Honoring women

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Apr 18, 2018
Warren Thayer

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine.

Our June cover story will be about outstanding women in our industry and company cultures that support their success. It’s my fault that it’s overdue.

Not that I’ve lacked sympathy for the plight of women and the infuriating garbage they put up with daily. But in over-thinking the issues over the years, I had felt that honoring women for their outstanding work might somehow be condescending to them. Don’t ask me to explain that; I can’t. But I believed it. Now, based on watching the news and having many conversations with women, I don’t believe it anymore.

I was also bothered when other magazines seemed to pander to advertisers when one of their own was being honored. That was based on my belief that some of the men pitching the ads were, themselves, pretty darn sexist. It seemed cynical and hypocritical to me. But I was being horribly stupid. And it shouldn’t have held me back from honoring women who thrive in this male-dominated jungle.

So, I’m sorry. Really. But let me add here that back in 1973, I got into trouble with the newspaper where I worked because I refused to cover the Miss Coast Guard Contest. Supposed to be a plum assignment, I felt it was sexist and wouldn’t go. All hell broke loose, someone else was sent, and for years thereafter a couple of male reporters on staff insisted I had to be “queer.” Whatever.

I’ve asked Denise Leathers, our editor, to do the June cover story for us. I’ve also started making women the subjects of The Endcap, the page that appears opposite our inside back covers. So much still needs to be done. Have you seen how relatively few women there are at industry seminars and cocktail parties lately? Or in leadership positions?

Kate Manne, the Cornell University professor who recently wrote “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny,” argues that misogyny is not about male hostility or hatred toward women. Instead, she says, it’s about controlling and punishing women who challenge male dominance. As she sees it, misogyny rewards women who reinforce the status quo and punishes those who don’t.

She says she’s not sure how to fix this, but “What would need to change is for men in positions of power to accept that women can surpass them without having wronged them.”

Amen to that.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can leaders lessen or eradicate the conscious and unconscious biases across their staff that is holding back the advancement of women? Has your organization taken any steps to address any such biases?

Braintrust
"We’re making progress here, but not enough. I am constantly having to represent the female POV with the store innovation work that I do..."
"More difficult and more pervasive is the collective weight of an infinitely greater number of subtle prejudices held innocently by good people."
"The fact that we are still talking about misogyny in 2018 shows just how deep this issue truly is."

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35 Comments on "Honoring women"


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Art Suriano
BrainTrust
I think today there are many men afraid of what they should say when complimenting a woman for fear that it might be misinterpreted. That’s sad when a woman has done a great job and isn’t recognized for it. The solution begins with honesty. If a man wishes to praise a woman for her work, do it as if she were a man and not as if she might interpret it as being flirtatious. The more significant problem is when men and women work together at the same level. They spend several hours together, and perhaps the man is interested in her beyond her job, or the woman is interested in the man. Again, the solution, you need is to be honest. Men and also women need to stop playing games they sometimes play while at work which send mixed and wrong signals. So keep it simple and as I said, keep it honest. That’s my policy running my company and any involvement I have working with outside organizations. When in doubt, ask a legitimate… Read more »
Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This is another socio-political problem, not exclusive to retail. Biases exist in sex, race, age, and religion. Eradicating bias has been going on for years and it has been slower than necessary. We are now reaching a semi-revolutionary stage when it comes to eradicating bias against women. Leaders have to first recognize and accept that it exists, then they have to take a pro-active, ethical stand, then they have to implement the policies that are clear and repeated like a mantra within the organization. Starbucks just came to that conclusion the hard way. It is about time.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Wow, thanks for sharing so much with full transparency. I am proud to be part of an organization that blazed the trail for women to achieve the most senior executive positions for more than 80 years. This has everything to do with the individual organization’s culture, as opposed to the industry in which it operates. For the 17 years I’ve been here, I have had far more female managers, and their managerial uplines have mostly been female.

