Last week, Shoptalk made a groundbreaking announcement, revealing that its fifth-annual event will host an all-female speaker lineup in 2020. The move will be a first for a major retail event, with the goal of pushing back against the underrepresentation of women in leadership and executive roles within the industry and beyond: The Conference Board recently reported that the number of female CEOs in the S&P 500 dropped by 20% in 2018, from a high of 27 the previous year to just 22.
“Gender parity in 2020 would have been relatively easy, but it would not have shifted the dialogue in the way that Shoptalk has done consistently,” said Zia Daniell Wigder, said Chief Global Content Officer at Shoptalk in a statement. “Is this all-female speaker approach extreme? Absolutely, but we think extreme problems require extreme solutions. Our goal has always been to drive the industry in the right direction, and we feel the time is long overdue for women to be leading the dialogue.”
As part of the decision, Shoptalk asked its 60+ confirmed male speakers for Shoptalk 2020 to nominate a woman at their organizations to take their place as a speaker.
The RTP editorial team shares their thoughts on the decision by Shoptalk, and what it represents for the retail industry and the U.S. workforce at large.
Debbie Hauss, Executive Director, Content: As a female who has been in the workforce for many years, I’ve seen and experienced a lot of uncomfortable moments for women executives. It is still hard to believe that only 5% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. So, I applaud Shoptalk for taking an extreme move to draw more focused attention on the topic. When planning Retail TouchPoints events, we strongly focus on ensuring that the breakdown of speakers is at least 50-50 female-to-male, which is Shoptalk’s plan for 2021 moving forward. Also, at least one or two sessions at our Retail Innovation Conference have featured panel discussions purely focused on women’s leadership topics in retail. I am looking forward to hearing from the Shoptalk 2020 speakers, but more importantly I’m looking forward to feeling the impact of this decision across the entire business world.
Adam Blair, Editor: Shoptalk’s decision to field an all-female speaker panel for 2020 reminded me of a favorite Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote: “When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” Beyond Shoptalk’s bold move, the entire retail industry should sharpen its focus on gender equality, including figuring out concrete steps to make it happen — and quickly. This is not just about correcting past wrongs (though there are plenty to correct); it’s about building a more profitable future. Women drive 70% to 80% of all U.S. consumer spending, and as Female Factor CEO Bridget Brennan revealed, “Women have a ‘multiplier effect’ on sales. In addition to buying products for themselves, they buy for everyone in their households and also have a strong influence or veto vote on other people’s purchases.”
Alicia Esposito, Senior Content Strategist: I remember attending my first industry event when I started with Retail TouchPoints almost nine years ago. To put it bluntly, there were a lot of men in stuffy suits. Although the “profiles” of event attendees have certainly evolved, one thing has remained: the disparity between the number of male and female speakers at these events. Shoptalk’s announcement to feature only female speakers at its upcoming event is a bold one. But in many cases, drastic measures are needed in order to ignite change and uncover new possibilities and realities. I applaud them for making this move and am excited to see which visionary women will take the stage this year. Most of all, I hope it leads to new opportunities for women and illustrates to other conference producers what opportunities are ahead.
Glenn Taylor, Senior Editor: There’s not much more to say than what my colleagues have already said, but this is a really cool move that I think will make some good waves not only in retail conferences, but in other industry events as well. The Shoptalk team has put the spotlight on a lot of “hopefuls” who probably never anticipated having a shot to speak at an event and to promote their own brand story. One of the big elephants in the room within the event circuit tends to be the repetitiveness of familiar faces; by selecting only women speakers in such a large quantity, the audience will get to see how deep the pool of talent there actually is. There’s no doubt in my mind that the event will be a major success, and will prove that more industry players need to be cognizant of when they should be hiring, evaluating and promoting women executives across the board. NRF is more than likely kicking themselves that they didn’t come up with the idea, but I can assure you that as the organization finalizes its agenda for the 2020 BIG Show, it will think hard about the speaker selection process for open spots.