BLOG IMAGE Dominique Lamb

Female Leader, Dominique Lamb, National Retail Association

Dominique Lamb, CEO of the National Retail Association of Australia has a strong background in industrial and employment law, which is perfectly suited to her current role. She is also incredibly passionate about community service, devoting much of her personal time to volunteering with the Women’s Legal Service Queensland (WLSQ). WLSQ provides support to victims of domestic violence. Dominique credits this experience as having enhanced her leadership capability, and she currently serves on the WLSQ Board, and as the Chair of their Dancing CEOs Fundraising event.

In 2016, Dominque was a finalist in the Brisbane Women in Business Awards. She was awarded the Australian Institute of Management’s Young Gun of the Year Award in 2011. Dominique is an accomplished and engaging speaker, often presenting at national and international conferences.

Over the last 6 years, you have advanced your career to become NRA’s CEO, AND volunteered with the Women’s Legal Service, Queensland. What is your advice to people who want to become leaders, whilst volunteering and supporting their community? 

I think that individuals need to recognise that they are multi-faceted. It is easy to become distracted with work and working towards a professional goal sometimes. But it is our life outside of work that keeps us going and keeps us thinking a little bit differently. Women’s Legal Service in Queensland was very much my home away from home. The not for profit sector thinks and behaves very differently to the private sector, especially when you work in law. Women’s Legal Service Queensland taught me the importance of diversifying funding, compassion, working as a team and ensuring that all voices in that team were heard.

I think that everyone should aim to give back to the community in their own way and that way should reflect an area of your life that you are passionate about. If you want to become a leader, you need to learn how to work with different types of stakeholders, different personalities and you have to be able to embrace and utilise different values within a business. A great place to learn these skills is within community groups. My advice would be, give in to that passion that is left of centre and get involved.

If you aren’t quite sure what that passion is or what your interest is then try a few community groups out.

You will soon see where your heart lies because it is the place that you will be happy to give your time despite the fact that you are volunteering. It really is amazing what you learn by applying your skills in a different environment to different problems. The second tip is make the time. We all get busy and we all have priorities. But you will be surprised at how much your performance is likely to increase if you take some time out for you.

As NRA’s CEO, what are the main challenges faced by Australian retailers, and how is the NRA helping them to overcome challenges in their sector?

 The top three challenges for Australian retailers at the moment are:

1. Workplace relations in Australia

It is controversial, salacious and at times brutal. It has made prime ministers and it has broken them. For a country built on hard labour it is incredibly important to most consumers and individuals. Now more than ever we are observing this time old debate played out in the media. Unfortunately this debate is not always factual or accurate and can lead to unrest within our industry, at both an employer and employee level.  We as the NRA hope to provide insight and assistance to our members. We provide a workplace relations hotline, employment law practice and our advocacy at the state and federal level. It certainly has been an exciting couple of months in relation to new workplace relations legislation. We have seen the:

  • Penalty rates case come down on 23 February 2017;
  • Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 on 29 February 2017; and
  • Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take Home Pay) Bill on 20 March 2017.

Sadly, the introduction of both of the bills has meant disappointment for many of our members.

Especially those who consistently strive to go beyond the minimum standard. As an industry association we have been lucky enough to be able to provide our members’ feedback directly to the Minister for Employment in relation the Vulnerable Workers Bill. We will also be appearing at the Senate Inquiry in relation to this Bill. The NRA has also compiled its members’ views in relation to the penalty rates decision and made submissions to the Fair Work Commission with regard to the transitional arrangements. Ultimately, we are a conduit for the voices of our membership.

2. In addition to the challenges posed by new workplace laws and navigating the framework, retailers are struggling with tenancy and leasing issues across the country.

There are currently a number of state level changes happening in relation to these laws. Often our members find themselves in difficult bargaining positions with their lessors, especially if they are an owner operator and are not part of a larger group. We advocate for our members in relation to these issues at a state level. And we also provide advice via our tenancy and leasing hotline. A main aim is to educate our members about their rights and responsibilities, and work with them to achieve the best outcome for their businesses.

3. Finally, the red tape and the difficulties faced by many businesses whilst simply trying to get on with business.

The NRA assists its members in getting on with business. We do this by assisting them in removing as much red tape as possible. Red tape is government over-regulation and can include, but is not limited to, trading hours, parking, town planning, container deposits, loss prevention, Australian standards , merchant banking fees, kilojoule labelling and banning plastic bags. The NRA works with our members and government to remove as much complication as possible. We do this via submissions, advocacy groups, drafting regulation and making submissions around simplifying legislation. 

The retail industry is the second largest employer in Australia, with approximately 1.2 million people. 55% of employees are women and one third are between the ages of 18 to 24 years. What diversity strategies do retailers need to undertake to retain and develop their workforce, and to increase profitability?

