This Year’s 25 Most Inspirational Women Share Insights for the Next Generation

·31 min read

This International Women’s Day, WWD’s Fairchild Studio teamed up with Berns Communications Group to spotlight 25 women who represent inspirational leaders in business.

These women have not only overcome challenges and faced the glass ceiling head-on but have fostered space within the fashion, apparel and retail industry for future women leaders to grow — even taking the time to give other women a helping hand.

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Here, WWD hears more from these extraordinary women on challenges they see in the industry, the opportunities for young women in business and advice they would give their younger selves.

Nancy Berger, senior vice president/publishing director, chief revenue officer at Hearst, Youth & Wellness Group

Nancy Berger - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Nancy Berger - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Nancy Berger: Volunteer and try to sit in on as many meetings as possible so you are exposed to others within your organization and learn the sales pitch, the strategy and the way business gets done. Knowledge and visibility is power.

Do your homework before each meeting: look up attendees on LinkedIn to understand their background and experience. Do some research on the topic being discussed and be prepared to add insight if/when the opportunity arises.

Don’t underestimate that companies want to hear what you, a younger and important demographic, thinks and believes.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

N.B.: Be three steps ahead of your boss. Anticipating what she/he will need goes a long way.

Strive to have executive presence. This plays a major role in your success. This is a combination of confidence, presence and charisma ­— from first impression to lasting impression.

Build a network. This is your power base. Your network should be within and outside of your category of business.

Be a risk taker. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want: the promotion, the raise, the corner office.

Take advantage of all the capabilities of LinkedIn.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

N.B.: There are still too few women CEOs. Women are under-represented in senior technology positions, as fashion and retail businesses continue to move deep into tech-infused operations.

The opportunity: it’s new frontier. So much is changing. Be at the forefront of change.

Kendra Bracken-Ferguson, founder and CEO of BrainTrust Founders Studio

Kendra Bracken-Ferguson - Credit: prolyphik1photos.com
Kendra Bracken-Ferguson - Credit: prolyphik1photos.com

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Kendra Bracken-Ferguson: Know when it’s time to move on; it is OK to outgrow a role, a company and opportunity. Be honest about what you need to thrive. Ask for help. Dream bigger. Don’t let fear of not completing your goal block the greatness ahead of you. Stay in a positive state. Commit to prayer and meditation — fuel for the soul.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

K.B.F.:

• Build a braintrust of trusted advisers, mentors and colleagues

• Play to your strengths

• Leave room for your blind spots

• Evolve your network as you grow in your career; make room for your network to expand

• People need to feel included or important; figure out what your team needs to perform and adapt to those needs

• Sit at the table

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

K.B.F.: The challenge is lack of diversity in leadership. Diversity in gender, cultural identity, experiences, strategic approach and systems all matter. Women business leaders have an opportunity to create a pipeline of talent and show that diverse teams are more likely to have higher levels of success, solve chronic problems and be innovative.

Elizabeth Buchanan, chief commercial officer of Rokt

Elizabeth Buchanan - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Elizabeth Buchanan - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Elizabeth Buchanan: Trust your instincts. I’ve had so many wasted hours worrying about making the right decision. When even the “wrong decisions” end up being right due to what I learned from them.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

E.B.: Humility and empathy. Leaning into these traits means you listen as a leader and learn. I believe being an impactful leader is all about building trust and showing respect. If great people want to work with you because they are seen, heard and developed, then the rest will follow.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

E.B.: I believe being confident to stay focused on the long-term objectives and mission is the biggest challenge. There is so much short-term noise about the latest and greatest technology or innovation it can be very distracting.

There will always be a lot to learn and try, but ultimately building a brand that consumers love, products that delight and delivering great customer experiences will be what sets the winners apart from the rest of the pack.

Sinead Burke, founder and CEO of Tilting the Lens

Sinead Burke - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Sinead Burke - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Sinead Burke: Surround yourself with people that lift each other up; a community with different points of view. People that not only support each other but also challenge you and encourage your individual development. So much of the work I have been doing in education, advocacy and design requires thought-partners that share similar values and contrasting aspirations.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

S.B.: I don’t believe there is a recipe for success. So much of the work in areas such as accessibility and equity is still evolving and therefore our skill sets need to evolve, too.

