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?

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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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35 Comments on "Honoring women"


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Art Suriano
Guest
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
2 years 6 months 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
Staff

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
Laura Davis-Taylor
Chief Strategy Officer, InReality
2 years 6 months ago
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.