Last month, Women in Retail Leadership Circle released its 10th annual Top Women in Retail issue. The list features a who’s who in the industry, including women who lead various teams within their organizations and have helped their companies grow and thrive in a challenged retail environment. We profiled these women so you can learn from their wisdom and help you advance in your career. One of the questions we asked this year’s Top Women in Retail honorees was what their biggest challenge has been in their career and how they solved that challenge. From imposter syndrome to gender inequality, these women have overcome a lot to get to where they are today. Read on to learn more about the challenges.

  • Sarah LaFleur, Founder and CEO, M.M.LaFleur: Imposter syndrome is something I’ve dealt with from the very start of M.M. As a female entrepreneur, the system is practically designed to give us imposter syndrome. In 2018, female founders only raised 2 percent of total VC money invested over the entire year! I’ve had many moments in my life when I didn’t feel I was smart or good enough. And when you feel that way, you lose confidence in your logic, your ability to reason, to think critically, to be creative. You lose heart. It’s a downward spiral. When this has happened in the past, I’ve been lucky to have mentors in my life who told me, “No Sarah, you’re smart.” When you believe you’re smart, your brain actually works better. You think more clearly. Today, I try to rely on myself to tell myself that. A tip: You need to put in the work to curtail the downward spiral. It’s called cognitive behavioral therapy in some circles, but you can’t just sit there and whimper when you’re feeling bad about yourself. Tell yourself, “You are smart. You are enough. You must do the thing that you think you cannot do.” (The last one is a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt!)
  • Shawuan Johnson, Executive Vice President/General Merchandise Manager, Tommy Hilfiger North America: As I’ve moved up the ladder in my career, I’ve experienced many environments where I was the only one, especially as an African-American woman. Although some may see this as a challenge, I see it as an opportunity. An opportunity for me to push beyond some of my own self-doubt, to lean into my talent and not be afraid to show my strength and worth, to build bridges and partnerships outside of comfort zones by finding common ground. I believe that because of these realities, I’m able to navigate many different situations and thrive in them. It’s in these moments, when you’re outside your comfort zone, that you’re able to sharpen your social awareness and enhance your leadership skills.
  • Angela Hsu, Senior Vice President, Marketing and E-Commerce, Lamps Plus: Finding a work-life balance between my professional interests and my family was challenging at times earlier in my career. When my daughter was younger, my career decisions were often based on what would be the least disruptive for our family given both my husband and I have demanding jobs and we also enjoy taking on passion projects outside of work. Recently, I began involving my daughter in projects in which we share common interests, such as entrepreneurship and STEM. I helped her launch her first business online when she was 10 years old. I joined the board while she serves as a teen advisor for SigmaCoding.org, a nonprofit organization that fosters STEM education for kids, particularly girls and minorities. Working on projects together with my daughter gives me the opportunity to continue my professional interests while bonding with her.
  • Valerie Hoecke, Global Chief Digital Officer, LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics: My educational background isn’t very relevant to my field. I don’t have a MBA, and I’ve always had super busy bosses and lacked formal mentors. However, I’ve never lacked for opportunities to learn. I read voraciously. I’m driven by a curiosity to learn. I seek out experts and get them fired up talking about what they love. I guess my message is that you can teach yourself an awful lot if you love to soak up information, and if you commit yourself to finding high-quality sources of knowledge. The most insightful people can triangulate information across disparate sources to become experts in new and unique ways. I’m always striving to do that.
  • Marisa Sharkey, Co-Founder and President, Birdies: I’m still trying to solve it! My biggest challenge has been pushing myself to take risks. I’m definitely out of my comfort zone as an entrepreneur, and while it’s scary, I’ve been able to get more comfortable with all of the uncertainty as we’ve been building the Birdies brand. I’m very analytical by nature, but as an entrepreneur there’s no road map, and there’s not always one right answer. I’m constantly pushing myself to try new things for our brand and for my own leadership style.
  • Amy Errett, CEO and Founder, Madison Reed: I can tell you in one word: gender. I think there’s no question that women in business have faced a different set of standards. We’ve had to be faster, smarter, have more grit, more perseverance and more resilience. It’s tempting to feel like a victim. But I think the greatest gift a woman can have is to keep her eye on the prize — pay it forward with people: be competent; be great at what you do; work harder than everyone else; and don’t be a victim to gender differences, but rather a pioneer of change. It may sound pretty basic, but by being good at what we do every day, women are driving change.

To read all of the 2020 Top Women in Retail honorees’ biggest challenges and learn more about the women mentioned in this article, download our 2020 Top Women in Retail resource here. If you’re a WIRLC member, you automatically have access to the resource here.