That said, vulnerability is important. Even when you are in a leadership position, it is important to acknowledge that “we don’t know, what we don’t know.” Always be curious and hungry to learn.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

S.B.: There is still not enough representation of female leaders — and other groups — at the upper echelons of the industry. I always encourage decision-makers to ask themselves: “Who is not in the room?”

If we can encourage greater intersectionality among those in positions of power, I believe we will create better, safer, more equitable institutions and spaces for all.

Sandra Campos, CEO (former CEO, DVF), ShoulderUp Technology Acquisition Corp, Board Director, Advisor

Sandra Campos - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Sandra Campos - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Sandra Campos: There are so many things I would tell my younger self but most importantly, learn, listen, lean in and find your purpose and make sure that all decisions are in support of that.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

S.C.: Leadership has changed and much more is expected today. Learning to lead with empathy, while bringing out the best in everyone.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

S.C.: Women continue to represent the majority of the consumer base so we know who we are creating products for and need to use that in our decision making and insights in order to drive impact.

Maxine Clark, founder of Build-a-Bear Workshop

Maxine Clark - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Maxine Clark - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Maxine Clark: At 20, I was still in college determined to be a civil rights attorney but went to work in retail to pay for it. Once I got the retail bug, I was in a hurry to have every job up the ladder as fast as possible. Fortunately, my bosses knew me better than I knew myself and planned my promotions appropriately. I would tell myself to be more patient.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

M.C.: Number one would be listening skills. The world is changing rapidly and every contact you make can add value to the world as you see it. Second, know your industry — retail especially is very varied. Be a constant student, it will never be boring. Third, surround yourself with diverse talent — their perspective is invaluable. Fourth, hone your flexibility skills — we need this now more than ever.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

M.C.: Retail is and always has been a dynamic industry. Fashion is about newness. Now newness is about channels, supply chain, data, media, remote work — balancing all of these new aspects and still delivering great product is more complicated and more exciting at the same time. Women have always had to know more about balance and that skill set is needed more than ever.

Christina Fontana, director of strategic partnerships at Alibaba Group

Christina Fontana - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Christina Fontana - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Christina Fontana: Find your voice. I tend to be very reserved so I wish I had learned to speak out sooner.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

C.F.: In this rapidly changing environment, two leadership skills are key for success today. First, have the patience to deal with daily chaos and constant change. Second, understand the power of effective feedback. Feedback is an important tool for both mentoring team members and for advocating for ourselves and for changes in our organization with our leaders.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

C.F.: Although women are the key market driver in fashion and retail they are still underrepresented in leadership roles. A move toward more inclusive workspaces means making work, especially in retail, more compatible with the lives of mothers with stable and flexible schedules.

Melissa Gonzalez, principal, MG2 and CEO of The Lionesque Group

Melissa Gonzalez - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Melissa Gonzalez - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Melissa Gonzalez: Every opportunity is a learning experience. At 20, you are just starting your journey so take none of it for granted, you never know how who you have met or what you learned will come full circle for you down the road.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

M.G.: Pay it forward. When there is an opportunity for knowledge-sharing, do it and make it part of your best practices. The more well-versed the team around you is, the more successful you all are as a whole. Nurture the natural skills you see and positively support the areas you see for development.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

M.G.: I think as women we are still just starting to create the networks of support that have existed for decades for our male counterparts. The more we see each other as allies (and not competition), the more we can lift each other up. It needs to be our natural intention to open doors for each other.

Mindy Grossman, president and CEO of WW International

Mindy Grossman - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Mindy Grossman - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Mindy Grossman: Always expect the unexpected and build what I refer to as “pivot capabilities.” In a world where technology is fueling by-the-minute change, we need to embrace uncertainty, build resilience, surround ourselves with diverse teams that can accept the idea of productive discomfort and facilely respond to change while at the same time be focused on a long-term vision.

These last two years have reinforced this in the extreme but the need for pivot capability has always existed.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

M.G.: For a long time, I think women were told to leave parts of themselves at the door when they came into the work environment. I believe that we need to bring our whole self to any environment.

