Celebrating International Women's Day With Retail Leaders

female corporate professional headshots

International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Today is an especially important day to call out the incredible progress women have made in the ever-evolving retail industry over the years. 

So, in that spirit, we reached out to some of our close friends in the RetailNext community. We wanted to better understand the challenges they still face and gain insight into how gender equality and diversity can continue to be promoted in the workplace. And trust me, you won’t want to miss their invaluable words of wisdom.

international womens day collage of professionals in the retailnext community

READ MORE: Retail Is The Story Of Women Empowering Women

Mentorship with Karen Strack, Founding Member of CHIEF

Developing a workplace mentoring program provides support and advocacy for working women. Workplaces need robust mentor programs for women led by senior men in the organization; Harvard Business Review found that men who champion equality for their female co-workers make a huge impact. Receiving mentorship from senior males can increase compensation and career progress satisfaction for women, particularly those working in male-dominated industries, like tech.

My advice? Introduce allyships as a means to promote and inspire a culture of inclusion. Look to mentor a woman or get involved in a graduate program to support a young professional entering the workplace. There is no greater satisfaction than passing along your learnings and navigating others' challenges in the workplace. You will be surprised at how well-versed you truly are. 

And to young professionals: don’t wait for a formal program, ask someone directly, and choose courage over comfort!

⭐️ Words of wisdom: “Share your goals! Be vocal and others will take pride in being a part of your success, personally and professionally.”

Growing with Sandra Campos, Board Member of Daniel's Jewelers, Big Lots Stores

Today's retail environment is more challenging and complicated than it’s ever been. It’s critical that women focus on continuing to learn about every aspect of business, especially beyond their own day-to-day scope of work. Nowadays, having a broad set of skills is more valuable and is most impactful to career growth. 

I’ve always focused on being customer-centric and because of that I research news from all sectors, dive into consumer insights, and learn from data. I like to stay focused on the experience a company delivers and keep pushing for innovation. I am also open to learning from everyone, everywhere. I say yes to opportunities and take risks in order to reap the greatest rewards. I know that with every new skill, I improve as a leader and executive.

⭐️ Words of wisdom: “Network with others who you can learn from and ask for opportunities – don’t wait for them to come to you.” 

WATCH NOW: Women In Retail | RetailNext Executive Forum 

Self-care with Heidi Zak, Co-Founder & CEO of ThirdLove

With all the disruptions in retail over the past few years, the demands on leaders are more than ever. There is pressure to manage uncertainty, change strategies, and make sure your teams stay focused and motivated. Self-care is a key factor with regard to performance.

There are two things I hold sacred as it relates to wellness: sleep and exercise. I really try to get 8 hours a night and to work out most mornings, even if it is a quick 20 minutes. I know that keeps me healthy, focused, and at my best at work.

⭐️ Words of wisdom: “To perform at the highest level, prioritizing self-care is one of the most important challenges we face.”

Inspiration with Alexa Kudish, Manager of Connected Experience at Bloomingdale’s

Retail is exciting and keeps you on your toes. I have always been interested in fashion since a young age and I vividly remember how I felt walking through my favorite stores growing up. From that moment on I was hooked. Now I get to impact how others feel when they interact with Bloomingdale’s. Retail is more than the clothes we sell; it is how customers feel during all touchpoints with a brand.

So, for women looking to break into retail: go for it! Reach out to current employees, network, and submit that application. Breaking into any industry is difficult but taking the first step to do it will set you in the right direction.

And as far as inspiration goes… I am always inspired in my career by all the strong women around me and most importantly my mom. She is an entrepreneur that started her own optical business because she believed in herself. She inspires and motivates me to stand up for myself, be strong, and that hardships can be overcome. She taught me that when you follow what you are passionate about it you will ultimately be led to success.

⭐️ Words of wisdom: “Be your biggest cheerleader!”

Empowerment with Bree Johnson, Lead IT Project Manager at The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.

Mentorship is imperative in a professional environment, especially for women as we focus on raising each other up. Mentorship can reach all levels of an organization and lift talent, potential, and passion in areas that need clear pathways to the spotlight. An established culture of mentorship can quickly transform an organization into a network of trusted relationships.

If I could go back and speak to my younger self, I’d tell her to be humble and patient, yet confident in what she brings. I’d tell her to focus on learning and observing as much as possible with every new career opportunity. I’d tell her to listen more, find a mentor, and outline specific goals. As a final piece of advice, I’d tell her to focus on developing and mastering hard and soft skills, especially in the areas of communication, time management, and writing.

With the incredible support of The Estee Lauder Companies over the last six years, I’m proud that I have been able to raise my three children while growing in my career. I am thankful that I have never been put in a position to choose between the two things that matter most to me – my career and my family. My career represents me as an endearing, driven corporate professional and motherhood represents me as a strong, loving caregiver. Together, my career and motherhood influence my identity as a woman.

⭐️ Words of wisdom: “I love that anyone can be a mentor, formal or informal, regardless of title or career level. Mentors build future leaders and future mentors.”

Transformation with Shelley E. Kohan, Chief Strategy Officer at The Robin Report

The biggest challenge that women in retail face is not getting a seat at the table or when they do, not having their voices heard at the same level as their male counterparts. Women that are in underrepresented groups have an even more difficult time including BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) female executives. 

Risk-taking is a characteristic that women should learn along with taking on assignments that may stretch their current scope of experience. Ironically, women are better collaborators and make better leaders. They are supportive and emphatic. We just need more female leaders in our industry.

Although more leadership roles are filled with women than a decade ago, much work is needed. Gender pay gaps have not changed much in twenty years with women getting 82 cents to the dollar when compared to males in the same position. BIPOC women have an even steeper hill to climb. Companies should be thinking about how to provide opportunities, training, and mentoring to advance women and underrepresented groups. 

⭐️ Words of wisdom: The best way to overcome barriers in your career is by inviting yourself to the table and coming super prepared to demonstrate your extreme expertise to colleagues.

Bravery with Amanda Whitley, Director of Strategic Sourcing & Real Estate at GameStop

I love learning something new – and solving whatever puzzle that ends up creating on my plate. Any time I’m feeling tired or less motivated, I go find something in my inbox that I haven’t gotten around to because it was something I was less familiar with. Diving into projects like that is so invigorating and figuring out how to take your experience and layer it with this new information to find a solution is so motivating!

When I am the most successful in my career is when I am the most authentically me – when I bring my full weirdest and honest self. It’s such Hallmark card advice, but consistently the more real and directly I approach people the better success I had. I wish I had not spent my younger years being nervous to embrace that!

But most importantly: speak up for other women. In spaces where people’s voices are being drowned out, it is ALWAYS easier to advocate for someone else rather than advocating for yourself in the moment. If someone is talking over someone else in a meeting, there are a million ways to call it out in a friendly way, like “Hey I think X was trying to get an idea in, maybe you just didn’t hear her”.

⭐️ Words of wisdom: “Stop being afraid to be yourself!”

READ MORE: Retail Trends That Break Through The Noise

About the author:

Headshot: Ashton Kirsten

Ashton Kirsten, Marketing Communications Coordinator, RetailNext

Ashton holds a Master's Degree in English and is passionate about starting conversations through impactful content and executing data-driven creative strategies. She is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she can be found reading, writing and researching.

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