If you’ve heard of Mary Portas before, you’re probably recalling a fabulously dressed, straight talking woman with a sharp, bright orange bob. You might only be familiar with her television shows, though primarily she is a retail consultant specialising in brand communication and advertising, and is founder of London based creative communications agency Portas.
Portas’ broad and diverse career had simple beginnings. Starting work as a shop girl in various department stores in London, she worked through different roles before gaining a place on the board of Harvey Nichols before the time she was 30. Her stellar career did not go unnoticed, and she was approached to do a TV show that saw her use her retail skills and experience to help struggling independent retailers back on a path to success, called Mary Queen of Shops. Shooting her into the public eye, Portas went on to work further in television producing series’ on a huge range of issues like the state of manufacturing in Britain, pensioner employment, customer service and Britain’s buying habits. She also worked to develop a new concept for charity shops with more curated stock and spaces for community use – an idea which Save The Children has made £15m from so far. Ultimately, her retail prowess led the British government to ask her to lead an independent review into the future of British high streets, aptly named The Portas Review.
Portas regularly admits that her success has been down to adopting a more alpha personality and suppressing some of her natural instincts in order to adapt to a male dominated business culture, which is what makes her new book, Work Like A Woman, so interesting. She re-examines how businesses should work and proposes moving away from tradition to create a more female friendly vibe in the workplace – to benefit both sexes. She suggests that women would spend less time inhibiting themselves and that men would feel more comfortable in exhibiting feminine traits. In everyday work life this might look like moving away from bravado and schmooze-y business lunches, and shifting towards the culture she nurtures in her own company, where organisational hierarchy is broken down by providing profit share incentives and providing a range of flexible working options for working parents. She also suggests that feminine qualities that are traditionally dismissed, like intuition and gut instinct should be harnessed in the work place.
As a successful business woman it is commendable that she is still looking at improving the traditional business culture that she benefitted from to make it easier for people to work well and authentically. Portas ability to shift her focus from her and her business’s outward appearance and actions and to look inward and identify a blueprint for change, sets her apart from the rest.
Buy her book Work like a woman here.
By Francesca Butler.
Francesca is a London based writer...