The point is, this has never been a challenge. We just do it. We don’t highlight it so much to make it seem like something strange or rare. We just make it happen. ALL organizations need to do this. Find the best “man” for the jobs, and you’ll quickly find it quite often isn’t a man.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust
I actually think retail has gone backwards when it comes to putting women in high places. Earlier in my career, there were a lot more VPs who were women than I see today. But the C-suite has always been a man’s world. The tech industry also seems to have gone backwards. I never had any troubles advancing … I think I scared them all too much or something, and the last time a guy quit because I was a woman when he found out he was supposed to report to me was 1982. Back in those days I learned techniques to ferret out sexist moments in board rooms. Too graphic to describe in a family blog, but let’s say I had techniques for men who acted inappropriately. I have a black friend who said “Hey … it’s Black History Month. The other 11 are white history months.” So I kind of do think it’s condescending. It’s really a question of talent. If you want the best talent, particularly one that reflects who your customer is,… Read more »
Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust
Kudos to Warren for tackling this topic in such a forthright manner. Retail has traditionally had a massive female presence — possibly outnumbering males and everyone was okay with it. That was when it was acceptable for women to be clerks and sales girls (girls!) and occupy other low-end positions while “the men” led the companies. It’s difficult to place blame on the industry for that because society worked that way everywhere. Now women are in a much better position, but I’m regularly reminded, not an equal one. I don’t understand why. I’m married to an equally (OK more!) intelligent and talented woman that has insights into areas I don’t. I have no reason to believe women as a group are any different. So WTF is wrong with men that need to keep women down? It’s their own weaknesses and insecurities. I don’t believe anyone wants women promoted solely on the basis of their sex. That would be disrespectful to deserving and undeserving applicants alike. But as men, we need to quash any biases and… Read more »
Joan Treistman
BrainTrust
If Warren Thayer wrote that after the June issue of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer’s cover story about outstanding women there will be a subsequent issue about outstanding men, I’d have more confidence in his understanding and efforts. The goal is to reach equality, not segment. Separately, I think if there were two such cover stories the difference in the career profiles of “outstanding” men and women would be fascinating and insightful. This past Sunday on “60 Minutes,” the CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, described his shock that in his company known for being a great place to work there would be pay inequality for women. Further he noticed how there were few women in his company’s leadership meetings. He instituted a program to reconcile the pay and status differences. The first year it seemed to be working and he thought it was going to be OK moving forward. However, in year two he discovered there was still a sizable pay gap. He recognizes that it’s tough to combat what is culturally based and institutionalized in… Read more »
Gary Doyle
Guest
1 month 6 days ago

This morning I was inspired by an article in the WSJ titled “The Right Stuff at Southwest Airlines.” It is a commentary on the pilot of the plane in which one passenger was killed yet the rest of the passengers were saved.

Tammie Jo Shults, the pilot on the flight, is a person who fought her way into the Navy and was the first woman to take the stick on an F/A-18 fighter and is now a Captain for Southwest. She is dubbed the “Sully of Southwest.” Inspirational in that she fought her way through the bias she faced and via her own personal efforts attained the skills, talents and capabilities to be a pilot admired for her performance in the face of adversity. It is not because she is a woman that she inspires me, it is because she is a person that we can all aspire to be.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
BrainTrust

I think women need a seat at the table early so peers, upwards and executives, get used to seeing them, their value and accomplishments. This applies to all types of diversity with employees.

