Berlin - Astrid Arndt has now been in her new job for nearly a week, the first woman on the board of Berlin online fashion superstar Zalando. She became Chief People Officer 1 April and is responsible for shaping corporate culture and human resources at the company, which was founded in 2008 and will soon join Germany's benchmark DAX stock index.

Arndt joined the retailer three years ago, also in human resources, quickly making her mark with ideas for the future of work and new employee development programmes. Some of her initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion at the company are already bearing fruit.

"Astrid has proven that she has a deep understanding of employee culture," Zalando's co-founder and co-CEO Robert Gentz said.

But while Zalando loves to spin a yarn about the opportunities the company offers to hard workers at every level, the apocryphal story it prefers the most points to how revolutionary Arndt's appointment is. The company often recounts the story of the steep rise of a student assistant who shipped shoe boxes from a Torstraße flat-share during the company's early days to become an executive assistant to the two founders.

More female managers

More than a story of opportunity, it has served as a reminder that although women could make it to the boardroom at Zalando, they would have been denied a board position until now.

The appointment is part of a change in the company's culture that came far too late. In 2019, the company committed to a 40 per cent to 60 per cent share of women at all management levels by the end of 2023. The commitment includes a woman on the executive panel, which has now been fulfiled. 

Arndt is a native of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein and holds a doctorate in linguistics and philosophy. She studied in Kiel and researched modern French literature at the Sorbonne in Paris.

But she then opted for business. She first worked for management consultancy McKinsey, then headed the human resources department of a Berlin law firm. She now is HR director of a company with more than 14,000 employees.

Zalando wants to keep growing and will need good people.

"Astrid will help us find and retain the right talent," Gentz said. 

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