16 July 2024, 08:29
By Furniture News Mar 25, 2024

Arighi Bianchi's MD on equality and equity in the furniture industry

To mark this year's International Women’s Day, Furniture News once again quizzed some of the industry's top female professionals about women's evolving role in the industry – starting with Arighi Bianchi MD, Sarah Bianchi …

Sarah Bianchi is the MD of independent retailer Arighi Bianchi, based in Macclesfield. Having worked in the family business for 23 years, she was appointed MD in 2021 to oversee a multichannel expansion strategy that aims to cement the brand’s 170-year legacy.

Day to day, how aware are you of the furniture industry’s gender balance? Is equality important to you?

The furniture industry has been known to have been rather male dominated in the past, but in my opinion, things have evolved. Over the past 10-15 years we’ve seen more women enter and progress within the industry, doing some brilliant work along the way. This is positive not only in terms of diversity and equality, but also for driving choice and innovation for customers.

Equality is of course important, and so is equity. It’s never as simple as looking at one factor like gender – we have to see our people as individuals and consider factors like age, disability, class, race, neurodivergence, health status and more if we are to properly nurture and retain talent.

At the start of your career, were you made to feel welcome by the trade, or did you have more obstacles to overcome than a man might?

I’ve had a unique experience in that the industry has been a huge part of my life since I was born! Working my way up through the ranks of the family business meant that I never felt like an outsider.

I was always made to feel welcome – at Arighi Bianchi we have brilliant relationships with our industry peers and partners which have spanned decades. Of course, I had to prove myself within the business, but that was because I was a Bianchi, not a woman.

Is there anything you know about women and the workplace now that you wish you’d known sooner?

I don’t think anything prepares you for becoming a parent, and the challenges of juggling work and parenting. Even with solid support and decent childcare (which I was fortunate enough to have), there is still a lot to deal with in terms of navigating work and family duties – the two will always collide.

Research has shown that the burden of care can often fall to women. It’s therefore important to cultivate an open culture, so that people feel able to seek support.

Can you share an anecdote/example of a time you felt held back or discriminated against due to your sex?

I honestly can’t say I’ve been treated differently or held back due to being a woman, even when I was working outside of the family business (I spent the first few years of my career working in London as a parliamentary assistant). I know that I’m incredibly lucky to be able to say that, and I’d like to hope that our next generation of women at Arighi Bianchi will also be able to reflect on their own careers in the same way.

Conversely, can you identify any stand-out gestures of fairness/equality?

I think the industry consistently works to champion those who deserve it, regardless of gender – that’s reflected in the work of Furniture News, our various industry awards and the platforms given to those doing great work.

Do you feel things are generally heading in the right direction? How can other people/the industry make a difference?

Yes, definitely. I was fortunate enough to sit on the judging panel of the The Furniture Awards 2024 alongside Alice Rowen Hall – her story is an inspiring one, in that she entered the furniture industry with a successful background in fashion and is now making an impact and delivering something fresh and exciting for the consumer.

This diversity of experience and expertise is exactly what’s needed to ensure the industry evolves in line with customer needs. We need to look at those doing great work, both in the furniture industry and beyond, and find new ways to learn from and collaborate with each other.

What would you tell young women who are thinking about entering the furniture industry?

For young women entering any industry, I would highlight the value of building your networks of both men and women. Nurture relationships with those people you can pick the phone up to and get some honest advice from (not just your cheerleaders), and try to align yourself with those in different roles so you can absorb a totally different perspective.

Pay this forward, and support those around you by mentoring others – you’re never too young to mentor someone else, and reverse mentoring is so helpful for both industry veterans and those starting out in their careers. Try your best to champion other women wherever possible, and share your networks to bring people together – it’s the best way to learn from and support each other.

Read the full feature in March's issue.


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