Joanna Robinson, Chief Marketing Officer at THE ICONIC.

To celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) and the #InspireInclusion theme, five female senior executives from THE ICONIC, spanning a vast range of roles across marketing, sustainability, operations and engineering, explain what IWD means to them as they reflect on their career journey and share their advice to others in the industry.

Meet Joanna Robinson, Chief Marketing Officer at THE ICONIC.

Background and career journey

Robinson has over 25 years’ experience working in retail and FMCG having held roles across marketing, sales and leadership with the likes of Unilever, Estee Lauder, Johnson & Johnson, P&G, Colgate, L’occitane, Tyrrell’s Wines and Chatime before joining THE ICONIC in 2023. 

“It was a different world when I was starting out in my career – it was less common for women to lift each other up. Time after time I saw women pitch against one another, taking the view that there wasn’t enough room for too many females in the boardroom. It always broke my heart, but I’m glad that this is changing,” Robinson told Retailbiz.

“I also faced challenges as a working mum. When I had my daughter 17 years ago, you felt eyes on you if you arrived at the office late or left early – you almost had to pretend like you didn’t have a child and there was no returning to work part-time after having a baby. It’s fantastic to see how this has changed and to work for an organisation that offers flexible working arrangements for all, but especially working parents.”

The meaning of IWD

Robinson says she has always been passionate about women’s empowerment and equality in the workplace so personally loves International Women’s Day.

“However, I’m also cognizant that it’s not just about one day, but how we can extend the conversation every day to ensure we’re constantly striving to do better and drive positive change for women and girls everywhere,” she said.

“While I love the official UN theme for IWD of ‘Count Her In’, I lean into the IWDA’s theme even more: ‘The World Needs More Feminists’. I truly believe this. Quite simply, and to quote the IWDA again, feminism is about all genders having equal rights and opportunities.

“Feminism is far more than a symbolic gesture. It’s about respecting diverse women’s experiences, identities, knowledge and strengths, and striving to empower all women to realise their full rights. It’s about levelling the playing field and ensuring diverse women and girls have the same opportunities in life available to boys and men.”

Message or advice to other women in the sector

Robinson urges women to “dream big, strive for excellence, and know that your potential knows no bounds”.

She continued: “To the men standing beside us, your support and collaboration are invaluable in creating a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. May we lean into being feminists, be stronger together and continue to work together towards a future where true equality for all is not just an aspiration but a reality.”

Meet Gayle Burchell, Commercial & Sustainability Officer at THE ICONIC.

Background and career journey  

Burchell admits she didn’t set out to work in retail but here she is over 25 years later, still energised and hooked by working in the industry.

“I’ve always been curious and interested in understanding the ‘how’ and this initially led me into pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Biology — a stark departure from my current realm in the dynamic landscape of fashion retail and sustainability. However, these scientific principles, an analytical mindset and being open to change have proved invaluable assets throughout my entire career,” she told Retailbiz.

“At the age of 22, I started navigating the retail career ladder. After several positions in London, I found myself at a pivotal crossroads, where I seized the opportunity to relocate to Australia. Landing a role at David Jones marked a significant turning point, thrusting me into the realm of online strategy — at that time an area without an established playbook.

“Starting essentially a new area required me to be curious, make new industry connections and learn a whole new facet of a retail business. It forced me out of my comfort zone, but it also made me realise you don’t have to do it all on your own. You can build a strong lasting network of mentors and colleagues to support you. It just takes that initial confidence and a good level of perseverance to build those relationships which will last you a whole career.

“Even after all this time, I am still learning. Each day at THE ICONIC, I am inspired by the energy, the agility and our drive to ‘create a better way to shop’.”

The meaning of IWD

According to Burchell, IWD is a great marker to celebrate the strides women (and men) have made to improve gender equality over the years, while recognising where we fall short and can do better.

“It isn’t just about one day in the calendar year – it’s about driving everyday awareness and conversations that will move the needle to drive positive change,” she said.

