Kim Winser: 'I was rejected three times because I was female'

The ex-chief executive of both Pringle and Aquascutum talked about her rise to the top at MT's Inspiring Women's Conference.

by Gabriella Griffith
Last Updated: 02 Mar 2016

It takes a pretty determined person to persevere in the face of continued rejection and Kim Winser, former chief executive of both Pringle and Aquascutum, ex-director of M&S womenswear group and founder of Winser London, has proven herself to be thus, revealing she was rejected three times in her early attempts to progress at M&S. 

Speaking at MT's Inspiring Women's Conference, the one woman fashion powerhouse spoke of the challenges she faced while making her way up through the ranks. 'There were no females on the board at M&S when I started and no females in the commercial field, which was the route to the board,'  she said. 'I was rejected three times from joining the commercial field just because I was female but I was keen to get into [that] side.

'I bumped into the deputy chairman one day on the way home, who asked how my day had been. I replied, "it would have been better if I was male." I told him I was willing to work my balls off, but I didn't have any so I was being held back. I got offered the chance to sit an interview board the next day.' 

Winser went on to describe her experiences of taking the helm at both Aquascutum and Pringle – especially the tricky cultural differences while working for Japanese-owned Aquascutum. 'The owners couldn't believe a female had been appointed as chief executive. It threw their hierarchies of who would enter a room first and who spoke before who.'

Winser now runs her own fashion label, Winser London has been running for eight months and is growing faster than the fashion doyen imagined it would, 'it's four times bigger than expected,' she beamed.

Winser made it perfectly clear having children has not held her back. 'I have brought my son up on my own, having been alone since pregnancy and he's a fabulous young lad,' she explained. 'I have always protected everything to do with his school etc – leaving meetings early to get to his performances, after he's gone to bed – I can get back to work.'

When it came to advice for budding female leaders, Winser, unsurprisingly had plenty to say but her most lingering sentiments were to always be yourself. 'My mother told me when I was head girl at school, 'whatever you do, just be yourself," and I have never forgotten those words of wisdom...Don't find your confidence in trying to be like others.'

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

How redundancies affect culture

There are ways of preventing 'survivor syndrome' derailing your recovery.

What they don't tell you about inclusive leadership

Briefing: Frances Frei was hired to fix Uber’s ‘bro culture’. Here’s her lesson for where...

Should you downsize the office?

Many businesses are preparing for a 'hybrid' workplace.

How to make your team more accountable

‘Do as I do’ works a lot better than ‘do as I say’.

Black talent isn’t hard to find: It’s just you

If you want to attract the widest range of applicants, you need to think about...

Drowning in data: The case for the business generalist

Expertise and algorithms are overrated. Try using your brain, says this Harvard academic.