David Biernbaum
BrainTrust
In my field, the consumer goods and retail industry, where I work directly with quite literally thousands of women and men and having met with and spoken to so many women on these topics, I dare say that our space might be ahead of most industries. Since approximately 1977, I have had the opportunity in the CPG Retail Industry to work for, with, hire, or deploy, a rapidly increasing number of women at all levels, in nearly every capacity, and in companies I have worked for, with, or have been associated with, women are paid comparable salaries to men with similar responsibilities. The exception that I have observed over the years are in family-owned and operated businesses, where structures are off the charts. I do not presume to deny that inequality and harassment exist, because both issues do, in large numbers, including in the CPG retail business. However, I don’t believe that the root of the problems will be resolved by government intervention, intimidation of males, or by forcing males to behave in non-masculine ways… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Many thanks, Warren. I know of so many happy teams of women, particularly in store operations, who enjoy working with one another without having to endure put-downs by men. It would be great if we could recognize men’s and women’s different strengths and celebrate them.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust
I have a real passion for this topic and, in fact, had been in the midst of writing a “crowd sourced” book on it before the #METOO movement made it less necessary. However, having spent my career in both agencies and retail, it’s stunning to me that women are so under-represented in leadership, influence and salaries within both camps. Like Paula, I see our presence declining. We make or influence the lion’s share of purchases (particularly in stores) and the neuroscience has irrefutably proven that we think differently than men. Common sense would prevail that it’s thereby imperative that the strategies to connect with them and influence their behavior be led by women. We’re making progress here, but not enough. I am near constantly having to represent the female POV with the store innovation work that I do, even when the target market is definitively female. Candidly, I believe a huge challenge is the male impulse to make the big calls not from a place of empathy, but from one of power and self-referencing. Of… Read more »
Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
I think recognition can help. I recently read an article about the circular problem of getting women on boards. Boards want people who have board experience, but if you don’t get on that first board, you never get access to the opportunity. Men somehow have these opportunities and are considered “less risky” for that first board position while women are somehow not. So I think recognizing women who are doing great things in an industry is not pandering or condescending — at a minimum it is tackling an awareness issue. Supposedly we women are terrible at self-promotion, which is why we get overlooked for opportunities like boards. Part of the solution is to lessen the importance of self-promotion (if you’re seeking empathy or humility in your organization, rewarding self-promotion seems like an odd way to get that). The other part of the solution is to recognize the good work that women are doing, who might otherwise have remained invisible. I just saw Frank Blake speak at the Aptos user conference yesterday. He said “Recognition is… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
It seems to me that sexism, like racism, is an institutional cultural vehicle designed and perpetuated to further the ability of a white, patriarchal class to protect its economic, social, and political interests. And, as in the case of racism, while the causes of the problem are simple enough to define, the roots of misogyny run so deep it is, as both Professor Manne and Warren point out each in their own way, extremely difficult at times to get at what the real problem is, let alone correct it. As the discussion question suggests, this is a Janus-like problem with both a conscious bias, “head,” and an unconscious — and I would argue institutional — “head.” So, what to do? Our traditional approach has been to address the visible, “head,” in the case of racism — segregation, voting rights, discriminatory hiring and promotion practices, etc. In the case of women, we’ve taken the same approach a la the failed attempts at an Equal Rights Amendment, calls for equal pay for equal work and laws that… Read more »
Ron Margulis
BrainTrust

It all starts with the acceptance that women and men are the same. The fact is that except for the Y chromosome men have, all humans are basically equivalent. From there, individuals and organizations must be blind to gender. I’m not suggesting co-ed restroom facilities, but just about everything short of that. The key is constant promotion and reward for a neutral gender stance on all business decisions and the simultaneous punishment for any hint of gender bias.

The bottom line is that, woman or man, we’re all very far from perfect and we all need to work harder to ensure equal pay for equal work, workplaces that are free from gender (and race!) bias and a world where performance and the display of personal ethics trumps all other considerations.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
I lived the corporate life for 16 years before leaving to co-found my company with my partner, Rich Kizer. Yesterday marked our 28th year in business! I saw and experienced bias in my corporate life, but I have to say the now defunct company I worked for was pretty fair when it came to the advancement of women. Maybe not all the way to the corner suite, but close. Yes, I want women to be treated fairly — I want everyone to be treated fairly — but I also want to stand on my own two feet and be celebrated for my accomplishments, not because I happen to be a woman. I also know with complete certainty that there are brilliant women out there who have to fight daily to be heard, and who are punished for speaking up. This has to stop. I remember thinking in the 80s and 90s about the progress women were making in the workplace. And we did. A little. But the fact that we are still talking about misogyny… Read more »
Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Happy business anniversary to you both! That’s a fantastic achievement!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Thanks Neil! Every day is an adventure.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

The most forward thinking activity I have seen happened when I was part of a committee planning an event. As we considered who to invite to be part of the program, one of the high powered men said (with no prompting or comment by me) that we needed to be sure to include a woman. This was over 20 years ago and I was very impressed that one of the men was making an effort to include a woman.