Retail is an incredibly diverse industry. It typically allows for entry level employees without skills to enter into it and create life long careers. The issue that many employers face within our industry when it comes to diversity is encouraging more women and youth to remain within the business, instead of moving on to other industries. Due to the transient nature of our workforce and the flexibility that our industry offers, many women and youth somehow fall through the cracks on the way up. This occurs for a number of reasons which are not unique to our industry.

Retailers need to redesign their employee engagement strategies to focus on the demographic they are trying to retain. We know from PWC’s studies that Millennials are no longer looking for higher rates of pay. They would rather employers who reflect their values, provide them with direct feedback and unique opportunities. Millennials are no longer willing to sacrifice their work life balance in pursuit of a higher income. They want to be trained and they want to learn higher skills on the job rather than taking traditional learning paths.

Ultimately, employers need to focus on appealing to the needs of these employees in order to ensure that they will remain within the business and bond with their brands.

Many retailers have really begun to embrace this, focusing on corporate responsibility strategies to attract the right employees. We are seeing retailers really investing in getting to know their employees via training in relation to identity, emotional intelligence and providing them with tools to educate consumers on more than products but also the values of the business.

Despite the fact that retail employs a large percentage of women within its businesses many of them do not progress throughout the business. Sadly this comes down to the fact that many employers have changed strategies in relation to gender equity, but not nearly enough. In order to bridge this gap and to encourage more women to remain in the workforce and succeed in retail, retailers need to invest in improving gender sensitivity. This is in relation to the language of their policies and communications, redefining rigid gender roles and improving gender inequality by creating programs, groups to promote gender equity within the workplace and challenging historical and social norms.

Equal remuneration needs to become a priority, as well as affirmative action such as gender balance on boards.

Change must be embraced by the entire business and cultural change is more successful when it is from the top down. I am pleased to say that I have observed many retailers implementing diversity committees and investing in diversity training. Many are challenging misconceptions about flexible working arrangements and implementing specialist strategies in relation to recruitment. Examples include removing all indicators around demographic, to avoid any unconscious bias. In time we will see a shift, but statistically, it is difficult to ignore that only 5.6 % of SP100 retail businesses are women. For the success of our industry these statistics need to change.

Many people are now starting their own ecommerce and retail businesses from home, and globalisation is also impacting market share. What are some of the ways Australian’s well-known retailers are navigating this competitive landscape?

One of the key points of differentiation that we have seen from international retailers is their store design and customer experience model. However, Australian retailers are incredibly innovative and pivot very quickly, and we are observing an increasing amount of investment in store design, concept and flagship stores and the personalised shopping experience.  I am always impressed by the dedication of retailers to innovation and the investment they make in their workforces. We have members creating games that are attracting 59.6 million hours of game play. We have seen the implementation of virtual reality into training systems in order to increase empathy among teams. And we have observed retailers using their products to educate about social change. Some of these are making a difference to the lives of many under privileged families throughout Australia.

2017 is set to be the year of tourism

We have seen many of our retailers taking advantage of this trend by implementing service models and designs that appeal to tourists. We have seen an explosion in international tourism led by China. Tourist shopping expenditure from China alone is currently 1.4 billion dollars per year and according to Deloitte is set to quadruple over the next decade. In 2015-16 tourists spend was approximately 130 billion. 36.1 billion was spent on food retail and 15.6 billion on non-food retail.

This year we expect to see more retailers investing in the concept of retail as entertainment with live window displays, demonstrations and attractions. Engagement with customers via their mobile phones is increasingly important, with consumers using their smart phones as shopping tools. Consumer expectations in relation to personalised service continued to rise, especially in relation to anticipating their needs.

What’s been your greatest challenge?

The greatest challenge for me has been managing being all things to all people. As a woman I think that social norms often affect our ability to say no because we feel a certain level of responsibility to everyone around us. Whether it be our partners, children, employees, board, mothers group, friends etc.

I have learned that unless I prioritise my needs that I cannot meet the needs of those around me. For me to be the best version of myself, it is important to take time out for me. I do this by training. In my spare time, I compete at an amateur level in body building. I always make sure I find time to exercise because I am just a happier person when I focus on me for thirty minutes to an hour each day.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my team at the NRA. They are so dedicated to our members needs and have all had experience within the industry. They come from such diverse backgrounds. But they support each other, always put the hard work in and come together when they need to. I couldn’t ask for a better working environment, and the best part is that they genuinely care for each other.

What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?

In the words of Dolly Parton in the movie Straight Talk, “never quit trying and never try quitting”. It can be a long road to wherever you have your heart set on going. But chances are you are closer than you think. Never take a no personally or a setback to heart. Just keep going because your experiences are going to make you a better person, with depth and skills.  One day, you will have the pleasure of helping another female leader along the way. And at that time, you will truly understand why it was so important to experience your personal journey.

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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Founder

Mother, wife, daughter, determined dreamer. Lover of books. Background in Human Resources leadership in global organisations.