I spoke to Becky Fishlock, divisional manager at Selfridges about her career and experiences in the retail industry over her years working for various high-end brands.



How did you enter into the industry?


I started off, as many people do, with a part-time job. I enjoyed selling things to people but I wanted them to be really nice things, things that I was interested in. At the time I was making clothes from vintage patterns for my sister so I decided to make some of those and have a market stall. That was probably my first proper foray into retail. I had to try to sell to everyone who came to the stall so I learnt how to manage that pretty quickly. I then went to college and realised I wasn’t particularly enjoying my course so I left and took up a job in retail.


And what was that first full-time job?


I started working for Paul Smith in 1994 and it was a very exciting time to be working directly with him, at his peak.


Do you feel that you would have gone into the retail industry had you not been in those circumstances?


I possibly would have chosen a different path however I was always interested in service and I think a lot of people who work in the industry are not so interested in that aspect but that was always very important to me.


Have you felt throughout your career that there is a patriarchy in retail?


With certain brands there can be a tendency to be that way. My next job after Paul Smith was with a high-end luxury brand based in Paris and I didn’t feel, at the beginning, that I was necessarily treated any differently. However, being an older woman in the workforce you really do notice that there is a difference in treatment and there is less opportunity open to you. I have seen colleagues of mine who reach their 50’s and become side-lined, I think that employers want the experience of people our age but want us to look or be a lot younger.


What would you change about the industry?


There are certain attitudes that need to change. I did feel when I had my second daughter that there was less flexibility made available to me and personally as a working woman, you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing for your children and family as well as your employers and sometimes that balance is difficult to achieve. I would say also that in my career throughout my forties when I went to work for another high-end French brand brand I had a very different experience and it was probably the first time when I have really felt that there was an element of discrimination to do with my age. I was in no uncertain terms asked to dye my grey hair and all the women were told to wear a certain shade of lipstick, wear more makeup, paint their nails and that they must wear high-heeled shoes. Interestingly, when the male designer was replaced by a woman, that approach changed and we were able to wear flat shoes, so that was a business that had a very heavy sense of patriarchy. In several businesses I’ve worked in there has also been a distinct lack of diversity at the top which is really startling.


Do you feel that many improvements have been made in terms of diversity?


That’s a difficult question to answer, I think people are less tolerant of discrimination now and are more inclined to notice it. There is a lot of good-will, though businesses may not always get it right but I think what’s important is that people are willing to learn and embrace changes. So it would be cynical to say there have been no improvements but not enough has been done in the wider world.