Unfortunately over the intervening 20 years I have never heard that sentiment again. How and when will the consciousness of men change?

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Camille,

You raise a good point, but let’s note the criticality of language here. The “progressive” man was, “… one of the high powered men.” You were, “very impressed,” that a man was, “making an effort,” to include, “a,” — as in one — woman.

One of the ways consciousnesses changes is through language. That man wan’t, “high powered,” he was the beneficiary of a patriarchal system that promotes men above women.

He shouldn’t have just been making an effort to include one woman, he should have been insisting that the best people appear on the program — more than one of whom was likely to be a woman.

Tokenism isn’t reform and it shouldn’t be celebrated.

As to your last question, men’s consciousnesses are going to change the day after we eliminate the last cultural and institutional tropes propping up gender bias — including language.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Maybe the language used appeared to be tokenism to you. However, consider the other side of the argument — hiring the best person. In how many instances have men written the job descriptions and interpreted actions reported so that “leadership” is desired, meaning men need to take charge and offer their unbiased opinions whereas a woman displaying those same behaviors is considered “bossy” and “aggressive” and so either does not get glowing recommendations or is not considered to have “leadership” potential.

In the conversation to which I referred, seeing a man in a position of power, especially considering the patriarchal position, review names that had been suggested and say that we needed to make sure that a woman be included was notable, welcomed, and gave me hope that men were becoming sensitive to including women. So sad that I have not seen the sentiment since then.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
Camille, I think we are basically on the same side on this one. As I said, language is a huge part of the problem, hence my concern with descriptors. Politics aside, consider Hillary Clinton’s recent run for President. If she strongly stated what she believed the descriptors were words like strident, shrill, shrewish, and testy. If a man showed equal conviction, none of those words would have been used and positive adjectives like passionate, resolute and strong would have been applied. And yes, job descriptions are often riddled with, “code words,” for male. So, not to demean your colleague’s motives but, “make sure we have a woman,” does still strike me as tokenism. I have a client who recently wanted to pass a resolution mandating that two board seats would be occupied by women. The mandate was opposed, predominantly by younger women at the firm, who believed that if it passed there would always be two — and never more than two — women on the board. As they saw the future, they believed the… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

I agree with the mandates. I was just surprised that with no mandate and after a cursory review that a man noticed something missing. I had never before heard that kind of comment from a man in a decision making role and was surprised he noticed!

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I worked for The Limited (now L Brands) for 11 years where the majority of the executive staff, including the CEO, were women. So it’s hard for me to even comprehend the so-called barriers that exist. That aside, and forgive me for generalizing, but I find women more collaborative, less ego driven and much more intuitive on the personal side in almost any workplace scenario. And if you think about how key those attributes are today and look for them, all those characteristics will show up in any interview.

I certainly don’t think it’s about a Title 9 kind of thing for the workplace, but I think a more objective and open mindset when considering who would help your company the most in any given role certainly would be the first step towards a more equal environment. Do we really have to say that in 2018? I guess so.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

The merchandising-centric good-old-days of retail are coming to a close. As technology drives the next era, new challenges for women are emerging. Initially framed as a bro-culture annoyance, this tech-shift can present a downright hostile systemic problem as numerous articles, including this wake-up call from the New Yorker, have documented.

I’ve not personally experienced roadblocks in many years, but am concerned for the next generation of tech-savvy women. Retail desperately needs them and must cultivate an environment of respect in order to keep them.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

The solution to this is simple, at least in theory: recruit on merit, promote on merit, and ensure that opportunities are open to all and that all are encouraged to advance as far as their talent and desire will take them. Admittedly, putting that into practice in a world where bias does exist is somewhat more difficult.