Traits that were once associated with weakness are now the critical elements of inspired leadership. Vulnerability, empathy, authenticity are strengths and are expected in leaders. If you want to build an enduring culture, attract, retain and develop talent, you also need to embrace diversity and build a culture of belonging and allyship.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

M.G.: So many industries are at a pivotal time right now — the acceleration of digital, the changing behaviors of how consumers want to interface with content and commerce, the critical need to develop an authentic, engaged community around your brand and ensure trust — all of these things need to be at the forefront of strategy.

There isn’t a divide between digital and physical — it is ensuring that you create an experience that is seamless, intuitive, personalized and creates an authentic connection with your audience.

Karen Katz, former CEO Neiman Marcus Group, board member, adviser

Karen Katz - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Karen Katz - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Karen Katz: Be confident. Work hard and good luck will follow. Be yourself.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

K.K.: Empathy. Low ego. Treat every person you meet with decency and respect. Learn how to be a good follower, because you can learn a lot about how to be a good leader. Allow some of your flaws to show — [it] makes you more approachable and more authentic.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

K.K.: Fast pace of change is one of the hardest things facing leaders in general. The fashion industry has always been fast pace, but with the low barriers to enter the business both from a product, technology or service perspective, keeping pace is one of the biggest challenges.

Understanding your consumer and staying close to her is a huge opportunity. People say they understand their consumer, but don’t really listen. I think this is a big opportunity for people in the business. Too many choices for consumers, so you must listen to their needs, wants and feedback to be successful.

Nicole Leinbach, founder of RetailMinded.com and the Independent Retailer Conference

Nicole Leinbach - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Nicole Leinbach - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Nicole Leinbach: If I had the opportunity to give career advice to my younger self, I would encourage myself to nurture both the strengths and weaknesses of my professional work versus leaning more heavily where I felt most natural. This would have undoubtedly added to my professional experiences and growth.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

N.L.: I believe young, professional women today need to learn patience in their professional growth to respectfully advance in their unique goals. Taking the time to learn from their more established peers and in roles that may not be their dream job can benefit them in ways they didn’t know they needed. Collectively, these efforts will help them in their continued, professional advancement.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

N.L.: Fashion, apparel and retail are constantly evolving industries that challenge today’s young professionals due to the lack of in-person networking, business and general connectivity. These in-person experiences not only build business but build relationships among professionals that may not exist otherwise — ultimately bringing opportunities.

Marigay McKee, general partner at Fernbrook Capital LLC, board member at Aston Martin Lagonda UK Ltd., board member at The Webster, advisory board member at eShopWorld

Marigay McKee - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Marigay McKee - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Marigay McKee: Embrace the unknown; not knowing makes you search harder, do the diligence and be brave. Fear of failure is the biggest impediment to success. Also “proper preparation prevents poor performance” are the five Ps my dad used to talk about — I get it now.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

M.M.: They need to be professional, be prepared, be knowledgeable and be flexible. The world is changing fast. Also, charm helps — intellect and charm are a powerful combination and charm is key to standout.

Being nice and the five Hs of humanity never hurt either: hard work, honesty, humility, humor and heart.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

M.M.: There are so many different challenges in today’s world. Aside from the pandemic, women leaders today need to be more flexible than ever as the parameters and regulations in today’s corporate world keep changing and evolving.

We have to keep forging ahead with grace, yet with resilience and determination.

If your job has become virtual or home-bound, you often need to perform without the interaction of the work community and usual support around you and this can be a challenge for many women today. Juggling (and good organization) is key and making time for strategic thinking is important. Working from home can be isolating. Regular walks for important planning are a good way of getting out, formulating ideas and coming back with a plan.

The opportunities and risk rewards are huge too. Following through, good diligence and a well-executed project will never go unnoticed whether in the office or by virtual delivery. Exceeding expectations, not just meeting them, is always an opportunity.

Great execution is always an opportunity to succeed and get ahead. Good practices are also appreciated in the work environment. A thank you note after each client meeting always helps to show appreciation for people’s time with the added value of empathy and kindness — both are tangible assets today and more likely to be noticed if accompanied by effectiveness in the delivery.

Phyllis Newhouse, CEO of ShoulderUp Technology Acquisition Corp., founder and CEO of Xtreme Solutions Inc., founder of ShoulderUp and CEO of AthenaTechnology Acquisition Corp.

