As a force for change in retail and ecommerce, one of Shoptalk’s fundamental beliefs is that our events serve as a platform for advancing equality for women. The past 10 months have created a heightened urgency to address the distinct challenges women face in the workplace—women are being furloughed, laid off or choosing to leave the workforce at an alarming rate, reversing decades of progress in a matter of months. We believe that it’s never been more important to amplify women’s voices, champion gender equality and forge the way forward for women working in retail.

It’s with this passion and sense of purpose that we introduce Shoptalk Meetup for Women, a new community where women can come together to do business, share ideas and champion others.

In the months leading up to the May 11 launch of Shoptalk Meetup for Women, the Shoptalk team will produce a Shoptalk Original Content series on The State of Women Working in Retail that explores four phases of women’s leadership in retail:

  • Where We Are: A data-driven look at the state of women working in retail, based on Shoptalk’s proprietary research.
  • How We Got Here: Career inspiration interviews with female startup founders and changemakers at large organizations.
  • How We’re Making Waves: Business success stories highlighting successful initiatives by women in our community.
  • Where We’re Headed: A look at corporate and industry initiatives blazing a trail for future female leaders.

The first phase of our Framework, Where We Are, analyzes the results of a survey of 330+ women in the Shoptalk community, the careers of our 1,400+ strong speaker community, and female leadership among Fortune 500 companies, the top 50 retailers and top 50 brands.

Where We Are begins with an examination of the landscape for women working in retail. It will be followed by a deep dive into the impact of COVID-19 on women working in retail and ecommerce.

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See:
Female Leadership

The 2010s saw significant progress for female leadership, but from an incredibly low base. The number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 nearly quadrupled in the last decade1, but in real terms this only meant going from 12 to 44 of 682 CEOs.

Retail and consumer brand companies currently outperform the broader Fortune 500 in terms of female representation at the most senior level. These two industries accounted for more than one-third of the 37 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 in December 2020. Some 12% of retailer and consumer brand companies have a female CEO, compared to just 7% of the Fortune 500 as a whole.

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: Female Leadership

Fortune 500 Companies with Female CEOs

2015

2020

Percent of companies
  • 4%
  • 7%
  • 9%
  • 12%

All companies

Retailers and consumer brands

Source: Fortune Magazine; Shoptalk Analysis

However, the gap between retail and consumer brands and the wider Fortune 500 is shrinking as other industries appoint female CEOs at a faster clip. The number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 nearly doubled in the five years ended 2020; meantime, representation of female CEOs at retail and consumer brands increased by less than one-third (and in real terms only increased by three female CEOs, from 11 to 14).

The progress over the last decade is promising, but the rate of change shows just how far there is to go to reach equality—adding a handful of CEOs every 5-10 years will not move the dial quickly enough. Unfortunately, but also unsurprisingly, the numbers are much worse for women of color. Incoming Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer will be the only Black woman leading a Fortune 500 company when she takes the helm in March. In totality, minority women account for just 4% of senior leaders at the top 50 retailers and top 50 brands2.

At the end of the day, it's about women getting the opportunity to earn a leadership role. The opportunity to interview, be considered, to be mentored, to be included.

- Shoptalk survey respondent

There are, however, encouraging signs that a cohort of female leaders is being developed at the top retailers and brands. Shoptalk analysis found that women account for 32% of the industry’s board members and 24% of senior leadership roles. While these numbers remain too low, this group has the potential to inspire future female leaders, mentor and champion the next generation and promote them into senior roles.