Let’s remember that there are many great women in retail doing a fantastic job: Ulta’s Mary Dillon, Build-A-Bear’s Sharon Price John, Williams Sonoma’s Laura Alber, TJX’s Carol Meyrowitz, Apple’s Angela Ahrendts, Children’s Place’s Jane Elfers, Kingfisher’s Véronique Laury, and so on.

Interestingly, most of those retailers listed have outperformed the market! Is it because women are at the helm? Maybe. But it completely proves that women are more than up to the job!

Jasmine Glasheen
Staff
The idea that a man can’t compliment a woman on her performance in the workplace is woefully misguided. Treating one’s female colleagues like colleagues means complimenting them (us) on our work when necessary, not on our appearance. It means not inquiring about our personal lives more than you would our male colleagues and … perhaps most of all… it means not confusing friendly professionalism with sexual intent. Women in business walk a fine line between being perceived as cold or offputting, or being perceived as bimbos who are unequipped for advancement. This is amplified for women who are part of ethnic or racial minorities. If you feel that women’s perceived sexuality is part of why they (we) come up against roadblocks in our career growth chances are, frankly, that you are part of the problem. To be part of the solution one must be willing to acknowledge where they’ve fallen short in the past — as Mr. Thayer did — and be willing to change your behavior to become part of the evolving discussion on… Read more »
James Tenser
BrainTrust
Warren, you deserve credit, I think, for a forthright statement about the mind-trap that we stumble into when we try to compensate for our unconscious biases. Plenty of magazines have published “Women of the Year” special reports, and I think those articles are welcomed by most readers. Yet the act of calling out successful women as extraordinary seems to carry its own innate bias. And I’d never want to profile a businesswoman primarily because she has overcome the “misfortune” of being born to a disadvantaged gender. On balance, then, as a fellow “recovering journalist” I’m with you. It’s a good thing to periodically shine a spotlight on women who excel in the workplace. Not because it should be surprising (it’s not!) or rare, but because the conversation elevates us all and opens our minds to the true meaning of merit. Gosh, I hope I’m not being a jerk when I say this, but it’s probably up to female readers to determine the validity of the upcoming magazine coverage. If you tell true stories about individuals… Read more »
Sky Rota
BrainTrust

I believe it was always about control & still is. Woman were always a threat to men & still are, that’s why they hold them down. From birth, parents must teach “all” there children to respect each other equally. Not any specific type of person more than another. Boys aren’t better than girls in any way.

I don’t come from a bias background as my father’s equal partner for over 25 years was a woman. My father complimented her on a regular basis saying, “Sandy is the smartest person I ever met”! My parents treat my 4 siblings “equally,” we have 2 girls & 2 boys. In my company, besides my mother is my COO Robyn McGuinness, allow me to honor her personally. She is a visionary, she doesn’t see age or gender etc, she treats me as an equal. I am honored to have a strong woman like her who always believed in me and has my back. Gen Zers are “team players.” Hopefully you all can learn from us. Thank you!

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

As a female founder of a startup devoted to disruptive retail, and with 30 years of professional design experience behind me, I’ve seen and directly experienced enormous improvement in the advancement of women in the workplace. Many of these advancements are due to women who have stepped up and created opportunities for other women. And, industry efforts, such as Warren’s initiative outlined here, create opportunity such as the June cover story and The Endcap feature stories he is spearheading.

Women in today’s workplace are ready and looking for opportunities to advance their careers, companies and industries. Creating these opportunities is key to eradicating bias and advancing women.

