Nov 14, 2019
In an industry in which male executives regularly refer to their customers using strictly feminine pronouns, it has always been striking how relatively few women have risen to positions of power within retail. Sure, there are high-profile examples of female CEOs, including at Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Rite Aid, Stitch Fix and Ulta Beauty, but the industry, by-and-large, continues to be male-dominated.
Those who have attended industry trade conferences over the years have encountered speaker lineups skewed heavily toward men. To be sure, strides have been made, with more women speakers sharing their expertise on a wide variety of topics. Both the National Retail Federation’s Big Show and Shoptalk have featured more female speakers in recent years. The shows have also included a “Girls’ Lounge” where women discussed a wide variety of topics centered around achieving success in an industry that has often failed to recognize and reward talented female contributors.
With all of the above as a backdrop, comes news from Shoptalk that its event next March in Las Vegas will feature only women speakers.
“Speaker gender parity in 2020 would have been relatively easy, but it would not have shifted the dialogue in the way that we have done consistently,” said Simran Rekhi Aggarwal, founder and president of Shoptalk, in a statement. “Is this all-female speaker approach extreme? Absolutely, but we think extreme problems require extreme solutions.”
Shoptalk cited statistics showing more college-educated women in the workforce than men and the lack of women in CEO positions within the S&P 500 as evidence supporting the need for change.
“We’ve seen women founding companies, driving startups forward and rising through the ranks at brands, retailers and tech companies, yet progress has remained woefully slow,” said Zia Daniell Wigder, Shoptalk’s chief global content officer. “This is simply unacceptable and untenable.”
“We have always worked hard to do the right thing, no matter how difficult or inconvenient that might be,” said Caroline Farley, Shoptalk’s chief growth officer. “Incremental change just won’t get us there,” she added.
As part of its announcement, Shoptalk has committed to featuring an even split between female and male speakers beginning with its event in 2021.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your take on the significance of Shoptalk’s announcement? How would you rate the progress that retailers are making when it comes to recognizing, mentoring and rewarding female talent within their ranks?
“Only women speaking at a conference means nothing in light of the hidden male bias embedded in algorithms. “
“I think it’s a clever hook, to have all female speakers. “
“Controversy, publicity, and advertising. Despite the hoopla, the women retail leaders of today can and do stand on their own – in the same room as men.”