Female C-level Representation at Top Brands and Retailers

Women with selected titles (by company)
Chief Human Resources Officer/Chief People Officer
51%
President/Divisional CEO
33%
Chief Legal Officer/General Counsel
30%
Chief Financial Officer
19%
Chief Information Officer/Chief Technology Officer/Chief Digital Officer
19%
Chief Marketing Officer
10%
Chief Merchandising Officer
10%
Chief Communications Officer
9%
CEO
9%
Chief Operating Officer
6%
Other "C-level" Titles
25%

Percent of total companies
(Top 50 retailers and top 50 brands)

Source: Shoptalk Analysis of Consumer Goods Technology and NRF lists

To close the gap between women and men at the CEO level, studies show that first more women need to be promoted to roles focused on P&L like Chief Operating Officer, Divisional President or President1. Encouragingly, our analysis shows that there is a cadre of female leaders in Divisional President roles (but less so in COO roles). This has the potential to accelerate the pace of change in terms of female leadership over the next 5-10 years as these women get opportunities to take on the top jobs.

The more we work to promote each other, the more we all win. We have the power to collectively move the needle if we make it a priority.

- Shoptalk survey respondent

What Needs to Change: Less Talk, More Action

Our survey revealed many of the challenges facing women in retail and ecommerce, and the need to do more to drive change. Only half said their employers do enough to support women in the workplace. What’s more, only one-quarter could definitively say their gender has never impeded their ability to get promoted or get a raise. That’s roughly the same percentage who could confidently say that hiring and promotion decisions at their company are not influenced by unintentional or unconscious bias.

Intrinsic bias dominates the work culture every day. The more we educate our colleagues, the closer we will get to eliminating/limiting bias.

- Shoptalk survey respondent

Has your gender ever impeded your ability to get promoted? n=252

Do you think hiring and promotion decisions at your company are influenced by unintentional or unconscious bias? n=141

Has your gender ever impeded your ability to get promoted? n=252

Yes
44%
No
27%
Unsure
29%

Do you think hiring and promotion decisions at your company are influenced by unintentional or unconscious bias? n=141

Yes
57%
No
29%
Unsure
14%

Source: Shoptalk Survey

When asked what would move the needle for women, respondents issued a clear call for companies to talk less and do more. Over half cited solid, quantifiable improvements—for example, promoting women to leadership positions, implementing equal pay policies and providing mentorship or coaching. Respondents were less keen on feedback opportunities and company support or advocacy groups.

What are the top 3 things that companies should do to move the dial for women working in retail? (Select up to 3) n=252

Promote more women to leadership positions
54%
Implement policies for equal pay
53%
Provide mentorship/coaching opportunities and programs
51%
Offer more flexible hours
37%
Provide equal leave for both parents
25%
Set specific targets/goals for the number of women in leadership positions
25%
Create opportunities for women employees to share feedback
25%
Create employee groups to support/advocate for women
13%

Source: Shoptalk Survey

Women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored in most corporate settings, including retail.

- Shoptalk survey respondent

While substantial challenges remain, Shoptalk Meetup for Women presents a unique opportunity for women to connect for new business opportunities, potential partnerships, professional development and meaningful connections that accelerate business and career goals. The feedback we received from our survey, and the enthusiastic response to Shoptalk Meetup for Women so far, have reinforced our belief even more about the need for Shoptalk Meetup for Women.

We hope you’ll join us on this journey, which continues next week with a deep dive into the impact COVID-19 has had on our community and culminates May 11-13, 2021 at Shoptalk Meetup for Women.

Now is the time.
Shoptalk Meetup for Women is the place.

Learn More About
Shoptalk Meetup for Women

Methodology: This report is based on the results of a survey of 332 women who are past Shoptalk attendees or other members of the Shoptalk community, conducted in December 2020.

Shoptalk also examined the corporate leadership pages of the top 50 global brands and top 50 US retailers by revenue through December 2020. Our analysis does not include incoming woman leaders who have not yet started their roles. Only companies with publicly available financial data were included in Shoptalk’s executive leadership and board analysis. Tobacco companies and quick-service restaurants were excluded to be representative of Shoptalk’s audience.

