People in the retail industry love to make predictions. We study lifestyle behaviors that inform product development and shopping preferences to make more accurate sales forecasts. We leverage artificial intelligence to digest huge data sets to make predictions about inventory, pricing and promotions. Often, predictions are based on unique insights gleaned from data that’s run through a proprietary algorithm.
Retail has become highly scientific, and so has Progressive Grocer. We employ a rigorous methodology with our annual Top Women in Grocery (TWIG) program, and it yields some unique insights. Now in its 15th year, TWIG is the food retailing industry’s longest-running, most prestigious program that recognizes the talent of women at all levels throughout the grocery industry. This program employs much of the same procedural and data-driven rigor that retailers and suppliers might use to develop joint business plans or create a seasonal promotion. My colleagues, Executive Editor Gina Acosta and Managing Editor Bridget Goldschmidt, see to that. No corners are cut, and strict rules are followed, when it comes to assessing the merits of those who enter the program.
This disciplined approach, applied to a growing number of high-quality submissions, enables Progressive Grocer to predict that within 10 years, women will occupy 25% or more of the CEO positions of companies in The PG 100, which most recently ran our May 2021 issue.
The PG 100 is our annual ranking of the 100 largest retailers of food and consumables in North America. Currently, 8% of the CEO positions are held by female executives, but looking ahead, our confidence in the 25% figure stems from the fact that the leadership pipeline is filled with talent. We know this because the TWIG program affords Progressive Grocer unique insight into the future of female leadership. Our three-tiered program, which recognizes Store Managers, Rising Stars and Senior-Level Executives, honors 91 senior executives this year, up from 88 last year. As a testament to how far TWIG has come, during the first year of the program, there were only 62 women recognized as TWIG honorees overall. It is apparent from reviewing the accomplishments of this year’s senior executive honorees that many are poised to ascend to higher levels of leadership.
A debate could be had about whether a prediction of women occupying 25% of The PG 100 CEO roles within 10 years is adequate progress or a fast-enough time frame. However, there’s no disputing the fact that it’s light years from where the industry was not that long ago, or from where it began.
For example, some sectors of the retail industry were so dominated by men that as recently as the early 1990s, a major trade association that held a popular annual event for senior executives featured on its agenda a “First Ladies Luncheon.” Go back even further, say nearly 100 years, to when Progressive Grocer was founded in 1922, and my counterpart at the time described the brand’s mission in the inaugural edition as being “dedicated to the grocer who believes in his business and is anxious to improve his opportunity to serve his community.”
Today, we cringe at that statement — and rightfully so — but the structure of American society and the business world was very different 99 years ago. The grocery industry comprised independents or small chains that were run by men focused on serving female shoppers. Change happened slowly in the decades that followed, but more recently, change of all types has accelerated throughout retail, much of it driven by the female executives among this year’s TWIG honorees. Change has been slower to show up with regard to C-suite gender diversity, but that, too, will accelerate, with more change happening in the next 10 years than the past 100.