Even though 70% to 80% of all consumer purchases are made by women, fewer than 12% of Fortune 1000 CEOs in the retail and apparel industry are female, according to Shannon Schuyler, Principal, Chief Purpose & Inclusion Officer at PwC. She was joined by three female retail leaders to discuss how diversity can be advanced, as well as what it can add to the bottom line, during an NRF 2020 session titled “Visionary Voices of Ambition, Purpose and Inclusion.”
“This will take talking about things within the workplace that people told us for years we shouldn’t talk about,” said Shuyler.
One of the issues that keeps more women from rising to leadership roles is how they are guided during formative times in their careers, according to Tammy Sheffer, Chief People Officer at Rent the Runway. She laid out two forms of development that existing leaders can offer their proteges:
- Mentorship, which is about skill-building and communication; and
- Sponsorship, which is about taking a chance with someone who shows promise, by working as an advocate and speaking out for them behind the scenes.
While mentorship is valuable and important, it doesn’t change one’s career the way that sponsorship can, according to Sheffer. Sponsors risk some of their own clout to give up-and-coming leaders a valuable boost.
“Historically, I would say that men get sponsorship and women get mentorship, and that is very different for people’s careers,” said Sheffer. “The more as women we can sponsor other women to lift them up, and the more we can encourage men and leadership to do the same — that’s where I believe you can change those dynamics.”
As more opportunities open up for women in leadership, rising leaders need to speak up and take advantage of these possibilities, according to Mercedes Abramo, President and CEO of Cartier North America. Getting more sponsorship is a good first step, but truly making it effective calls for the creation of a two-way dialogue.
“I think that something that a lot of young people, no matter the gender, need to do more of is really talk about what their aspirations are and advocate for themselves — and more of us as leaders need to be listening so that two way street happens,” said Abramo. “In my experience, when I was younger, women were less confident to do that and the men more so. Now that more and more women are comfortable, and more and more women are in leadership, it’s about encouraging those open dialogues.”
This approach isn’t limited to helping more women make it into leadership — it also can create diversity across ethnic lines. Macy’s has committed to achieving 30% ethnic diversity at the senior director level and above by 2025 through the MOSAIC, a program designed to strengthen leadership skills for managers and directors who are Black/African-American, Hispanic-Latinx, Native American and of Asian descent.
Building this level of diversity reflects the way the world is changing, according to Shawn Outler, Chief Diversity Officer at Macy’s. Giving top leaders a broader perspective is just one benefit, the initiative also will better position the company for future success.
“Our colleagues reflect our customers, and the customer today is expecting different things from our organizations,” said Outler. “They want to see themselves in the marketing, and they want to understand and know that the companies that they do business with really get them, understand them and represent them. So it really is foundational for our business and our future.”
On a broader scale, CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is working to increase diversity and inclusion across 85 industries. The organization sees diversity as a societal issue, not just a business one, with wide-ranging implications and benefits. Retailers need to tackle this problem head-on, regardless of how difficult that may be.
“One thing we’ve learned over the past three years with CEO Action is that this will take hard conversations,” said Schuyler. “This will take talking about things within the workplace that people told us for years we shouldn’t talk about. This is talking about the #MeToo movement. This is talking about what happened over the holidays with anti-Semitic violent behavior. This is talking about what happens in police shootings for African-Americans. This is talking about looking at our leadership teams and our boards and saying, ‘Why are they not more diverse, even though that diversity is proven to bring more financial success?’”