1 Crist|Kolder Associates Volatility Report 2020

2 Shoptalk analysis of the top 50 consumer brands and top 50 retailers through December 2020

In the months leading up to Shoptalk Meetup for Women, the Shoptalk team is producing an Original Content series on The State of Women Working in Retail that explores four phases of women’s leadership in retail:

  • Where We Are: A data-driven look at the state of women working in retail, based on Shoptalk’s proprietary research.
  • How We Got Here: Career inspiration interviews with female startup founders and changemakers at large organizations.
  • How We’re Making Waves: Business success stories highlighting successful initiatives by women in our community.
  • Where We’re Headed: A look at corporate and industry initiatives blazing a trail for future female leaders.

Our first piece on Where We Are examined the overall landscape for women working in retail. This week, we’ll hear directly from our community about the impact of COVID-19 on their careers.

The Diverging Impact of COVID-19 on
Women Working in Retail

The Diverging Impact of COVID-19 on Women Working in Retail

Just as COVID-19 has divided the retail industry into haves and have nots, the pandemic’s impact on women working in retail has been similarly polarizing. Our survey of 330+ women in the Shoptalk community shows the pandemic has had both positive and negative effects on women working in retail, challenging the conventional narrative that COVID-19 has had a profoundly negative impact on all women in the workplace.

While one-fourth said the pandemic has negatively impacted their careers, slightly over one-third said it’s had a positive impact. Another 40% said COVID-19 has had no impact on their careers.

How has your career been impacted by COVID-19? n=332

Positively
34%
No impact
40%
Negatively
26%

Source: Shoptalk Survey

We recognize that some “survivor bias” may be present among respondents (the survey primarily went to corporate email addresses, so those who have lost or changed roles may not have responded). And potentially, the 40% who told Shoptalk they’d seen no impact on their careers have become used to the “new normal” nearly one year into the pandemic. But the fact that 74% of respondents have either seen no impact or a positive impact suggests a breadth of repercussions of COVID-19 to the Shoptalk community, rather than purely negative outcomes.

The impact of COVID-19 on women’s careers was relatively consistent across seniority and organization types. Women with children or other dependents did not report a dramatically different career impact than those without kids, though they did identify distinct challenges related to caregiving. These challenges often predated the pandemic but have been exacerbated by it.

I feel uncomfortable talking about my child at work because I am concerned it will be perceived like a disadvantage or a negative for me as an employee and leader compared to a male peer or a female with no children. This stigma needs to change. I have become a more productive and efficient employee as a mother and a more empathetic leader.

- Shoptalk survey respondent

Soft Positives vs. Hard Negatives

A deeper dive into the survey’s findings reveals that the drivers of positive and negative impacts tended to be very different. The women who reported a negative toll cited severe, quantitative impacts such as having their compensation cut, their workload significantly increased or losing their jobs, while those reporting a positive impact most often provided more attitudinal responses such as being challenged in new ways.

Top impacts of the pandemic on women’s careers

Positive n=114

Negative n=80

Positive n=114

  • 67%
  • 39%
  • 29%

I’ve been positively challenged in new ways

I’ve learned new skills

My compensation has increased

Negative n=80

  • 38%
  • 36%
  • 16%

My compensation was cut

My workload has significantly increased

I was furloughed or laid off

Source: Shoptalk Survey

Although a relatively small percentage (16%) of our survey respondents cited being furloughed or laid off, in totality, women in the U.S. lost 156,000 jobs in December alone—accounting for more than 100% of the 140,000 net jobs lost that month—as men gained 16,000 jobs net1. The pandemic has erased more than three decades worth of progress, with labor participation rates for women dropping to levels last seen in the late 1980s2.

I graduated from an MBA program and my offer was rescinded because of COVID (start-up fundraising round postponed indefinitely). The job market to get another job has been so competitive that full-time employment has been virtually impossible.

- Shoptalk survey respondent

Regardless of whether they cited positive, neutral or negative impacts on their overall careers, survey respondents identified multiple COVID-related stressors that have affected them. Once again, those who cited a negative career impact more frequently listed concerns directly related to their performance or job security.

