Several women leading retail companies have shown up on Fortune magazine’s annual Most Powerful Women in Business, unveiled on Thursday. This year’s list, the magazine’s 20th, includes 26 CEOs who — all told — control $1.1 trillion in market cap, plus seven newcomers, one returnee and nine women in tech, the magazine said.
Among the top 20 were CVS Health Executive Vice President (and President of CVS Pharmacy) Helena B. Foulkes (at number 12); Apple SVP of Retail Angela Ahrendts (a list perennial who rose to number 13); and The Home Depot’s EVP of U.S. Stores Ann Marie Campbell (18).
The magazine also highlighted the careers of newcomers to its list, including Staples CEO Shira Goodman, (who has been asked to stay on since the retailer’s takeover by private equity firm Sycamore Partners), Ulta Beauty CEO Mary Dillon (who is leading one of brick-and-mortar retail’s finest success stories), and Mattel CEO Margo Georgiadis, who arrived from Google earlier this year to boost the toy maker’s technology focus.
Women are crucial to the retail industry — they make up by far the majority of both its workforce and its customer base. While women make up more than half of the retail labor force, that drops with each level of leadership, according to research firm Catalyst. That means that, as with most business sectors in the U.S., there’s a dearth of leadership in the top ranks.
That’s changing, if slowly. Katia Beauchamp, CEO of beauty retailer Birchbox, told Retail Dive last year that having women in leadership positions creates a diverse balance in leadership that in turn offers new perspectives on challenges and opportunities. "Growth and change comes from challenging our own ideas and preconceptions. We need to challenge our thinking and create opportunities for female leaders," Beauchamp said. "The retail industry is no different from any industry in its need for diversity at the top, and without it, we aren't realizing the potential of the evolution that needs to take place."
The women in retail appearing on Fortune's list lead a diverse set of retailers, too. Foulkes has an extensive background in retail and health care marketing and strategy, and has the massive task of maintaining CVS's retail sales growth (minus tobacco sales) as it pivots to becoming an all-around health care company. Ahrendts is spearheading Apple's re-definition of the retail store. And Ann Marie Campbell, who began her career at Home Depot as a cashier, is helping the home improvement retailer score market share, in part by appealing to women, keeping stores and products up-to-date and smoothing online transactions.
The fact is that retailers may need more women leaders, who bring their perspectives and, some say, different skills. "Women have different skill sets than men, and can bring a unique perspective to any organization," Jennifer DiPasquale, co-founder of the Women in Retail Leadership Circle, told Retail Dive last year. "By nature, women are opportunity experts, and when we find one, we can remain laser focused and not let ego get in the way."