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5 Women Leaders on Getting Ahead in Fashion

BoF asked women leaders from across the fashion industry for their advice on how to overcome three key hurdles between high potential women and top jobs.
Left to right: Tory Burch, Angela Missoni, Alison Loehnis, Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud, Balbina Wong | Source: Courtesy
  • BoF Team

LONDON, United Kingdom — Women are, by far, the primary consumers of fashion, but more often than not, their point of view is not reflected in the business decisions of fashion companies. That's because, although women make up more than 70 percent of the industry's total workforce, they hold less than 25 percent of leadership positions in top fashion firms.

BoF spoke with five of fashion's top women leaders — Tory Burch, Angela Missoni, Alison Loehnis, Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud and Balbina Wong — to get their advice on how women can get ahead in the workplace, without sacrificing a healthy work-life balance.


Women systematically underestimate their own abilities, which has an impact on how they advance at work. How can women learn to build confidence, speak up and better market themselves in the workplace?


Tory Burch, chief executive and designer, Tory Burch:
"International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde put it best when she said, "What holds women back is not competence, which they usually have; but confidence, which they often lack." I've learned that if you want to push yourself to grow, you've got to get out of your comfort zone and be willing to take risks. Don't shy away from a big project or an assignment that taps skills that are still evolving. You'll learn a lot in the process. Confidence grows out of challenging yourself in new ways and from saying "yes" to unexpected opportunities — even if it scares you."

Balbina Wong, chief executive, ImagineX:
"I would advise women not to fixate on gender, not to compete on gender but compete on capability. You build confidence in your abilities by demonstrating your abilities consistently and becoming known as solid, reliable and trusted — the go-to. By proactively offering input beyond what you do, you demonstrate you're passionate and committed, that you think differently and can do more. Show your humanistic side and prioritise building relationships, I think it's an advantage — I value emotional intelligence, you can be tough, but kind. Hard work, good work speaks louder than saying 'I'm good and I deserve more.'"

Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud, chief executive, ALFA International:
"Regardless of gender, I recommend setting personal goals and focusing on strengths that can be benchmarked. Comparing yourself to anyone, whether male or female, is counterproductive to progressing professionally. I believe there is a difference between looking at success stories to be inspired by them but recognising that the journey to success cannot be replicated. Bill Gates didn't read a book on how to be Bill Gates. It sounds clichéd, but sometimes you need to take a deep breath and just say the words, ask for what you want. The worst that can happen is you get a no."


Within male-female relationships, women are still responsible for the majority of housework and childcare, despite the fact that they may also have full-time jobs. How can women balance these responsibilities with the demands of their careers?

Angela Missoni, creative director, Missoni:
"The balance of responsibilities should be found by the couple itself — at a private level, through redesigning the mutual rules, times and spaces to incorporate the family. Then, couples can use the corporate support offered by their work (ad hoc spaces and assistance to their children in the workplace, so they can share more time with their parents). Government contributions can help too, offering financial support to working couples."

Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud, chief executive, ALFA International:
"Time management skills are critical. It's also important to recognise that you cannot do everything and to let go of that guilt. Once this fact is accepted, women will find they can do more and their work/ life balance will be a matter of fact not a matter of compromise. It is important to recognise equally that the journey to success is faster achieved when one has a team to rely on. The roles those team members fulfil truly range from individuals who support you at work and those who support you in your personal life. Funnily enough we seem to de-value those who support us outside of the work place, those people are typically the ones who facilitate you having the time to 'get work done'. I advise giving those people a touch more respect than they get today."

Tory Burch, chief executive and designer, Tory Burch:
"Balancing work and family is incredibly challenging. I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all approach. For me, it helps to have clear priorities: my boys come first no matter what. There are always times when it's impossible to find a balance — the lead-up to our fashion show, for example — but when things ease up, I focus on spending time with my family. It's a little easier now that my boys are getting older — in fact my twins, who are now 17, tell me that they are fine with me travelling more and working later."



A recent study revealed that 57 percent of men entering the workforce negotiate their salary in contrast to only seven percent of women. How can women negotiate and push for promotion?

Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud, chief executive, ALFA International:
"Women should have no shame in asking for what they deserve, and know that doing so doesn't reduce their femininity, nor does it make them 'difficult' individuals. The caveat to this though is knowing what your rights are. Without knowledge you cannot speak with confidence. Salary benchmarks are easily available so there is really no excuse not to know. Once you know where you stand you need to truly look at what you are willing to deliver at work. Don't ask for the recognition if you aren't going to put in the hours and deliver, this is a two-way relationship."

Alison Loehnis, president, Net-a-Porter:
"Take a look at what it is you do and what you contribute on a daily basis and have a clear understating of your market value. If you feel you are prime for a promotion, you should lobby for it. Most importantly, show them what you've got, work hard and invest in your professional relationships. It can also be useful to think about the advice you would give to a friend in the same position. Chances are you would tell her to go for it. Tell yourself the same thing."

Balbina Wong, chief executive, ImagineX:
"Have a vision for your career, be strategic about it and communicate that. Engage in honest conversations about what you need to get there. Enlist your leaders in enabling your development because you want to build a career and you want deliver value for them. Remuneration will naturally become a part of that conversation, and it's good to have researched your benchmarks so you have a base to work from, but it shouldn't be the driver. Hard work, achievements, drive and commitment are the best negotiators and expressions of ambition."

A version of this article first appeared in a special print edition of The Business of Fashion, which highlights ‘7 Issues Facing Fashion Now,’ from sustainability and the human cost of manufacturing clothing to untapped business opportunities in technology, Africa and the plus-size market.

Join the discussion on BoF Voices, a new platform where the global fashion community can come together to express and exchange ideas and opinions on the most important topics facing fashion today.

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