Phyllis Newhouse - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Phyllis Newhouse - Credit: Courtesy Image.

Courtesy Image.

WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Phyllis Newhouse: When you enter into a room, make yourself comfortable. Know your intent and what value you’re bringing into the room as well as what you want to get out of it.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

P.N.: You must learn to be a leader of change, not just in terms of impact, but also having a “change” mentality and being able to adapt and pivot quickly. The leader that you are today may be very different than who you need to be one year from now.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

P.N.: The beauty and apparel industry has undergone drastic changes with the pandemic and shifts to remote work. Many people are buying less professional attire and opting for more comfortable clothing.

Debra Perelman, president and CEO of Revlon

Debra Perelman - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Debra Perelman - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Debra Perelman: Think about the impact that you would like to have on the broader world. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and not realize there is a larger world out there. Also, I would encourage everyone to be a part of someone else’s success.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

D.P.: There are three skills I would recommend all young leaders develop:

  1. To balance developing their management skills in addition to the more “technical” skills

  2. Active listening

  3. Follow the 80/20 rule: learn to get comfortable with having 80 percent of the data — most of the time, it’s enough to make the decision

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

D.P.: There are so many opportunities. What I love about the beauty industry is that it is always evolving — consumer preferences change, new products and technologies are developed, and new brands are always entering the market. I would encourage everyone to stay curious, stay agile, and always be on the lookout for new opportunities.

Deirdre Quinn, cofounder and CEO of Lafayette148

Deirdre Quinn - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Deirdre Quinn - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Deirdre Quinn: Trust yourself. Your instincts and your experience are a quality unique to you, informed by the people, places and things you’ve encountered. Along the way, everyone you meet is a teacher. If you’re humble and open to learning something from anyone, success is in your corner.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

D.Q.: Succeeding involves taking risks. Explore all opportunities, learn every angle of the business and become a specialist in pivoting strategy. A leader is somebody who can pause, reflect and find a way forward.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

D.Q.: A challenge is an opportunity to do something great. Women can do anything. We’re survivors. We adapt. We accomplish and continue to accomplish. Women in this industry support one another and create opportunity for other women. In that, we have a strength and responsibility.

Dawn Robertson, CEO of OCM, On Campus Marketing, chairman of the board at Splitit

Dawn Robertson - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Dawn Robertson - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Dawn Robertson: The things that would tell myself as a 20-year-old are so many, but a few are:

• Do not give up no matter what life throws at you

• Love what you do

• Connect, connect, connect and choose your friends as you would choose your sisters as they become your sisters.

• The world is so big — do not limit yourself

• Use a mentor and do not be sensitive about continuing to learn

• Be considerate of others’ different ideas and listen

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

D.R.: Young women leaders need to be great learners as the world continues to change and fast. Listening to all the new ideas is critical as is focusing on the most important areas to drive the growth of yourself and your business.

Do not to be afraid to change.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

D.R.: Women in the fashion industry and retail leaders face fast and new customer demand with each new generation of consumers. With a focus on changes in brick-and-mortar within smaller neighborhood stores, speed of delivery from the fast new competitors, new inclusive culture and digital growth ­— changing expectations will challenge the way forward in fashion and retail.

Neha Singh, CEO of Obsess

Neha Singh - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Neha Singh - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Neha Singh: Don’t be afraid to chart your own path. And don’t be surprised if 10 years from now, you realize you want to do something completely different with your life than everything you have envisioned and worked for so far.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

N.S.: Everyone in leadership positions today needs to understand software and lean methodologies regardless of the function or role they are in.

Software is eating the world — technology is moving at such a fast pace and disrupting every aspect, that the best way for your business to thrive is with rapid test-measure-learn cycles. With creative projects, technical projects or any team project, the organizations that can move fast and lean are the ones that will win.

Gayle Tait, president of Trove

Gayle Tait - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Gayle Tait - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Gayle Tait: Embrace the risks: mistakes and tough times are often the moments where you grow and develop fast and emerge all the better for it.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

G.T.: Leading in today’s complex and ambiguous context requires an open curious mind and the ability to learn and adapt. Asking questions, looking at problems from different perspectives and testing your hypotheses through safe-to-fail experiments will help you to move faster in the right direction.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

G.T.: Fast-growing retail trends like resale, which is on track to be $64 billion, present a huge growth opportunity for the fashion industry. Taking advantage of tailwinds presented by these opportunities requires agility as we continue to operate in a context tainted by the pandemic.

