When it became known in late November that Lauren Hobart would take over the management of Dick’s Sporting Goods in early 2021, the American company reached another important milestone for inclusivity, which was largely driven by retailers.
A record 41 female CEOs will soon lead Fortune 500 companies, unless additional appointments or departures are made, as Hobart takes over as current Dick CEO Ed Stack in February. Ten will be responsible for retail.
Recruiters and consultants say that customer facing companies are realizing they need a top executive who understands the American consumer and that most of the people who make purchasing decisions in households are women.
Hobart will join a list that includes Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass, Gap CEO Sonia Syngal, Best Buy CEO Corie Barry, and new CVS Health CEO Karen Lynch, who will take over Larry Merlo on February 1st.
“There are definitely intentions,” said Lorraine Hariton, CEO of Catalyst, which promotes the advancement of women in the workplace. “More and more companies are trying to mirror their customers.”
“In many cases, in order to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company, they work their way up the company,” said Hariton, citing Best Buy’s Barry as an example. She entered the electronics retail business in 1999 and was promoted to chief financial officer, a position she held a little over four years before becoming CEO in June 2019.
The upheaval many retailers are facing as the rapid growth of e-commerce is transforming the industry has also left an opportunity for some companies to mess things up and choose a female executive director, recruiters say. The so-called glass cliff is not a new phenomenon. It refers to women who take on leadership roles in times of crisis or downturn.
“Retail has changed a lot too,” said Hariton. Some companies may try to attract someone “from outside with different minds,” she said. “Women tend to be socialized to have more empathy and more collaboration – interpersonal skills that are really important traits.”
Jill Soltau, CEO of JC Penney, took over the company in 2018 when the crippled department store chain posted quarterly losses and closed hundreds of stores. She is in the process of getting Penney out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. To be successful, she must recruit shoppers into Penney’s stores to buy clothes at a time when clothes sales are declining.
Tapestry CEO Joanne Crevoiserat took over the leadership position earlier this year after former boss Jide Zeitlin resigned on allegations by a woman he posed as a photographer more than a decade ago.
Elizabeth Stephenson, executive director of consumer products practice at AlixPartners, says that some of the recent CEO appointments have only found talented women who have led the company for years.
“Over time, there has been a real insight into getting women into the right developmental experiences to prepare them to be in these CEO roles,” she said. “And I think you see this virtuous cycle come to a head.”
There was also an urge to get more women into boardrooms. Nasdaq made a proposal earlier this month that would require its 3,000-plus companies listed on the stock exchange to improve boardroom variety by adding at least one woman and at least one minority or LGBTQ person to their boards of directors. If approved by the SEC, the new regulations would require all companies listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange to publicly disclose their diversity statistics.
According to the annual Crist | Kolder Volatility Report, which tracks executive moves at S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies, retail has the largest proportion of female board members at 32.8%. That is better than female representation on boards of financial companies with 26.5% and technology with 25.8%, according to Crist | Kolder.
Women can be a “secret weapon” in boardrooms, said Katherine Black, a consumer practice partner at Kearney, a global business consultancy. Prior to consulting, Black was a retail manager at Macy’s and Kroger.
“In some cases, it can be a disadvantage for women leaders not to have as complicated networks in certain places as they are with old boys,” she said.
However, this can be seen as a key benefit when a retailer is going through a trend reversal, said Black, “Typically, someone has to be thinking about something really fresh and different and ready to do and move on something else.” away from the norm. “
The number of women running the largest US companies is still modest. Further advances are expected to be made in the coming years, which may still be driven by retailers.
“There will continue to be an acceleration of women into these leadership roles, and as far as retail goes, I think we may see more of that as so much change is happening in retail right now,” said Hariton of Catalyst.
“When you are able to not just source broadly within your organization but also go beyond hiring from within, you will have the opportunity to deal with more diverse candidates and female candidates. We can continue with the turmoil in retail.” to see it outperform on inclusion of women. “