Women in Retail Leadership Circle (WIRLC) recently released its 11th annual Top Women in Retail report. This latest report features in-depth interviews with dozens of honorees heading up retail companies from across the country, including Revlon, Five Below, The Container Store, Athleta, ModCloth, and more.
We asked these retail leaders what key obstacles they faced early in their careers, and how they overcame them. Here’s a sampling of their answers:
Helen Aboah, CEO, Urban Zen
“The main obstacle in the beginning of my career was to learn to advocate for myself and not be afraid to ask for either salary increases or promotions. I had to learn to ask for what I wanted and be confident that I deserved it based on my experience, skill sets and measurable accomplishments.”
Joanne Crevoiserat, CEO, Tapestry, Inc.
“Early in my career, I relied on my work ethic and my own experience to drive results. It wasn’t until after I became a mom that I really began to appreciate how a strong team can support better work-life balance AND drive even better business results. As individuals, we have limitations on what we can accomplish, but the potential of a strong, diverse team can be limitless.
Over time, I’ve also come to appreciate the value of failures and setbacks in the business. Reflecting on ‘what didn’t work’ shows we tried to stretch the possible, and those learnings can unlock even more potential in the future. The key to leveraging this well is to develop a test-and-learn framework to take measured risk and test new possibilities.”
Laura Denk, Executive Vice President, Chief Merchandising Officer, The Michaels Companies
“In 2008, my whole division was dissolved at a department store retailer and I had to decide ‘what to do with my life.’ I chose to step out of my comfort zone and learn more about sourcing, product development and specialty retail. That decision would set a new trajectory for my career. I learned so much from my experiences and I wouldn’t be where I am today without overcoming the adversity from that stage in my career.”
Bea Dixon, Co-Founder and CEO, The Honey Pot Company
“The biggest obstacle was drumming up access to investors and venture capital partners. It’s a tireless mission for most entrepreneurs, but became increasingly more challenging as a woman-owned, Black-owned brand who was sitting at the table talking about vaginas. Startups led by Black women receive less than 1 percent of venture capital funding. It’s truly a conversation around access and how to generate forums for broader funding for not only diverse humans, but diverse business initiatives.”
Leslie Ferraro, President, QVC U.S. and HSN
“When I first started in business, I was in the mode of ‘proving myself’ and putting all of my energy into my career. I knew I was making sacrifices elsewhere, but I thought I had to do it to get ahead. A few years in, I realized this was a mistake. First, it was unhealthy; I ended up just feeling depleted and not always performing at my best. Second, I discovered that some of my most creative ideas come to me outside of work. By prioritizing things like healthy eating, time with family and friends, exercising, and making time to do things ‘out of my routine or comfort zone,’ I became more effective in my career.”