Message or advice to other women in the sector

“Nurture your career and treat it like your prized asset because no one else is going to look after it the way you would,” Burchell said.

“Stay curious, be kind and educate yourself in as many ways as you can – read widely, stay informed and seek out people who inspire you and make you better. There is no shortage of inspiring women in our sector. The beauty of the retail sector is that it offers a breadth of roles and different career pathways so tap into that network.”

Meet Rebekka Carey-Smith, Head of Sustainability at THE ICONIC.

Background and career journey 

Carey-Smith has worked in the fashion sustainability space for nearly 15 years, seeing the transformation from a niche ethical fashion scene to a mainstream, thriving, understood, and increasingly regulated (which isn’t a bad thing) sector.  

“In the early days, it was a challenge to get brands to talk about supply chains and sustainability for fear of being named and shamed for doing the wrong thing. I think that was in part due to a lack of knowledge and capability in how to manage and address human rights, worker wellbeing and safety, environmental impacts, animal welfare issues and everything else,” she told Retailbiz.

“We’ve got to a place now that the industry broadly recognises that we love fashion for the fun, sense of personal identity and style it gives us, but that also comes with a certain expectation. The industry also has a responsibility to manage its social and environmental impacts. We’ve still got a long way to go but I have hope that we’re collectively on the right trajectory.” 

The meaning of IWD

Celebrating what it means to be a woman and all that title brings is important – and not just on International Women’s Day, according to Carey-Smith.

“While acknowledging the challenges that still exist in terms of underrepresentation, bias and discrimination, I think recognising the progress that has been made is also important,” she said.

Message or advice to other women in the sector

Carey-Smith acknowledges that there is more to learn and do to progress sustainability in fashion in the hope of turning the industry around to have a positive impact on people and the planet.

“We have to believe we can do it, so keep asking hard questions, connecting with and keeping innovative people around you. There are many incredible humans out there and we need to continue banding together to drive collective change,” she said.

Meet Sue Wood, Director of Operations at THE ICONIC.

Background and career journey 

Wood has been in supply chain for nearly 30 years and in her early career she was the only female leader at her first site, which was both challenging and rewarding.

“It was a ‘boys club’ but I got noticed and worked incredibly hard to change the tide. I was the first female DC manager for Coles, which I am extremely proud of. I have had great mentors support me in my career, and this has helped me grow, mature and lead from the front. But it’s all about your team – build respect and keep that respect. Be true to yourself,” she told Retailbiz.

The meaning of IWD

IWD has a significant meaning for Wood, especially working in a male dominated sector where barriers remain for women. “But the more barriers we overcome, the more great career opportunities for women in this space.”

Message or advice to other women in the sector

Wood’s advice is simple yet powerful: “Always remember where you come from. Believe in yourself, be proud and don’t be afraid to make mistakes – this is where you learn and become stronger.” 

Meet Theresa Payne, Engineering Manager at THE ICONIC.

Background and career journey 

Payne’s career journey has always been in tech, starting as a software engineer, then moving into engineering management across finance, media and retail industries.

“One of the things I realised over time is how I got accustomed to being the only woman in teams, in meetings and tech meetups. There was a lack of female role models in my area which at first limited my vision and how I could get to where I am now,” she told Retailbiz.

“While this was a challenge, I also saw it as an opportunity to keep going and to make a change. I had imposter syndrome 99% of the time but along the way I found many people who supported me and took things a day at a time.”

The meaning of IWD

For Payne, IWD is a time for everyone, regardless of gender, to celebrate the progression and future growth for women with options from working, family and health.

“It’s a time to share stories on how to overcome gender stereotypes and learn how we can all have a part to ‘Count Her In’.”

Message or advice to other women in the sector

According to Payne, one of the great things about being in tech is being able to express creativity which not everyone understands about this space.

“If you are looking to get into tech, my suggestion would be to start talking to someone in the type of roles you are interested in to find out more about their day to day and the type of people they liaise with. From there you will understand other types of roles you might not have been aware of,” she said.