Recently, I have been investigating the role of women in retail. The news isn’t good. While the National Retail Federation (NRF) loves to hide behind the statistic of 49% of the entire retail work force being women, a 2008 study by Catalyst details that only 3% of all retail CEO’s are women. That may not, on its face, sound like discrimination to you. But what if I said it another way: In the retail industry where 51% of the workforce is male, 97% of the CEO’s are male.
And the bleed out of women is apparent as you look at increasing role responsibilities. 49% of the total workforce is female. But 19% of the executive officers are women and 18% of the board of directors are women. Some, like Dollar General, have NO WOMEN on their boards. (Even though its target market is women shopping for their families.) The same is true about many companies like JoAnne’s which is nearly entirely composed of male executives in a female industry and customer base.
Maybe that’s not enough to make you outraged. But as an industry, retail has nothing to be proud of in terms of how women are recruited, groomed and promoted. I’ve worked in this industry for over 25 years and it remains burdened with the ugly retailer image for a reason: it is not progressive and does not know how to attract and retain the best talent. Certainly, MBA’s are not jumping at the chance to enter the retail industry – even with the tarnished image of banking, finance and investing.
When will it change? I remember what Gail Evans said at a political rally for (then candidate for Senator) Amy Klobuchar. She said Minnesota would get its first woman Senator when Minnesota finally decided to vote for her. Same is true with retail leadership. It will finally begin to show a more balanced gender ratio AT THE TOP when the industry FINALLY decides to make it a priority.