Shoptalk on Wednesday said it is addressing the underrepresentation of women in business leadership by requiring all of the speakers at its next major industry event to be female. The main Shoptalk conference will be held next March 22 to 25 in Las Vegas, according to an organization press release.
The requirement includes "main stage keynotes, track speakers, interviewers and moderators — a total of more than 225 speakers," the organization said. Some 60 confirmed male speakers are being asked to swap places with a woman in their ranks, Zia Daniell Wigder, Shoptalk chief global content officer and co-founder of the group's Groceryshop and Retail Club arms, told Retail Dive in an interview.
If they don't have a woman in top leadership — a likely possibility given that, as Shoptalk notes, the percentage of S&P 500 companies led by women remains at just 5% despite there being more college-educated women than men in the workforce — the group suggests nominating a client or other woman to represent them, she also said. Starting in 2021, the event will feature 50/50 male and female speakers every year, according to the release.
A key tenet of the #MeToo female empowerment movement is that much of the inappropriate treatment suffered by women in the workplace is due to an imbalance of power that allows men to get away with egregious behavior with little to no consequences to their careers, while women in their ranks fail to achieve equal pay for equal work and are passed by for advancement.
That's changing, and in recent months several retailers, including Lululemon, Nike, Signet Jewelers and Guess, have kicked men out of top leadership after reports of sexual harassment and even abuse that in some cases went on for years. Nike, even after shaking up its C-suite and succession plan last year, continues to face a reckoning in the form of lawsuits and a stream of bad press about a corporate environment that employees say is toxic for women, even as it has identified sales to women as essential to its growth.
But the industry's progress is too slow in Shoptalk's estimation. While it will maintain parity among its speakers starting year after next, its 2020 all-female lineup is meant to send a message — and for that, parity wouldn't cut it, according to Simran Rekhi Aggarwal, Shoptalk founder and president.
"Is this all-female speaker approach extreme?" she said in a statement. "Absolutely, but we think extreme problems require extreme solutions."
The goal is "to move the needle," Wigder said. "Unfortunately, efforts to date haven't moved the needle. Despite all kinds of great efforts, we're still at the same place. We're also putting companies on the spot — for some companies it's not going to be possible, and that's going to mean that we're not going to be able to feature those companies."
Such companies are likely behind in building leadership that, more broadly in business, in the near future won't be so dominated by white men, she also said. "Going forward, the senior-level workforce is going to look very different," she said. "There will be diversity in terms of gender, in terms of race. In so many ways what we see today is not sustainable long term."
Dr. Laura Sherbin, managing director of [email protected], a division of Working Mother Media, which includes the National Association for Female Executives, called Shoptalk's plans "an incredibly powerful move."
"It sends a message to women and young girls everywhere that their voices are important and it paves the way for future generations of talent," she told Retail Dive in an email. "We find in our research role models shape the ambitions of young women — they will reach as high as they can see."