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Karen Cruttenden: Inspiring inclusion and celebrating achievements

International Women’s Day (IWD), observed annually on March 8, is a global celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action for gender equality. It serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made and the work that remains to be done.

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International Women’s Day (IWD), observed annually on March 8, is a global celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action for gender equality. It serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made and the work that remains to be done.

The Times Kuwait features five women from Kuwait published in KPMG Kuwait’s report Global Female Leaders Outlook 2023–24. These Female Leaders who are Shaping Resilience in a Polycrisis share their amazing stories of challenges and success.

The report finds that despite shouldering increased responsibilities, Global Female Leaders remained optimistic about corporate expansion, societal progress, gender parity, and their own professional aspirations. This resilience in the face of a volatile economic and social backdrop sends a positive message.

The opinions and insights of the Global Female Leaders presented in the report reflected their confidence in future prospects and the importance of equality in ongoing transformation endeavors and emphasize that diversity is not just a buzzword that companies are trying to catch on.

The KPMG report also underlines that despite advancements in promoting diversity, inclusion, and legal structures, considerable hurdles remain. Numerous women still encounter bias, often switch jobs to progress in their careers, are underrepresented in leadership roles, and navigate male-centric networks within organizations.

Overcoming these hurdles is crucial to unleashing the complete potential of equal participation. The report illuminates evolving trends that Global Female Leaders are driving within their companies. They are adjusting digitalization strategies, with a greater focus on employee development rather than technology investments, and they are strengthening cybersecurity measures.

This ability to respond to external changes through internal adjustments indicates a promising enhancement of organizational resilience. Global Female Leaders underline that certain personal qualities are gaining prominence, particularly adaptability and foresight.

The fast-paced advancement of technology, evolving stakeholder demands, compliance requirements, and market disruptions, such as those triggered by geopolitical factors, emphasize the importance of quick response and operational flexibility, while keeping strategic, long-term objectives in mind.

These qualities resonate strongly with the Global Female Leaders KPMG spoke to, enabling them to proactively assume leadership roles despite the complexities of the current polycrisis.

KPMG Kuwait hopes that the Global Female Leaders Outlook 2023–24 will offer fresh perspectives and help foster a deeper recognition of the female leaders’ ability to navigate challenges with resilience and agility.

Karen Cruttenden

Vice President, Victoria’s Secret, Alshaya Group

The retail sector is often deemed as demanding in terms of innovation, work-life balance, and lifestyle. What would be your advice be for future generations of female talent to navigate this sector and succeed?

At the point of promotion to a field role, Retail becomes a lifestyle rather than a job. This is a factor I always discuss with any future leader in my team. Retail is a 24/7 job these days and requires commitment as well as passion.

Therefore, finding that work-life balance is crucial to success. But how one navigates that is up to the individual, as it’s not a job with regular hours. Flexibility and adaptability are key skills to develop, along with the ability to say no. Most highly successful people in business say no more often than they say yes to additional projects/proposals.

Yet, women, in general, are not good at refusing gracefully. It’s hard to get your head up and see where you are going if you are snowed under with tasks.

The retail landscape is always evolving in terms of innovation and technology. As a leader who manages multiple portfolios, how do you keep yourself up to date?

It’s hard to stay ahead of the pack but I do try to stay endlessly curious. I always want to know what the other retailers are doing differently, which of them are new, and who is more exciting.

I find my nieces great sources of information and inspiration. Also, having a diverse team plays a big role in keeping us informed and relevant for our customers.

Every quarter, we review what our competitors are doing for the customers. Zara and Oysho, for example, have recently transformed their customer journey in their refitted stores. So, we have to keep our physical stores fresh and exciting, as more and more retailers are providing experiences in stores and pop-ups to carve out a reason for consumers to visit them rather than buy online.

When it comes to fostering a culture that embraces sustainable practices, how do you overcome resistance within your team and stakeholders?

I worked with Anita Roddick at The Body Shop in its prime where sustainable practices were created out of necessity and embedded in the brand’s DNA. This was totally inspirational. It’s not hard to behave well with each other and take care of our planet if it comes from the top and is lived every day.

Since then, I have continued to lead by example. Running fun and educational activities to create awareness and including the resistors is a great way to gain support.

Recently, the VS team planted mangroves in Abu Dhabi and made care bags for blue collar workers in the UAE. Even the most resistant team members admitted they had fun and it felt good to do good outside the office.

l love challenging the status quo, bringing fresh thinking to opportunities. I also find engaging the millennials in my team to lead the thinking a great way to bring everyone together. Personally, I don’t think you can force anyone to participate in something they are not interested in.

The resistance will only get more entrenched, so it’s better to let those people see what good looks like and experience some fear of missing out. Stakeholders are not so hard to convince if they can see a business benefit.

What according to you is key for female leaders to advance their careers while striving to strike the right work-life balance?

I live with my husband and four cats, and finding the balance between work and your personal life is not easy. It requires a supportive spouse and a fair division of life’s administrative responsibilities. It’s also important to be truly present when you are at home and are available for important family matters and events.

Female leaders agree that taking a proactive approach to societal issues is key in shaping ESG strategy. How essential of a trait is it for existing and aspiring female leaders to develop?

I find that females are much more engaged in ESG issues than male leaders. We are naturally more involved in communities and addressing the issues that exist there. This is just one strand of business strategy though; it doesn’t need to be separated. Values should be embedded in how the business conducts itself.

Ms. Karen Cruttenden joined Alshaya in 2012 as leader of the Victoria’s Secret brand. She started her career 40 years ago as a Trainee Manager with McDonald’s and has overcome numerous challenges faced by female leaders.  She has more than 20 years of international retail experience in the United Kingdom, the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region, and in Asia. She has grown from being a Store Manager to Operations Director via various operational, international, and omni-channel roles and has spearheaded the ‘silent revolution’ in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), developing 100% female workforce including leadership, much before other retailers.  She was also fortunate to work with and learn from extraordinary businesswomen such as Laura Ashley and Anita Roddick, Founder, The Body Shop.

Click below to read the interviews:

Mai AlOwaish,

Chief Data & Innovation Officer, Gulf Bank

Dr. Fai Ben Salamah

Founder, Cyfay Company for Cybersecurity services, Kuwait

Hanaa Hasan Taha

Managing Director, Chief Financial Officer, Kamco Invest

Yasmeen Fouad Alsalem

Director — Corporate Communications, CITRA

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