Some of the biggest pushes in retail innovation are coming from female executives. Yet leadership in the retail sector, like many other industries, is not always diverse. The number of female chief executives within Fortune 500 companies fell by 25% within the past year, according to a May 2018 article by The New York Times. This goes contrary to the commonly held belief that the number of women in high-powered positions would slowly increase over time.
A recent study entitled "Women in the Workplace 2018" by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey reinforced those findings. Now in the fourth year of research, the partners examined 279 companies and surveyed over 64,000 employees and found that there is a significant gap in gender diversity within the American workplace. "The proportion of women at every level in corporate America has hardly changed," the survey stated. "Progress isn't just slow. It's stalled."
The gap in retail leadership is specifically apparent when it comes to executive turnover rates. This past spring the Network of Executive Women reported that turnover rates in leadership positions within retail are higher for women (31%) than for men (24%). Women are also leaving those C-suite jobs nearly four times as often as their male peers.
The below list represents women who have risen to leadership positions within the retail industry and are executing on their vision in ways tangible to consumers. These executives are approaching business with new methodologies when it comes to selling, marketing, technology and merchandising. They are successfully challenging the industry to move into new ways of doing business.
Deborah Yeh, Sephora
Deborah Yeh is the current senior vice president of marketing and brand at Sephora, but came to the position with a depth of experience in the retail industry. She once served as the vice president of marketing at Old Navy and also as the group manager of market planning at Target. Yeh is focused on innovation, especially when it comes to how the company is experimenting with different pop-up formats and in-store experiences. This merging of technology with customer service is intentional. She wants all skill levels — from beauty mavens to newbies — to feel inspired.
"A retailer's work is never done, especially at Sephora — we never hit pause on our innovation pipeline."
Senior Vice President of Marketing and Brand at Sephora
Jennifer Hyman, Rent the Runway
Jennifer Hyman made the concept of clothing rental widely accepted. Her company, Rent the Runway, saved women money by allowing them to borrow designer clothing instead of purchasing items that would only be worn once. Since founding the company nine years ago, her business has expanded from the notion of renting special occasion clothing to the radical idea that consumers may not need to own a wardrobe anymore. Instead, there may be a future where consumers can continually replace and return apparel and clothing can live "in the cloud."
That notion may become more of a reality. The company recently announced a partnership with WeWork where the coworking spaces will act as clothing drop-off locations in six cities throughout the U.S.
"I have an expectation that everyone who works here is going to have big ideas, is going to push the needle, that we're going to be able to continuously disrupt ourselves. People are going to be opinionated and that's how we're going to grow."
CEO and Founder of Rent the Runway
Steph Korey and Jen Rubio, Away
Three years ago Steph Korey and Jen Rubio launched digitally-native brand Away. They first met and became friends as employees at Warby Parker and spun their e-commerce and supply chain skills into a luggage company for a new era. Their products have been disrupting the industry by focusing on lifestyle and supplying consumers with answers for pain points when they travel — most famously the ability to charge a phone via a suitcase. Away was named a potential unicorn on Forbes' Next Billion-Dollar Startups for 2018 list.
"Creating a brand people love is easier to do now than ever, but it also means there is a lot more noise because more brands are being born that are not really that authentic or genuine."
Co-Founder of Away
Monica Arnaudo, Ulta
Ulta recently made the Fortune 500 list, thanks in part to the work of Monica Arnaudo, senior vice president of merchandising at the retailer. She focused on bringing both mass and prestige beauty products into the same store while delivering an elevated shopping experience. Customers are encouraged to try, touch and experiment with brands or to make an appointment for in-house beauty services.
"Beauty is an emotional category and it is a category that our guests really love to play [with] and experience."
Senior Vice President of Merchandising at Ulta
Maggie Winter, AYR
In 2014 Maggie Winter helped launch women's apparel company AYR, or All Year Round, with the backing of retailer Bonobos. By the following year, the company had become its own self-sufficient brand with both a brick-and-mortar and digital presence.
Winter's background at J. Crew helped set the stage for the next iteration of retail. The company currently has two locations — one in SoHo, New York, and one in Venice, California — while its direct to consumer operations continue to grow.
"In order to build a truly resilient brand that was going to have lasting power for the next generation we needed to be digitally fluent."
CEO and Co-Founder of AYR