There is a perception that we have the "luxury" to work from home and infinitely more time on our hands. There are no boundaries and work doesn't shut off. I've spent meaningfully less time with my family working from home during the pandemic even though we are all physically in the same space.

- Shoptalk survey respondent

Top job-related stressors by career impact of COVID-19 n=149

Women who reported a positive career impact

Women who reported a negative career impact

Feeling like I always need to be “on”
73%
56%
Keeping up team morale
52%
29%
Balancing work with caregiving/household responsibilities
50%
44%
Finding effective ways to communicate and work with my team virtually
44%
34%
Worrying that I’m failing or falling behind
36%
48%
Managing the day-to-day business
14%
19%
Letting team members go
7%
15%
Worrying about losing my job or being furloughed
3%
32%

Source: Shoptalk Survey

Job Moves During the Pandemic:
Staying Put, New Challenges and Bold Moves

Pandemic-induced economic uncertainty, an overall contraction in the workforce and a desire for job security appear to have slowed down the rate of job moves in the Shoptalk community. We analyzed the careers of the 560 women leaders who previously spoke at Shoptalk or Groceryshop and discovered a significant reduction in the number who accepted new roles in 2020 versus previous years. While the percentage of women who took on new roles in 2020 was in line with the five-year trend among Shoptalk’s previous 880+ male speakers, it represented a steep dropoff for women.

Percent of Past Shoptalk and groceryshop Speakers Who Changed Jobs Annually

Women

Men

Source: Shoptalk Analysis

For those that stayed in their role, many reported taking on new tasks and responsibilities:

I was afforded an opportunity to perform duties and take responsibilities due to the organization's urgent need to adapt. Without COVID, I may not have had this opportunity to excel.

- Shoptalk survey respondent

For those who did change jobs, moves were almost evenly split between promotions and roles at new companies. Some were not afraid to make bold moves—for example, the Chief Marketing Officer of a Fortune 500 retailer joined a well-funded food delivery startup as Chief Customer Officer in May.

What’s Changing for Women Working in Retail

Despite the unique professional challenges women face due to COVID-19, there are reasons for optimism. Two-thirds of Shoptalk’s survey respondents said they are doing more to address the challenges they or their female colleagues face in the workplace because of the pandemic—including 36% who said they’ve made themselves a resource for other women in the workplace. That number jumps to 47% for women VP-level and higher.

How has the pandemic changed the ways that you address the challenges you or your female colleagues face in the workplace? (Select all that apply) n=252

I’ve made myself a resource for other women in the workplace
36%
I’ve turned to new people or groups for support (e.g. a mentor, career coach or women’s organization)
30%
I’ve become more vocal about my personal needs with my manager or employer
29%
I’ve become more vocal about the issues facing women in the workplace
21%
The pandemic hasn’t changed the way I address challenges facing me or other women in the workplace
33%

Source: Shoptalk Survey

This could have a profoundly positive impact on the industry, as an overwhelming 84% of women across all seniority levels said mentors or champions have been either “important” or “very important” to their careers.

Mentorship has been everything for me, with male mentors being just as important as female mentors. It takes someone who cares and is willing to commit the hours to make you successful.

- Shoptalk survey respondent

These opportunities and challenges are why we believe so passionately in Shoptalk Meetup for Women, a place where women can come together to do business, share ideas and champion others.

We hope you’ll join us on this journey, which continues next week with the next phase of our framework, How We Got Here, and culminates May 11-13, 2021 at Shoptalk Meetup for Women.

Methodology: This report is based on the results of a survey of 332 women who are past Shoptalk attendees or other members of the Shoptalk community, conducted in December 2020. Supporting research on Shoptalk’s 1,448 past speakers, including 560 women, was conducted on LinkedIn.

1 National Women’s Law Center analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data

2 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics