Fourteen years ago, a handful of determined leaders launched the Network of Executive Women at the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference. At this year’s FMI Midwinter, we launched a new network with a bold vision — a workplace with no limits — and an urgent message: “It’s Time.”
It’s not that “old NEW” wasn’t successful — far from it. Since 2001, NEW has grown into one of the industry’s largest and most influential organizations. We’ve put women’s leadership on the agenda, we’ve changed hearts and minds, and we’ve helped thousands of women advance.
But we haven’t “moved the needle.” In recent years, the share of women corporate officers has barely budged. Women represent almost half of the retail industry’s total workforce but fewer than one in five corporate officers and one in 20 CEOs.
The reason for this is simple: We’ve been focusing on the wrong thing. We need to change our corporate culture and workforce policies to create a better workplace for everyone.
Joining the Movement
This message was delivered loud and clear at FMI Midwinter. More than 100 senior industry leaders gave up part of a sunny Sunday afternoon in Miami Beach to hear me; Amy Hahn, of Ahold USA; and Lisa Walsh, of PepsiCo, present a call to action on women’s leadership and workplace change.
More than half of those present committed to our It’s Time movement. Our industry’s top executives know that women leaders are critical to their organizations, and they’re committed to take action.
But this is no easy lift. There are strong cultural and business headwinds against women’s leadership and workplace change. But we must create a more flexible, collaborative, inclusive and authentic workplace if we’re to connect with our increasingly diverse consumers and workforce.
Today’s leadership model isn’t working for everyone, which means it’s not working at all. Our manifesto, presented by Walsh, NEW’s marketing chair, calls for “a new leadership culture — less rigid and more flexible, less conformist and more diverse, less impersonal and more authentic.”
We need a workplace culture that values the unique contributions of everyone — male and female, young and old, black and white, Latino and Asian, native-born and immigrant, gay and straight. This new workplace will make our industry a destination for women and a model to attract Millennials, who are the largest generation in our history — 80 million strong — and 43 percent nonwhite.
What Needs to be Done
NEW has developed a research-based action agenda that zeroes in on the top priorities needed to advance women leaders and transform the workplace:
- Change the culture and the way we look at women, who are often viewed as either “too nice” or “too bossy.”
- Change the organization to eliminate the countless subtle barriers to advancement, including lack of role models, sponsors and access to senior leadership, and career paths and policies that favor men.
- Engage men and treat them as partners instead of problems to be fixed.
- Engage senior leadership. At PepsiCo, which has taken a strong stand on women in the workplace, 31 percent of U.S.-based executives are women.
- Achieve critical mass. To achieve the benefits of women’s leadership — and make these gains sustainable — organizations must have targets in place that advance women.
Hahn closed our movement launch with a retailer’s perspective. “At Ahold USA, we make three promises every day,” she said. “First, be a better place to shop. Second, be a better place to work. And third, be a better neighbor everywhere we do business. Women’s leadership provides the talent, new ideas and customer connections we need to deliver on these promises.”
To enlist in the It’s Time movement, visit newonline.org/itstime .
Today’s leadership model isn’t working for everyone, which means it’s not working at all.