The retail industry is a chaotic environment, and flexibility is the key to success for any leader no matter their gender. Three female retail executives shared their strategies for navigating the hectic bustle of retail during the session, titled: Behind The Leaders: Women Executives Share Their Stories, Successes And Lessons Learned panel at the 2019 Retail Innovation Conference.
The most important attribute of a leader, regardless of gender, is adaptability, according to Vicki Cantrell, Principal at Transformational Business Strategies. The best leaders are flexible and willing to work with the strengths of their teams, ensuring that the most qualified people are hired and assigned to work on relevant tasks.
“If you’re a boss you think that means you can dictate, but it does not mean that at all,” said Cantrell. “Being a leader is different than being someone in power that can tell people what to do.”
Hiring and promoting adaptable staff ties into a retailer’s culture, which can also affect diversity. The staff of e.l.f. cosmetics is 70% female, including multiple women on the Board of Directors, but the retailer’s gender makeup wasn’t due to a conscious effort to hire women, according to VP of IT Ekta Chopra. Instead, the prevalence of female leaders is due to the company’s culture, which affects the candidates who fit well within the organization.
“I don’t go out and seek women leaders, it’s about traits and who brings what to the table,” said Chopra. “I think everybody has strengths and weaknesses, and when you play on those strengths you can shine. It’s not about gender — it’s about equality.”
Additionally, retailers can foster diversity naturally by staffing stores in a way that reflects the local community, and then giving those employees the training they need to advance within the company. This is a practice embraced by ROAM Fitness, an airport-based operator of gym and shower facilities. The company expects some of these associates will rise through the ranks and become store and regional managers as it grows.
“It has always been a part of our culture as we hire, that with both the store experience and the people working there, you feel like you’re in that city,” said Cynthia Sandall, CEO/CMO at ROAM Fitness. “The airport can be very generic, and we want our population to reflect the people living in the community.”
This approach includes helping employees develop skills to advance their careers, which can benefit the company overall. Giving every associate and manager the tools they need to widen their skillset is also an important component in developing a team that can tackle the rapidly changing challenges of the industry.
“Life changes every day in retail,” said Cantrell. “You have to be flexible. I’m not the person who’s going to say this is your job forever. If this is the project this year, this is what the team looks like. If that is the project next year, that is what the team will look like.”