International Women's Day 2024

For 16 years, Jo Tallack, our senior general manager has been leading the team at Highcross.

This International Women’s Day (8 March), we’re celebrating Jo’s pioneering career in retail, as one of the few female leaders in the UK's shopping centre network.

In this blog, we catch up with her to discuss the lessons she’s learnt to become a key leader in a traditionally male-dominated industry, the challenges she has faced along the way, and learn more about how she supports and empowers other women at Highcross.

Hi Jo! Looking at your career trajectory, you’ve really risen through the ranks. What inspired you to become a female leader?

Retail has always been a very male-orientated industry, particularly in the senior roles. Even as recently as last year, only 16% of executive directors were women, so it’s no surprise that I didn’t come across any female leaders in my previous roles. Having seen the lack of female representation throughout my career, I soon realised that I wanted to pave the way for not only myself, but for others, too.

I’ve always been very proactive and headstrong - learning very early in my career that I preferred leading rather than being managed. So, I was very happy to take up the gauntlet, and be the first to do it.

What skills do you think are essential for your job as senior general manager?

You’ve got to enjoy being surrounded by people, which is something that’s always been very important to me in both my work and social life.

To be a great manager or leader, no matter the role, you need to have empathy, be able to listen, and lead from the front. I’ve found agility, flexibility, and being able to re-prioritise are all important skills, too - particularly in this ever-changing landscape of retail.

As senior general manager, I think my ability to be visible and direct with the needs and expectations of the business, while also showing any vulnerabilities I may be feeling has stood in really good stead. I’m able to empathise not only with the customers, but also with my colleagues, regardless of gender.

What does your day-to-day role look like here at Highcross?

My main priority, no matter the day, is making sure Highcross is ready to open to the public. It’s all about me being visible, out in the centre with the early morning team, to check everything is up to standard, and make sure it’s ready for customers to come in and start shopping.

Beyond that, my day-to-day role really varies, because of the large team that we have in the centre. This means that my priorities often change minute-to-minute, depending on what our retailers need from me.

I wake up expecting something different everyday. It sounds like a cliche, but no two days are the same.

Could you tell us about the adversities you have had to overcome in your career?

You might be shocked to hear that my biggest hurdle was applying for a job that I couldn’t actually interview for. 16 years ago, just getting my foot in the door was the first challenge I had to tackle.

Last year, the proportion of women in board roles in Britain's biggest listed companies rose above 40% for the first time, so progress is being made. 16 years ago, however, women weren’t even considered for higher management roles.

Needless to say I persisted, and fought hard to get where I am today. Once I was in the role, I had to figure out how to present myself as an equal leader in retail - which was another challenge in itself.

When I first joined Highcross, the whole board were men, but this isn’t a thing of the past, unfortunately - one in five retailers still had no women at all on their boards as recently as three years ago. In my experience, often the behaviour and language used in the office at the time made me quite uncomfortable as a woman, so I had to speak up for myself to encourage change. I’m pleased to say things are very different now.

I learnt from my male counterparts at the time that if you don’t promote yourself, no one will ever realise how good you are at your job - something that can feel quite unnatural and challenging for women, who are more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome than men - but, that’s something I fought to overcome, in my own way.

How do you support and empower the women at Highcross?

I’ve always been incredibly passionate about women doing well, being ambitious and being able to achieve what they want in their careers. As such, I’ve always felt a great sense of responsibility to set the standard and show all my colleagues that with hard work and determination, they can get where they want to be.

Whenever I think about how I best support and empower my team, I always link back to encouragement, inspiration, and mentorship.

Personally, I like to play an active role in inspiring those young people who are eager to learn more, including the students who come and do work experience with us. If I can, I always try to create some time to speak with them, and hopefully show them that there’s no limitations to what they can pursue.

Hopefully, if they see themselves in me, they’ll realise that it’s possible - making representation key to the future.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry as a woman in power?

Things have changed a lot since I first joined Highcross in 2008.

There are more women in the industry now, though - but, many would agree that there still aren’t enough women at board level. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still real progress to be made.

I hope to see more women stepping into these senior-level roles in the future, because even though there are more women in retail than there used to be, a lot of them remain in entry-level roles.

Across retail, we see less women applying for senior-level roles. It could be a combination of a lack of confidence, a presumed lack of experience and skill, or opportunities for flexibility and growth. I hope, in time, with more of us breaking barriers, they’ll see it’s possible - even if, in that moment, it feels unattainable.

If you could time travel to the future, how do you think shopping centres will have changed?

I’d like to hope that the ratio of men to women among centre staff will continue to improve. It’s a 60/40 ratio among the centre staff currently. We do still have a large proportion of men in some roles, in particular security guards, but it’s gradually becoming more balanced. I think we will see more women working in shopping centres, in various guises, in the future.

Retail will still be here as retail, but I see the spaces as fun spaces. There will be a huge mix of leisure and entertainment - things to do, like experiences, instead of only things to buy. Retail is cyclical, but how we shop is changing - we’ve got more of a conscious decision about what we buy. We have to ensure that we’re supporting the right causes and looking after our world.

For more information, or to keep up to date on all events and promotions at Highcross, follow our social media channels - Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and X.

Article Tags

    Share Article

    Search News

    Stay up to Date With Highcross

    It couldn't be easier to stay in the loop; all you need is an email address.

    Once you're signed up, you'll be the first to hear about the new must-haves and must-sees, about the new big names and the new independents, about all the good times that are coming.

    Sign up today.