This week, the second in our 2-part series celebrating the role of women in retail leadership, we take a look forward with insights about the increasing prominence of women in leadership roles, challenges for the next generation, diversity & inclusion, and why these women chose to work for The Parker Avery Group.

What are some strategies you’ve learned that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?

Amanda: Read, listen and never stop learning.  In my opinion, any leader, man or woman, has success if they remain relevant and credible.  A person’s personality will generally play an additional role in their success, but if even if someone isn’t totally bought in on that, if you are credible and know your stuff, you can have those tougher conversations.  The other strategy is to network. Everyone always jokes that I know everyone, but that is something I have worked hard at.  I want to learn what others do, how I can partner with them, how they can partner with me, or who can they introduce me to. Generally, I just like people.   I don’t believe in silos or staying in my lane.

Courtney: Throughout my career I’ve tried to push myself to learn things that lived outside of my comfort zone and not to become too comfortable. I also truly believe that listening is a superpower in itself.

Kathi: Become a world-class negotiator and don’t be afraid to ask for things (promotions, raises, etc.) Always sit at the big-kids table and take up some space there. Communicate diplomatically, but don’t sugar-coat things and stay true to yourself.

Michele: Promote and support each other, have a promotable female mentor men to break down bias while creating visibility for female talent, support the advancement of policies that ensure equal rights for women and ensure equal pay, ensure you do good old fashioned hard work with results—and toot your own horn.

Sarah: Be curious. I have a passion for, and authentic interest in learning about and developing people then giving them opportunity. Leverage your intuition and play to peoples’ strengths. I constantly exploit my knack for seeing talent in people when they don’t see it themselves—this is especially true in women. I’ve taken advantage of colleagues underestimating transferable skills in people and leveraged it to build collaborative teams by playing to people’s strengths. Have a growth mindset and recognize that anyone can improve, then invest in her/his development. Communicate consistently and often—specifically, through active listening, observing and asking questions. Offer support without being asked.  Appreciate conflict. It indicates the presence of trust and opportunity. Harness it for good.

Sonia: Find a mentor and be a mentor – one of the best things that happened to me in my career was being asked to participate in a mentorship program.  When I realized the gift that was given to me, I immediately wanted to give back. Ask for feedback—asking your boss, your peers, your clients for feedback is a strategy for continuous growth.  Be willing to hear the good and bad, with the goal to adjust where you need to.  Embrace discomfort—introverts can network, you can give a speech, and you can have difficult conversations.

Tricia: Don’t give up.  Ever.  And don’t let anything hold you back.  Ask yourself what you have to lose—and if you answer yourself honestly, it will almost always be, “I have nothing to lose if I [fill in the blank].”  We all have one shot at this beautiful thing called life—don’t waste it.  One of my favorite mantras is: If you can’t stop dreaming about it—don’t you dare stop working at it.

What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

Amanda: I think with the emphasis on equality, diversity, and inclusion taking the forefront of many conversations today, women following behind us today will need to be prepared for all that comes with that.  The competition for jobs will continue to be stiff, getting a seat at the table will never allow you take your eye off the ball.  We’ve asked for an even playing field and as positive as that is, it also means we have to prove ourselves over and over again.

Courtney: To not be defined by the limits or expectations of previous generations—this means being appreciative and acknowledging their journey and setting your own course that plays to your strengths.

Kathi: I’m concerned women coming up behind believe we’ve attained equality in the workplace when it’s far from true. We are still underpaid compared to our male counter parts and are penalized for interrupting our careers to have kids. Not to mention, we still need to communicate differently (as in, not as directly) and work harder to get the same access as men. 

Michele: To carry on our legacy, keep up the momentum.  Remembering that they’re always a role model for somebody—reach out and help others.

Sarah: Being treated equally. Inaction and complacency.  The rise of narcissistic behavior and its impact on organizations.

Sonia: 1) Achieving gender equality will continue to be the biggest challenge.  We are making progress as women teaming up, supporting each other, creating forums where we can interact…but what we really want is equality.  2) The challenge of getting what they want and figuring out how to balance it all – to be the bread winners, have the family, and spend time giving to others is not a simple thing to achieve.

Why are diversity and inclusion important?

Amanda: Because no one is created equal.  Diversity and inclusion mean new and different ideas are brought to the table while being supportive and open.  If everyone was the same, things would be very boring.

Courtney: Because they provide much needed and different perspectives on not only how to approach, but also solve problems—and have generated some of the greatest brainstorming sessions I’ve ever witnessed. It is quite easy to adopt a hive mentality if everyone is exactly the same.

Heidi: Although we all talk about diversity, inclusion, etc., there is still the ‘old guard’ who are resistant to change.  There are so many big corporations with women at the helm, but do they really offer equal pay?  It’s been decades of hearing, “Well, that’s not a woman’s job,” and, while there are a lot of fantastic role models, times are slow to change.  Expectations of the new generations may be different than the reality of the moment.  However, they are part of the change, but how they approach that change will be very important.  How they perpetuate that change will be a legacy.

