success On Our Own Terms, where she asked: “Why should we separate art from business, feelings from logic, intuition from judgment? Who decided you can’t be determined and flexible, introspective and attuned, mother and top executive? And where does it state standing unflinchingly in your vulnerability, embracing your femininity, won’t make you stronger?”

Nair’s journey from Kolhapur, a small city in India’s Maharashtra state, is an excellent example of how a woman can rise in her career despite all the challenges that she faces.

As the head of a company “that believes in the freedom of creation, in cultivating human potential and in acting to have a positive impact in the world” — as she mentioned on social media after announcing her move to Chanel — Nair believes that her objective will be “to ignite the human spark to build a better business and a better world”. Let’s wish her all the best.

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