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May, 27

Female CEOs lose ground in retail churn

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At the start of this year, a slew of major retailers were searching for the right person to fill their chief executive roles. Most of those companies have now found that person – and in almost every case, it is a man. In recent months, major retailers like Gap, Stitch Fix, Victoria’s Secret, Kohl’s, the Vitamin Shoppe and the RealReal have appointed men to chief executive positions previously held by women.
In general, it is rare for a female chief executive to be succeeded by another woman regardless of the industry, according to an analysis by Catalyst, which works with hundreds of companies to advance the careers of women. “It reminds me of the Barbie movie,” said Kimberly Lee Minor, who is the chief executive of consulting firm Bumbershoot and has been working in the retail industry for 30 years. “We live in this society where women control the majority of consumer spending. They make the decisions and yet, we haven’t moved forward and we have to go into this cycle.”
While the number of female chief executives has been trending upward in recent years, nearly 90% of Fortune 500 companies are run by men. Of the 86 retail companies in the Fortune 1000, only 13 had a woman as chief executive as of July 2023 – down slightly from the year before, according to executive recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles. Retail executives have been quick to note that purchases are largely driven by women, who make most of the spending decisions for their households.
A majority of the industry’s entry-level workforce is also female. Seventy-two percent of cashiers and about half of retail salespersons are women according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The underrepresentation of women in retail C-suite roles “is more pronounced because it’s building off of a female base, which should generate theoretically through the ranks more executive leadership,” said Kathy Gersch, chief commercial officer at Kotter International, which helps large companies train potential leaders.
One of the reasons many companies are turning to men may be explained by the economic tension retailers are facing in 2023. In times of uncertainty, companies become more risk averse and seek executives who have the financial expertise and proven track records, according to academics and people who work at executive search firms. That tends to perpetuate previous hiring decisions and leads to companies seeking those with experience leading a turnaround.
There are reasons for optimism, however. Lorraine Hariton, chief executive of Catalyst, noted that the percentage of women running Fortune 500 companies has more than doubled in the past five years (rising to 10.4% from 4.8%).





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