Kathi: Because without it we have no insight into different ways of solving a problem or approaching a challenge. We’d be one big boring group of sameness.

Kyle: A well-rounded team provides insights based on different experiences. No one person knows everything so it’s important to hear all perspectives.

Michele: Diversity and inclusion lead to tolerance and true acceptance. Through constant contact with, exposure to, and communication between new people with unique ideas, we see that we may have more in common than we think. Or, that we may still be different, but increasing familiarity with these differences can alter perspectives, facilitate acceptance, and remove misconceptions and prejudices.

Sarah: They foster innovation, solutions, and creativity; they promote open-mindedness, curiosity and community—and have also been proven to enhance organizational performance.

Sonia: Diversity and inclusion is such a personal topic.  Being open to differences and not so ingrained in our belief system—for me the best approach is to focus on personal leadership.  I learned early in my career when you focus on bringing out the best in yourself and the best in others by being inclusive and appreciating differences, we get diverse points of view which leads to better relationships, solutions and most of all, personal growth.

Tricia: I think it’s important to have an open mind, hear other opinions, try other ways of doing things, and experience things that may be different or new to you.  But this is not to say you have to agree with them or even like them. However, it’s important to recognize that different points of view all have value and help ground us to the fact that individually we are very a small part of God’s great kingdom—but collectively, we are all part of that greatness.

Why Parker Avery?

Amanda: Because we are not just colleagues…we are family.  We support each other, we hold each other accountable, we prop each other up, we are friends, and we know we need to laugh just as hard as we work.  All of that shows in our work and the projects we do.  The travel, the stress, the work can all get to you, but if you do it with people you like, you work harder and have more fun…and it shows.

Courtney: Working at Parker Avery, I’m surrounded by some of the smartest people I know, and everyone should strive to be around people who are smarter. Parker Avery has also enabled me to help build a brand that I am passionate about and continues to surprise and challenge me in the best ways possible.

Heidi: I’ve worked with several members of the PAG team over the last 20+ years, as well as some of our most recent associates.  This is a diverse, and high-quality team that never says, “I’ve worked too many years to [fill in the blank].” Everyone is willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done to do what is best for our clients. Let me give you an example.  When I was the Director of Business Planning at Gucci, I worked in an office in NYC.  My commute in from NJ included a shuttle van, a train, the subway, and a couple block walk.  I was in the office by 7:30am, which is early by NYC standards.  The first thing I’d do when I got into the office was have a coffee (on our 15th floor balcony, which wasn’t permitted, but who was in that early to know?). The next thing I’d do was prepare the office for my team—I, a 25+ year retail veteran, preparing the office for people with 3-8 years’ experience each.  I put paper in the printer, cleaned and filled our ice machine, cleaned and filled our coffee maker, watered plants, checked the office supplies and went to the mailroom to get what was needed.  I felt it was necessary to prepare my team for their workday, and not order someone around to do it when I was perfectly capable.  Get the job done. This is what I learned from great leaders, and this is what I see in my PAG colleagues.

Kathi: I ask myself that question everyday :).  I’ve worked with PAG since 2012 and continually find this group of to be some of the smartest, hardest-working, people I’ve ever met. They’re also not afraid of some ‘quirk’ in their team members. The firm understands how hard the travel client grind gets and they remember to say, “Thank you.”

Michele: Parker Avery provides a culture of collaboration, equal opportunities to grow, ability to share your voice and opinions, has and shares a clear vision, has good leaders that care for the employees, as well as a great female role model in leadership.

Sarah: I relish working with and learning from smart, authentic, humble, forward-thinking, interesting people. It inspires me and motivates me to be my best.  I am happiest with I’m learning, creating, or fixing something. Consulting gives me a shot at all three.  This team is undoubtedly inclusive, and I appreciate the nonhierarchical leadership and equitable balance of gender on team.

Sonia: The Parker Avery team is a group of diverse women and men who love what they do and have fun doing it.  We respect work life balance even as warriors of the road. We get to work with all kinds of clients, learning and growing with each experience.

Tricia: In addition to working for PAG, I own a small home décor and design business through a local retail shop in Virginia. It’s not a ‘professional’ environment when compared with much larger retail companies, but the majority of the people who are associated with the brand hold the same belief: help others succeed, learn, grow, and be fabulous, and we all are successful as a team. We look out for each other; we do the work (and do it well) even if it doesn’t directly benefit us—and even if it’s the stuff deep ‘in the weeds’ (like sweeping floors or tediously entering pages of master data)—we’ve got each other’s backs, and we truly celebrate everyone’s success. I feel this same mindset at PAG.

To learn more about these inspiring women, please visit http://www.parkeravery.com/pag-women.html