The State of Gender Equality in Retail

I recently had the chance to comment on an Honoring Women discussion on Retail Wire about outstanding women in the retail industry and company cultures that support their success. It was an interesting article to read and contemplate, especially in light of recent headline-making articles on misogyny and sexism in politics and the movie-making industry. The discussion and many resulting comments confirmed that this is a topic on many people’s minds today.

One of the questions considered was whether retail is better or worse than other industries at supporting the advancement of women. I would suggest that while the retail industry attracts many women and there seems to be a huge female presence in many store environments, there seem to be few who make it to the C-suite.

To change this in our industry, and guarantee equality among genders, this needs to be pushed from the top down. Retail corporate leaders that take gender equality seriously will make it an overt company policy that is communicated to all employees to ensure there is not discrimination. However, what is even more important than policies, is that corporate leaders “walk the talk” and make a conscious priority to make hiring and promotion decisions based solely on merit.

Executives also need to remember this has to be an ongoing process, not a one-time policy. I recently listened to a presentation from a company that thought they had equality but conducted an audit and found their management ranks and salary structure were both unbalanced. They performed a reset to salaries and management positions to ensure they were structured equally. Yet within a few years later they did a re-audit and found that they were out of balance again due to recent acquisitions. Lesson learned that even after processes have been enacted to ensure quality, we need to incorporate gender equality policies into merger and acquisition strategies to ensure continuation.

Until people – no matter what gender – are judged solely on their talent, ability and experience we will continue to see a majority of males in C-level positions. But discussions like these are critical to bringing this issue to the forefront and helping bring better gender quality to the retail industry.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts and opinion on this topic.  Please share your comments below.

Ken

Ken Morris

Principal
Ken was CEO and President of LakeWest Group and founder of CFT Consulting and CFT Systems, a retail software company. Earlier in his career, he held retail information technology executive positions at Lord & Taylor, Filene’s (Macy’s), Talbots, Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, and Sears. His experience is with strategy, selection development and deployment of retail management systems and processes.

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