What’s wrong with Mothercare?
A revolving door of CEOs have been trying to answer that question. So far none of them have got even close.
I have a suggestion that might just fly.
First, though, let’s have a look at where things stand for the latest incumbent, David Wood.
Shore Capital, the retailer’s broker, was actually able to find some positives from the latest trading statement, which is quite an achievement given that it saw the company reporting a 2.8 per cent fall in UK sales, a 3.7 per cent fall in international sales, and the admission that Mr Wood and his finance director Glyn Hughes are going to rock up at someone’s door with their caps in their hands in the hope of securing “additional sources of financing”.
They were that the online arm has started to grow again and that the company’s previous guidance is at least being held.
Crumbs of comfort in other words.
Before we get to my idea for how to change the narrative surrounding a business that has for years been outlining turnaround plans without ever decisively turning around, we need to look at who makes the big money for running such a poorly performing business. And at who does all the work.
Parenting duties are increasingly being shared in the 21st century, and that’s a welcome development.
But a large majority of Mothercare’s customer base is still female and the company itself states that, “according to our market research, our customers want to speak with colleagues who have personal experience of pregnancy and childbirth – in other words, females. They are critical to our success as a specialist retailer.”
Despite this, its gender pay gap was reported to be an eye-popping 40.6 per cent in favour of men at a mean level, 25.3 per cent at a median (middle) level.
Mothercare’s in-store workforce is 95 per cent female. It is 89 per cent female overall. That falls to 77.5 per cent in “our highest paid leadership roles”.
But at the very top – boardroom level – it is 75 per cent male.
It goes without saying that neither the chairman, the CEO or the FD – the most important positions on that board – have ever been a mother.
Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that its pay-gap statement was full of complacency, excuses and a glaring lack of ambition.
“We carried out a detailed analysis of our data to understand if any conscious or unconscious bias has resulted in pay inequality. We are pleased that there are no equal pay issues at Mothercare.”
So we’re alright Jack, and you just keep those shelves full Jill.
“The gender pay gap in Mothercare is attributable to the difference in male/female representation across grades, referred to as the ‘demographic pay gap’. We are committed to closing our demographic pay gap but we will never close it completely.”
Because we’re not ambitious enough to try.
Targets? “We don’t believe they can be set with any level of accuracy.”
Perish the thought that anyone might hold us to account!
My suggestion for fixing Mothercare is this: as well as filling the shop floor with “people who have personal experience of pregnancy and childbirth” it does the same when it comes to those who sit around the boardroom table.
They surely couldn’t do any worse than the top bosses who ultimately allowed both that gender pay gap and the latest trading statement to be put out.