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It’s Time for a New Retail Workplace

It’s time to recognize an important truth: Women are the key to your success. The retail, consumer goods and services industry will rise — or fall — with its women customers and employees.

Women drive our business. Women make 63 percent of trips to grocery stores and make or influence 93 percent of food purchases. They are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households with children and wield growing influence over consumer spending in the United States (and around the world).

But 59 percent of women polled by Nielsen said food marketers do not understand them. That’s a problem — and an opportunity.

Consider the competitive advantage that’s possible when companies’ decision-makers reflect their customer base. And, research shows, organizations with more women leaders perform better. A 2011study by Catalyst reported that companies with three or more female board members outperformed those with no women directors. These companies saw an 84 percent higher return on sales, a 60 percent higher return on investment capital and a 46 percent return on equity in at least four of the five years analyzed.

Wired for leadership

Other research shows talented women bring unique perspectives and leadership qualities to once-male-dominated teams. In a 2007 study of 100 work teams across 21 organizations in 17 countries, the Centre for Women in Business at the London Business School found teams with at least 50 percent women were more motivated and innovative than those where women were in the minority, while teams with a clear majority of women — 60 percent — expressed greater self-confidence.

Beyond the benefits of gender diverse teams, women are especially well suited to lead in today’s changing marketplace and evolving workplace. The Pew Research Center asked 2,250 people to name the most important leadership traits. The survey results, reported in “Men or Women: Who’s the Better Leader?”, found that women were rated as better than or equal to men in seven of eight top leadership characteristics, including honesty, outgoingness, compassion and creativity. (They tied men on being ambitious and hardworking.)

Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Unleash the Power of the Female Brain (Harmony 2013) and conductor of the biggest brain-scan study ever (46,000 scans), found that “female brains were dramatically more active. Women are really wired for leadership…they really make great CEOs.”

But despite the strong case for women’s leadership, women are vastly under-represented in key decision-making and leadership roles. Although there’s a general impression that women are moving up the ranks as never before, the numbers don’t bear that out. The percentage of women in officer roles in the retail industry has remained virtually unchanged in the past five years, moving from 18.5 percent in 2008 to 18.6 percent in 2013, according to Catalyst.

Women and Millennial

The typical workplace with a traditional hierarchy and corporate culture, and lack of diversity among its leaders, is not only holding women back — it’s holding business back. When organizations look to diversity, inclusion and women’s advancement as major components of their strategic plans, they significantly enhance their competitive position for today and for the future.

Why? Workplace changes that have long been championed by women appeal to tomorrow’s leaders, Millennial born between 1980 and 2000, too. Women want a more flexible, more collaborative, more authentic, less authoritative corporate culture a focus on work/life balance; more opportunity for advancement; and the chance to make an impact. Millennials, 80 million strong, want the same.

In a 2011 survey of more than 4,000 graduates across 75 countries by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), more than half of respondents said they preferred employers who offered opportunities for advancement, while 35 percent cited “excellent training/development programs.” Virtually every Millennial surveyed — 95 percent — said work/life balance was important to them when choosing where to work.

Female Millennials, in particular, seek out employers with a strong record on equality and diversity — and employers that do more than “talk the talk,” according to the 2014 PwC report “Developing Tomorrow’s Female Leaders.”

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