Shoptalk makes a statement with a conference featuring only women speakers

Discussion
Photo: Shoptalk
Nov 14, 2019
George Anderson

In an industry in which male executives regularly refer to their customers using strictly feminine pronouns, it has always been striking how relatively few women have risen to positions of power within retail. Sure, there are high-profile examples of female CEOs, including at Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Rite Aid, Stitch Fix and Ulta Beauty, but the industry, by-and-large, continues to be male-dominated.

Those who have attended industry trade conferences over the years have encountered speaker lineups skewed heavily toward men. To be sure, strides have been made, with more women speakers sharing their expertise on a wide variety of topics. Both the National Retail Federation’s Big Show and Shoptalk have featured more female speakers in recent years. The shows have also included a “Girls’ Lounge” where women discussed a wide variety of topics centered around achieving success in an industry that has often failed to recognize and reward talented female contributors.

With all of the above as a backdrop, comes news from Shoptalk that its event next March in Las Vegas will feature only women speakers.

“Speaker gender parity in 2020 would have been relatively easy, but it would not have shifted the dialogue in the way that we have done consistently,” said Simran Rekhi Aggarwal, founder and president of Shoptalk, in a statement. “Is this all-female speaker approach extreme? Absolutely, but we think extreme problems require extreme solutions.”

Shoptalk cited statistics showing more college-educated women in the workforce than men and the lack of women in CEO positions within the S&P 500 as evidence supporting the need for change. 

“We’ve seen women founding companies, driving startups forward and rising through the ranks at brands, retailers and tech companies, yet progress has remained woefully slow,” said Zia Daniell Wigder, Shoptalk’s chief global content officer. “This is simply unacceptable and untenable.”

“We have always worked hard to do the right thing, no matter how difficult or inconvenient that might be,” said Caroline Farley, Shoptalk’s chief growth officer. “Incremental change just won’t get us there,” she added.

As part of its announcement, Shoptalk has committed to featuring an even split between female and male speakers beginning with its event in 2021. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your take on the significance of Shoptalk’s announcement? How would you rate the progress that retailers are making when it comes to recognizing, mentoring and rewarding female talent within their ranks?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Only women speaking at a conference means nothing in light of the hidden male bias embedded in algorithms. "
"I think it’s a clever hook, to have all female speakers. "
"Controversy, publicity, and advertising. Despite the hoopla, the women retail leaders of today can and do stand on their own – in the same room as men."

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22 Comments on "Shoptalk makes a statement with a conference featuring only women speakers"


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Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

A lineup of just female speakers … It’s a bold move that addresses a problem that plagues not only retail, but the business world in general. I think it has become obvious that gender doesn’t determine the ability to lead and be successful. An important step in resolving the inequality of male to female execs is creating awareness, and Shoptalk’s announcement is doing exactly that.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

At the risk of starting a gender war, who cares what their gender is? I care about what they have to say. Put on smart people who talk well about topics of interest – that’s what matters.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
I think Shoptalk’s plan for a conference with all-female speakers is excellent. However, that will not be the game-changer in the workplace. The problem is this: time. It took centuries for this country to elect a black president, and we’ve yet to elect a female, which will happen — it is only a matter of time. Women did not begin to enter the workplace as career women until the 1970s. Before that, women were mostly secretaries that, once married, usually quit their job. Today we have most families as dual-income families, which means most women are working. Since the 1970s women have slowly advanced to higher-level positions, including CEOs. It’s taking a long time because, unfortunately, things typically change slowly. There is no doubt that women are as capable as men in every role. It took centuries for women to be accepted in the military. So time is the issue, and each company will move at its own pace. The good news is that we, as a country, are recognizing women and supporting them in… Read more »
Bob Amster
BrainTrust

It’s been a long time coming. Many women in this industry were pioneers in certain specialties (Coco Chanel and Frieda Loehmann to name just two) and yet most of the top jobs went to men for decades. Having said that, it looks a little hokey to suddenly only have women speakers at this event. Is it possible to overdo a good thing? Yes, like eating too much chocolate.

Chris Buecker
BrainTrust

There is no doubt that we need more women at the top management level. Surveys have shown that companies are more successful with a better gender mix at the top level. I believe that the U.S. is in this respect further along than Europe. In my main sector, CE retail, there are still extremely few women on the management team or on the board. The reason are various. In the future I believe that in Europe there will be, at least for a certain time period, a compulsory minimum quota of women as board members.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

It always amazes me how few female executives there are in an industry where most consumers are female. Even more so because the senior female executives that have or do run retailers – like Carol Meyrowitz, Laura Alber, Fran Horowitz, Corie Barry, Barbara Rentler, and many more I have missed – are highly successful. Perhaps this lack of representation is why so many retailers get things wrong when it comes to products and propositions.

This move by ShopTalk helps us to focus on the lack of balance. It will also hopefully draw attention to the barriers that some women face, as well as showing younger females in the industry that their voices matter.

In some ways, I don’t like anything that excludes others and I don’t really like positive discrimination. But then I don’t much like many of the issues women in the workplace have to face either. So, on balance, I am supportive of this bold action.