Dana Telsey, CEO of Telsey Advisory Group

Dana Telsey - Credit: copyright 2006 Michael Brian
Dana Telsey - Credit: copyright 2006 Michael Brian

copyright 2006 Michael Brian

WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Dana Telsey: Select an area of passion and do everything you can to be an expert in that area. Being a subject matter expert not only creates value but also makes you valuable.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

D.T.: Embrace expression in all forms, whether it be in person through discussion or on video via Zoom and eliminate fear. The leadership skills of importance include caring about clarity of vision, aligning your team who share that vision and implementing a reward structure to sustain that vision. There are only learnings for all from participating in dialogues.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

D.T.: There are more opportunities available today than there were 20 years ago. Social media has expanded the reach of awareness for women, providing visibility to those with interest and substance. In fashion, apparel and retail, there are unique opportunities for cross-generational mentorship given the speed at which consumer spending patterns and personalization tools are evolving. Becoming and remaining best in class at what you do allows you to grab and capture fantastic opportunities.

Karin Tracy, head of industry, fashion, luxury and retail at Meta

Karin Tracy - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Karin Tracy - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Karin Tracy: Career paths are often messy — especially in the beginning. The grunt work leads to great work if you show up prepared, learn from your mistakes and remain curious about everything.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

K.T.: Don’t only hire people who are just like you. Today’s workforce is craving fresh perspectives that are transparent, inclusive and come with opportunities to co-create. It’s calling on leadership to get out of their comfort zones and work hard to attract and hire talent that might be smarter, more capable and different than yourself.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

K.T.: We may be in the most significant moment of transformation in retail history, and what we are building and creating together right now we’ll look back on and realize was the most exciting time in our careers.

We are defining the future of retail and I see amazing opportunities for women business leaders who lean into the change. The how and where we shop has changed forever and a lot of this has been driven by technology. Rather than fear it, embrace the opportunities technology presents across every area of your business from production to merchandising to the increased ability to have meaningful connections with your customers no matter where they shop (physically, digitally and now virtually).

Tracey T. Travis, executive vice president and chief financial officer of The Estée Lauder Cos.

Tracey T. Travis - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Tracey T. Travis - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Tracey T. Travis: Don’t be afraid to approach a leader that you admire and ask for one-on-one time. I’m always impressed when young people come to me with that ask and I always find time. These moments give you not only exposure to leadership, but you will also be surprised how open people will be with their insights and advice.

Take the opportunity to continue to learn, grow and reflect but also know your worth, be confident in your abilities and ask for what you deserve.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

T.T.: One of the most important characteristics that you can have in a career is resilience. Whether you have a win or a setback, be sure to reflect on what you can learn from your experience and continue to move forward.

You own your own destiny and your own career management. Learn what is important to management, the characteristics and style of those who do succeed, and express an interest in getting to the position you desire so you can obtain feedback on what additional areas you need to develop.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

T.T.: Change-management capabilities are critical. The pace of change in most industries is accelerating rapidly, certainly largely driven by the continued digital transformation and the consumer’s incredible access to more information. The ability to adapt and respond to change to capture opportunities versus being disrupted by the change occurring is a critical skill set needed.

For women, and particularly women of color, challenges in access to opportunities continue to exist. As leaders in the industry, we need to constantly look at various levels in the company and make sure that there is not only a good representation of diverse employees but that they have opportunities for promotions and to rise through the ranks. Mentor, sponsor and advocate.

Jennifer Walsh, founder of AIKR Lab & Institute

Jennifer Walsh - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Jennifer Walsh - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Jennifer Walsh: The path that many entrepreneurs take is unpaved and it will take a lot of work to make that path clear for those that come after you. Those lessons along the way and that path you cleared for others is where the beauty is. Never give up on moving forward. Never fear creating something that has never been done or seen before — even if others don’t see your vision yet.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

J.W.: EQ is extremely important. With emotional intelligence, you become much more aware of yourself and your surroundings and know how to lead with confidence, kindness and grace.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

J.W.: There is so much opportunity to create newness but with that also comes the challenge of educating on why that opportunity is needed. There is noise everywhere so a strong purpose for your “why” is going to be key to breakthrough to a keen awareness of why your business is important right now.

