Live From FMI Midwinter: Women’s Leadership Call to Action


What would it take to create a workplace where women had the same leadership opportunities as men and where everyone would be their best?

That’s the question that the Network of Executive Women asked not long ago with its NEW 2020 initiative. The organization interviewed its stakeholders and industry leaders, both women and men, and conducted focus groups and surveys, engaging more than 1,500 people in all, explained Joan Toth, the network’s president and CEO.

“Women told us they needed to develop better leadership skills, reconcile their careers and lives, and be accepted as they are at work,” Toth said at a Sunday afternoon gathering during the FMI Midwinter Conference in Miami Beach. “Senior leaders told us they were under enormous competitive pressures, that they needed to prove ROI, do more with less, and find and keep talent."

In response, NEW rolled out a host of new programs: The NEW Executive Institute, year-long learning course designed to advance officer-bound women in the industry; a new webinar series, including one focused on multigenerational leadership; new reports and surveys, including NEW’s Tapestry report on multicultural women and its Accelerators report on critical competencies for women leaders; and the NEW Career Accelerator, with assessments and workshops designed to benchmark and increase performance of high-potential women.

"But no tool can be effective if it's not used," Toth said, announcing the launch of NEW's new movement, heralded with this call to arms: It's time.

Keeping Up With Change

The movement calls for industry leaders to establish a new leadership culture that's more flexible, colleborative and authentic.

Lisa Walsh, NEW marketing chair and SVP of sales at PepsiCo, said companies need to focus on these priorities:

Change the culture of how companies look at leadership and women
Change the organization by removing barriers to advancement
Engage men as mentors and supporters of women
Engage leadership to drive these changes
Achieve “critical mass” by putting advancement targets in place

“The business case is there – in an industry looking for growth, this is a clear area to find it,” Walsh said. “Women are your consumers and customers – how can you understand them and satisfy their needs if your organizations aren’t reflective of who you serve?”

Toth said many companies have made substantial progress, “but as an industry, we have not kept pace with workforce change.”

Among companies leading the charge is Ahold USA. “NEW is essential to our efforts to develop women leaders,” said Amy Hahn, SVP of marketing for the Northeast grocery retailer and a NEW board member.

Nearly 150 Ahold USA employees are NEW members, “and hundreds more benefit from our partnership through regional programs and events,” Hahn said, issuing a challenge to other retailers to launch or ramp up their NEW alliances. “Women’s leadership is not a women’s issue – it’s a business issue, and our movement requires the active participation of men to succeed.”

Toth cited data showing that while women control 70 percent of household spending, make or influence 93 percent of all food purchases, and take 63 percent of all trips to the grocery store, 59 percent of women say food marketers don’t understand them.

“That’s a problem, but it’s also an opportunity,” she said. “Consider the competitive advantage that’s possible when our leadership is as diverse as our customer base.”

Follow our reports from FMI Midwinter at and on Twitter at @pgrocer, @jimdudlicek and @JoanPGrocer. #FMIMidwinter #NewConsumer

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