4 Women in Retail Explain Their Frustrating Experiences in the Industry

And they touched on how to reach the female consumer

The four women in retail spoke about their experience in the space. Twitter: @Brandless
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

At almost every type of conference, there’s a room full of rose gold light, filled with comfortable chairs, candy and panels full of powerful women that you’ll find candidly speaking about their experience as leaders in the industry. It’s known as The Girls’ Lounge, run by the company The Female Quotient.

It’s a space that’s still necessary, even at a conference like Shoptalk, where more than 100 speakers are women. During a panel called “The Power of Women in Retail,” Tina Sharkey, co-founder of Brandless, Rachel Drori, founder of Daily Harvest, Marisa Bertha, director of business development and 7-ventures at 7-Eleven, and Sophie Miller, head of shopping partnerships, Google AR/VR, spoke about Spanx, not having it all as a woman and what they’ve learned about the retail and ecommerce space with Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient.

For many of the women on the panel, some of the difficulties they faced came while raising money for their company or trying to bring new ideas to the table. Drori shared that not only did investors not understand her product, a superfood subscription service, but they also questioned how she’d be able to be a good mom and business owner.

“I said, well if what you’re really asking me is if I’m fully dedicated to making Daily Harvest a success, then my answer is yes,” Drori said. “I’m really proud of ignoring all the noise around me questioning my choices.”

Miller faced a similar situation when conversations around augmented reality veered into the fashion and home space. In one situation, when Miller’s team met with companies that would scan a consumer’s body to help them try on clothes, the men in the room would suggest women try it on in their yoga clothes, and Miller had to explain them why that wasn’t a good choice—and the differences between sports and regular bras.

“I think it was one of those times where I felt excited that I was me and they were them,” Miller said.

Sharkey also explained how it’s not as easy to be an “intrepreneur”—employees who want to drive innovation at the company from within—at larger, more traditional companies, as it’s harder to push for changes. Bertha agreed with her and shared her frustration when people at 7-Ventures don’t ask the “whys” on projects that are struggling to get approved.

Another issue in the retail space is the concept of the “she” consumer. Miller and Drori expressed their discomfort on retailers already having this concrete picture of who the “she” consumer is and what “she” wants.

“I often struggle because I don’t feel like ‘she’ is any of us,” Miller said. “When they say ‘she has this concern in the household’ and ‘she has these five problems that she’s trying to solve,’ I find myself thinking what about the rest of us who need to solve those problems and also have a board meeting at this time or a company wide meeting that we’re prepping for.”

Drori thinks the corporate world needs to rethink how they strategize around the female consumer.

“Who are we to tell someone who she is?” Drori said. “So lets put something out there into the world and let’s a two-way conversation with our customers all day long through every channel you can imagine and we iterate based on what customers want, as opposed to putting something out there that behind desks and in board rooms is perfect for our customer.”

@itstheannmarie annmarie.alcantara@adweek.com Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.