Deborah Lora Weinswig, CEO and founder of Coresight Research

Deborah Lora Weinswig - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Deborah Lora Weinswig - Credit: Courtesy Image.

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WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Deborah Lora Weinswig: To spend a year abroad before starting a career, even if this meant taking a gap year in the middle of my college education. While I eventually was able to get a global education, which has helped drive an innovative framework for much of my decision-making, I just wish I had done it sooner!

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

D.L.W.: Active listening is probably the most important. Most people retain less than 50 percent of what is said in a conversation. If you can understand what people are telling you and can act upon it, you increase efficiency, decrease the potential for misunderstanding and become the go-to person in an organization.

Empathy and flexibility. If employees are facing challenges, putting yourself in their shoes can help you offer solutions that reduce turnover and drive a more engaged workforce. Admittedly, sometimes I have overthought things that did not always go my way, but my heart was always in the right place. (I suggested an employee move in with his in-laws to alleviate child care challenges and it turned out that it was impossible for him to find a quiet place to work or get along with his in-laws.)

When it comes to flexibility, that will help you pivot quickly if you need to, seize upon an opportunity when presented even if it was not in the business plan, and respond to active listening with out-of-the-box solutions.

Lastly, business storytelling. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and when you can contextualize a concept someone can remember it forever. If you are able to do this with the culture and values of the organization, then your employees, customers and shareholders understand why they showed up that day and every day after that one.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

D.L.W.: Leaders in these industries have to be supply chain experts, economists, technologists, sustainability experts, marketers, merchandisers and innovators, etc.

Just think how the C-suite in many organizations has gone from five people to 15 as retail has scaled in complexity. It is truly the most complex industry as consumer tastes are constantly changing, the macroeconomic landscape is in flux, new technologies and technology solutions are being introduced and retail is becoming an entirely different industry than it was just a few years ago. New channels of distribution include livestreaming, the metaverse, shopping festivals, instant commerce and new products to sell like NFTs, retail media, data and more.

Retail at the edge as we like to call it is driving leaders to continuously educate themselves and their teams or risk obsolescence.

Andrea Weiss, CEO and founder of The O Alliance

Andrea Weiss - Credit: SHANNON FONTAINE
Andrea Weiss - Credit: SHANNON FONTAINE

SHANNON FONTAINE

WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Andrea Weiss: Learn to celebrate failures and setbacks as much as successes. Many of the greatest lessons of life come from overcoming challenges, disappointments and adversity. While these setbacks can be crushing to your confidence and create self-doubt, self-doubt is the true enemy, not the mistake you may have made.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

A.W.: First on the list is the ability to listen to your customers, associates and stakeholders. Business today requires an even greater acuity than ever. In times of great change, learning to listen well is step one to better solutions.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

A.W.: I am a “glass half full” person, so I see the opportunities for women as having never been greater. So many barriers to entry have been crushed. But we are still not fully there. What remains is a more equitable access to capital to support women lead businesses.

Stacey Widlitz, president of SW Retail Advisors and cofounder of The DealmakeHers

Stacey Widlitz - Credit: Courtesy Image.
Stacey Widlitz - Credit: Courtesy Image.

Courtesy Image.

WWD: If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Stacey Widlitz: A plan is a good start, but the destination is unlikely to be on the original map. Listen to your instincts and follow your passion. Take unexpected and sometimes scary detours — they lead to the most amazing places. Identify and lead with what makes you unique.

WWD: What are some of the leadership skills young women leaders need today to succeed?

S.W.: Communication skills are key. The best team in the world can’t execute if the vision isn’t clear. Master public speaking. Be transparent, embrace change and lead with empathy. Listen more than you speak.

WWD: What are the challenges and opportunities women business leaders face today in fashion, apparel and retail?

S.W.: I have been on the financial side of the business for over 20 years and it still amazes me how women are responsible for the majority of purchase decisions but remain the minority in the board room. As a result, Women leaders often lack true access which comes in the form of peer networks (safe spaces). That is why I am so proud to be a cofounder of The DealmakeHers.

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