Heidi Sax
BrainTrust

I love it. I would have been happy with a 50/50 split, but 2020’s female only panel is bound to spur conversation and bring fresh thinking to the table. I found the so-called “girls” lounge woefully misguided with word choice. Talk about mixed messages — way to infantilize women as you profess to build them up!

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

I think this is great and smart of Shoptalk to do this. I don’t necessarily agree that it is the “right thing to do” to “balance” what was traditionally done in the past, namely mostly men speaking. It is the right thing to do because it is good for business. Women in my humble opinion are just as, if not more, qualified to be in senior positions in our industry and it’s about time the industry realizes this.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust
I think it’s a clever hook, to have all female speakers. I don’t think it’s any more of a statement than that. Now, retailers don’t do a particularly good job of recognizing ANY talent in their ranks – particularly stores – because the transient nature of the in-store workforce is baked into their business model, but that’s not really what we’re talking about here. Maybe we’re not doing anyone any justice by calling the shopper “she.” It sort of presumes housewives are doing the shopping, while men do other things to be busy. Or presumes her interest in the latest fashion (vs. men’s interest) and dinner menus. It’s an old, boring story. Straight from the movie Mad Men. In the midst of an otherwise dismal campaign, Kamala Harris has done one thing I find very interesting: the pronoun she uses to describe future or hypothetical presidents is “she,” not “he.” We’ve certainly never had a she (almost doesn’t count), but Harris makes the point in that subtle way, “we certainly could.” And she has talked… Read more »
David Weinand
BrainTrust

As a middle aged white dude, I’m not sure my opinion really matters. I did, however, have this announcement forwarded to me by two executive women, and they didn’t really love it. To quote one, “I have to say, I actually find it super off putting.” I think the intention is good but it may not have been necessary to swing the pendulum that far over.

Ken Wyker
Guest

I love this move by Shoptalk specifically because it is a little over the top. As they indicate in their explanation, they could have simply set a goal of 50/50 representation and “checked off the box” for gender equity, but instead they did something that really sends a message.

For those who see this announcement and think that it’s crazy to have the show (or anything) dominated by just one gender, that just might be the feeling they are trying to get you to experience and understand — it is crazy.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Sure, it’s a gimmick, but I love it. The question is whether men’s tender feelings will be hurt and they’ll fail to register as a result.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

“Women only” speaking fully demonstrates exactly how low the bar is for women in the business of retail. Only women speaking at a conference means nothing in light of the hidden male bias embedded in algorithms. Women think differently than men, it is a fact. Female AI is the new challenge for women to solve to move towards parity with men.

Kathleen Fischer
Guest

It’s a smart move in the current environment, both in and out of the retail industry. It marks another step forward in recognizing female leadership while also offering a way for ShopTalk to create buzz around the conference. There is still a lot of progress that needs to be made to recognize and reward female talent, but anything that brings attention and awareness is a plus.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Controversy, publicity, and advertising. Despite the hoopla, the women retail leaders of today can and do stand on their own – in the same room as men. This effort by Shoptalk to capture parts of the #MeToo movement and diversification at the retail level is a clever and notable gesture, but the real changes need to start at the board level for retail organizations with decision making, not speaking engagements. Less than 20 percent of corporate board directors of the S&P 500 are women and globally less than 14.7 percent are women.

Rick Moss
Staff

I just want to say, yes, maybe it’s just a statement, but Shoptalk made it. Bravo. The strategy may be flawed, but what they’re doing takes courage and conviction. Good for them.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

While there is an element of PR/marketing cleverness involved here, it’s a fantastic gesture to draw attention to a real-world equality issue. Ananda nailed the key issue, however, in that while it’s great for ShopTalk to highlight the inequality in retail, it takes board-level action to create any true change. I see that some BrainTrust members have raised the question of whether this will impact ShopTalk attendee rates, but I don’t foresee that happening at all. It’s a bold move and I fully expect we’ll see a big uptick in attendance as this event continues to grow and shock the industry. Will this force any real change? I’m not so sure, time will tell, but it’s certainly overdue!

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

Gender should never been the determining factor on who is hired either as a speaker or an employee. They are sending the wrong message.

George Anderson
Staff

Shoptalk is demonstrating with this announcement that there are many great minds within the industry to address the educational needs of the thousands of industry professionals who attend its conference. It just happens to turn out in this case that they are all women. As an aside, I can’t remember anyone using the word gimmick to describe speaker lineups comprised solely of men way back when I first started attending trade shows.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I think we’ll know real progress has been made when we no longer find it necessary to ask the question.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

This isn’t the answer to the problem and I’m not really sure how to react to this. On one hand, I really love that there is a retail conference with all female speakers. On the other hand as a female speaker, I want to be recognized for my abilities, and my what my work contributes to the industry, not just for my gender.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

While the response is polarizing as one would expect, I think credit goes to Shoptalk to for taking that bold step and shaping the conversation. I think Shoptalk will be seen as a trailblazer, and come out ahead in terms of market perception and their brand equity.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Only women speaking at a conference means nothing in light of the hidden male bias embedded in algorithms. "
"I think it’s a clever hook, to have all female speakers. "
"Controversy, publicity, and advertising. Despite the hoopla, the women retail leaders of today can and do stand on their own – in the same room as men."

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