Special Edition of “Ask the Influencers” – Who Run the World? Girls! Part 1

December 11, 2017  | By Catherine Seeds

I’d like to take a second to brag on my fellow “Wonder Women” out there: a recent Zenger Folkman study of 51,418 leaders in the U.S. and internationally found that women are considered more effective than male leaders. What’s more, former U.S. President Barack Obama said last month at an invitation-only event in Paris that more women need to be put in positions of power “because men seem to be having some problems these days.”

Seriously though, it’s been tough out there for women – and I’m not just talking about the past few months of daily horrific sexual harassment news stories. As the female cast members from Saturday Night Live recently sang about in the parody music video, “Oh, this been the dang world!”

But enough with the negative already. At Ketner Group, we believe in the positive stories, which is why we wanted to dedicate time to shine the spotlight on women executives who are leading the charge to make a difference. In this two-part blog, we speak with two very talented women entrepreneurs, Janet Hawkins, founder and president of Opterus, and Nikki Baird, co-founder and managing partner at Retail Systems Research. In this first blog, we ask Janet and Nikki about their thoughts on women working in retail and the biggest changes impacting the retail industry:

In your experience up to now, how have things changed for women working in the retail industry? What other changes would you like to see?

Janet: “The biggest change is that I see more women in more influential roles in the industry. I definitely think a women’s perspective was needed.  I also find that the women I’m connecting with are a group of strong, intelligent, driven people who are very interested in collaboration, sharing ideas and taking pleasure when others are achieving.  It wasn’t always that way. I’d love to see this be encouraged and to continue.”

Nikki: “You know, I think retail has been one of the more progressive industries in this regard. Not that retail has been a leader in tackling women in the workplace, but at least in my experience, it hasn’t been nearly as bad as I’ve seen in other industries, like tech or manufacturing or supply chain. In an industry where (much of) a consumer’s shopping money is discretionary, or at least has a lot of competition for those dollars, there has been a big focus on understanding the customer, and a lot of acknowledgement that an executive should not be using their personal experience as the basis for saying they “understand the customer.” I think that has forced more thinking about women’s lifestyles and women’s needs than you see in other industries, and some of it, I have to believe, seeps into the workplace.”

“That said, retail needs to do more. I still see too many women only in marketing or HR roles, and not in tech or supply chain or even store operations. And there’s a real ruckus being raised right now by tech circles about the lack of women in Artificial Intelligence – which retailers are increasingly looking to adopt in some form or another. If it’s a bunch of toxic bros teaching your customer service chatbot how to interact with other toxic bros, that’s going to lead to some real misses on the customer service side for a retailer primarily serving women.”

What do you think are the biggest changes (technology or otherwise) most impacting the retail industry?

Janet: “When Opterus first came to market, only a short time ago, cloud solutions weren’t common.  Back then, a lot of retailers we spoke with believed and asked to host our solution on premise. We stuck to our guns, knowing the future was in the cloud. We don’t have any on premise installations of our solution. In the early days, it was hard to say no at the risk of losing the deal, but we did. Today, we almost never get asked the question. There is much more confidence in technology now and an understanding of the cost savings, efficiencies and benefits embracing new technology can bring to the table.”

Nikki: “Oh, omnichannel by far. Everything that has happened in omnichannel up until now has been a prelude to the REAL change that has yet to happen. Retailers have made only surface-level changes so far, but we’re getting to the point where they can’t move forward without making substantial, structural changes. Look at stores – retailers are struggling to figure out where to wedge in storage for click and collect. Retailers are struggling to figure out where to put the pack & ship station for ship from store. They’re trying to figure out last mile delivery and inventory visibility and in-aisle purchases. And at the same time, they have all these cashier stands that just aren’t getting used. Fixing that means construction and remodel. Literally, rip and replace. None of that has happened yet – though I’m starting to see some signs of it. That’s where big bucks start getting committed, because if you’re going to rip out the front of your store to revamp it because of omnichannel, you might as well tackle the rest of it while you’re at it. And that’s just looking at stores. Supply chain, merchandising, even product design will all feel ripple effects as well as their own direct impacts. When it comes to omnichannel, the industry is just getting started.”

Please read part two of our blog where we talk to Janet and Nikki about how they stay up to date on retail trends, the best advice they’ve been given and what they are most looking forward to in 2018.