Women in Retail Leadership Circle Members Share How They Empower Women Leaders
A discussion on how retail executives are empowering women across their organizations and preparing them to take on — and succeed — at leadership roles was the subject of a panel discussion at Shoptalk in Las Vegas yesterday.
Winnie Park, CEO of Forever 21 and Women in Retail Leadership Circle advisory board member, said that when she joined the company she began an audit to see where Forever 21 stood in terms of percentage of female leadership. (Women in Retail Leadership Circle is the sister brand of Total Retail.) From this exercise, she found that 80 percent of Forever 21's workforce was women, and 50 percent were in executive leadership roles. This was important, Park said, because “if you don’t know where you stand, you don’t know how to prepare yourself for the future.”
After looking at the data, “we realized we had a lot of work to do,” Park said, such as understanding how Forever 21 moves women from level to level within the organization. “Do we just wait for a promotion to happen, or are we proactive where we provide resources both in terms of mentorship and education?” Park added.
In addition, Park said that Forever 21 began to think about what's getting in the way of career progression for women at every level.
"The key thing we saw is the need for flexibility, especially as a lot of the women at the company do have a lot of responsibility, specifically around family and home," noted Park. "So how do you create an environment where you have some level of balance?”
Park went on to say that it’s not just about creating formal policies to help women move up the corporate ladder, but creating a culture where people feel comfortable taking advantage of resources like “the ability to further your education and have us pay for it, or raising your hand and asking for more.”
Forever 21 also puts a lot of focus on training and developing its store associates.
"I'm constantly in the stores," Park told the audience. "I shop. I see what the customer sees. I listen and I see talent. The second piece of this is how do we bring that talent in the field back into corporate? How do we actually ladder them up, should they want to take the next steps?"
Sharonda Weatherspoon, senior vice president of stores at Ralph Lauren and a Women in Retail Leadership Circle advisory board member, spoke about the importance of flexibility in the workforce for women.
“I'm adopting this notion of freedom in the framework,“ Weatherspoon said. “How do I have flexibility, and how do I make sure that my leaders are very, very clear on what it means to lead through some of these policies? Teaching people to lead through flexibility creates cultures that feel right for individuals and as a result feel right for organizations.”
Weatherspoon also spoke about how important groups like Women in Retail Leadership Circle are to empowering women.
"[These groups] are a safe space for women executives," said Weatherspoon. "Despite the fact that you might be an executive, sometimes you don't know where to go or who to talk to. These organizations are creating these amazing spaces for women to connect, collaborate and really get things done."
In addition, Weatherspoon said women groups are important because they assist with executive development for leaders. "A lot of people think that just because you become a VP or SVP or chief or president that you don't need to focus on your own development, but that's so far from the truth. This is when you really need to focus on executive development in a much greater way, because the number of people you're impacting with your decisions — or your lack of decisions — becomes even greater."
Melissa Campanelli is Editor-in-Chief of Total Retail. She is an industry veteran, having covered all aspects of retail, tech, digital, e-commerce, and marketing over the past 20 years. Melissa is also the co-founder of the Women in Retail Leadership Circle.