Susan O'Neal
BrainTrust
1 month 6 days ago
The devil is in the details on this issue, that is what makes it so difficult. I have 20+ years in the brand marketing and retail industries. I have earned positions of respect in corporate contexts as well as being the founder and CEO of a startup in the space. Sometimes my gender is an advantage, sometimes it is neutral and sometimes it is a disadvantage — this is true for everyone, regardless of their gender. Since you’re asking for the female point of view specifically… In my career there has only been one, egregious #metoo level incident. It involved a client (who was a retailer). The details are as bad as anything else we’ve already heard, but what is worth calling out is how my colleagues (both male and female) stepped up to show their support for me, and that they got the opportunity to do that only because I told them about it. So this is my first point — the worst instances are usually perpetrated by a few men, behaving badly often,… Read more »
Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

Wow! What great and thought-provoking posts everyone! Thank you! They’ve helped me refine my thoughts, and the June cover story will now be “Women in Retail” and not “Outstanding Women.” As you know, I have long had discomfort with the latter. So the story will be on the points so many of you have articulated here so well. I am sincerely grateful!

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust
Kate Manne says it all, the VERY best “logic” I have heard on the subject. Having experienced misogyny myself in a number of ways over the years, now it just seems a fact of doing business. Most women have found ways and methods to persevere over misogyny or face being perceived by male peers as a _____. (Do I even need to spell this one out?) Speaking for myself and the conversations I have had with women I have worked with over time, we have learned to adapt and live with misogyny while pushing forward. The alternative? Stop inventing, thinking and creating. The tragic reality of misogyny: the value women can bring to business is lost. For some industries like tech, this reality is more than a loss; it is detrimental to the evolution of technology itself and its usefulness in human lives. The question of why are there so few women in tech answers itself. Misogyny is so pervasive it is the norm. Most of us might agree women think differently than men. In… Read more »
Allison McGuire
BrainTrust

Leaders can eradicate the biases by openly discussing the issues. Presidents and CEOs need to share what is unacceptable in the workplace and create a vision for change. Many people, like the writer of this article, have been unsure of how to express themselves and at times felt intimidated to speak up. These conversations need to start happening and women have to be part of the conversation. That’s the only way empathy and understanding will begin.

It’s easy to say that women should feel comfortable speaking up when they feel unfairly treated, but unless we are sure that our comments will be met with support at the top level, that is still unlikely to happen. It all starts at the top.

Kelly Harlin
Guest
Thank you for recognizing women and honoring them with your efforts. I have spent my entire career in the retail sector and have been fortunate to have worked with some great men and women that mentored me and recognized my talents and value. Early in my career, men dominated executive leadership positions and dictated who was given opportunities to advance. The majority of the time, men were promoting men and women were left to lower level positions. The “good old boy” network was very prominent. I have seen a shift, with more women reaching executive and leadership levels, which is great, but another dynamic exists that is just as concerning as women being overlooked by their male peer and leaders — women are sabotaging other women. Instead of women supporting each other and helping each other succeed, some women look at their female peers as competition that needs to be undermined and discredited. A mean girl mentality certainly exists in some workplaces. This attitude can be just as damaging to women in the workplace as… Read more »
Mike Osorio
BrainTrust
A wonderful discussion here and I thank both Warren Thayer for starting it, and my colleagues for an intelligent and thought provoking discussion. I think a critical aspect of moving this dialogue forward to real results is recognizing large and small organizations that are leading the world in resolving a seemingly intractable issue. One such organization is LVMH Group, the Paris-based luxury conglomerate, which several years ago began a concept they called “EllesVMH” to attack this. Transparently, I previously worked in senior roles for DFS Group, one of the 70+ “Maisons” or companies in the LVMH Group. I continue to be impressed by the commitment made by senior executives throughout the Group to make the goal of “50/50 in 2020”, 50% of senior roles held by women, achievable. I watched (and participated) over the last decade as the efforts in DFS contributed to ongoing improvements in the % of women reaching senior roles in the Group. They are well on their way to achieve 50/50 by 2020 and it has not been an easy road.… Read more »
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Braintrust
"We’re making progress here, but not enough. I am constantly having to represent the female POV with the store innovation work that I do..."
"More difficult and more pervasive is the collective weight of an infinitely greater number of subtle prejudices held innocently by good people."
"The fact that we are still talking about misogyny in 2018 shows just how deep this issue truly is."

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