- For the 21st time, Fortune has published its list of Most Powerful Women, with several in leadership positions at major U.S. retailers. Apple SVP of retail and online stores Angela Ahrendts is the highest-ranking retail executive this year, moving from 13 to 12.
- Two executives at Home Depot, number 16 Ann-Marie Campbell (EVP of U.S. stores, moving to 16 from 18) and number 41 Crystal Hanlon (president of the northern division, staying at number 41) made the list this year. Judith McKenna, president and CEO of Walmart International and widely seen as Doug McMillon's successor, moved up to 14 from her previous 28.
- The others representing retail on the list are CEOs, including Kohl's Michelle Gass, new to the list at number 21; Ross Stores' Barbara Rentler, moving to 27 from 29; Ulta's Mary Dillon, up to 45 from 48 last year; and Hudson's Bay Company's Helena Foulkes, who dropped to 46 from her perch last year at 12.
The high profiles of the women in retail on Fortune's list belie the situation most female executives find in the workplace. Women have long been the majority of customers for consumer goods companies and retailers, yet their representation ebbs when it comes to leadership at such companies. Alarmingly, the problem is poised to get even worse, according to research from The Network of Executive Women (NEW) released earlier this year.
That leads to work environments at many companies that are untenable. Turnover rates in business leadership positions are far higher for women (31%) than for men (24.1%), and that's particularly true at retail and consumer goods companies, according to NEW. And that leads to situations like those reported at Nike and Lululemon, which have both seen male executives leave under cloudy reports they were guilty of impropriety and fostered toxic work environments. Both brands are staking their prospects on their appeal to women.
Retailers may need more women leaders, though, who bring their perspectives and, some say, different skills. And not just in the top ranks, but also on the board, according to Mark Lipton, graduate professor of management at The New School and author of Mean Men, The Perversion of America's Self-Made Man.
"Boards need to step up and take on a new role, of stewardship of culture," Lipton told Retail Dive in an interview early this year, regarding the handling of then-CEO Laurent Potdevin's abrupt departure. "It's so related to performance. There's solid research, scholarship coming out of business schools, that the more gender diversity on boards the better, that it goes straight to the bottom line. To me it's 'case closed.'"